Electoral district (Canada)

From Academic Kids

An electoral district is a geographically-based constituency upon which Canada's representative democracy is based. An electoral district is officially known in English Canada as a constituency, but frequently called a "riding" in the Canadian English political jargon. It is officially known in French Canada as a circonscription, but frequently called a "comté" (county) in the local French political jargon.

Federal electoral districts return one MP to the Parliament of Canada; provincial electoral districts return one, MLA, MNA, MPP or MHA to the provincial legislature.

Alberta had a few districts in its history that returned from two up to seven members, see Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat.

As of June 28, 2004, there were 308 ridings across Canada. Each riding elects a Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons. Each province and territory is also divided into ridings that elect members to their legislature. Since 1999, Ontario uses the federal ridings in its elections for the provincial legislature. Other provinces have completely different federal and provincial ridings; Ontario also had separate provincial ridings prior to 1999.

The term riding is derived from the English local government term, which was widely used in Canada in the 19th century. Most Canadian counties never had sufficient population to justify administrative sub-divisions. Nonetheless, it was common, especially in Ontario to divide counties with sufficient population to multiple electoral divisions, which thus became known as "ridings" in official documents. Soon after Confederation, the urban population grew (and more importantly, most city dwellers gained the franchise after property ownership was no longer required to gain the vote). Rural constituencies therefore became geographically larger through the 20th century and generally encompassed one or more counties each, and the word "riding" was then used to refer to any electoral division. A political party's local association is therefore generally known as a riding association.

Riding names are usually geographic in nature, and chosen to represent the community or region within the riding boundaries. Where a name includes more than one geographic designation, it is properly denoted with an em-dash (—) between each distinct geographic name, for example Toronto—Danforth and Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale (but Cape Breton—Canso, not Cape—Breton—Canso.) Where a single geographic name contains a hyphen, that is also not replaced by an em-dash (eg. Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, not Saint—Hyacinthe—Bagot; Saint-Lambert, not Saint—Lambert.)

Some ridings in Quebec are named for historical figures rather than geography (eg. Louis-Hébert, Honoré-Mercier); these contain hyphens between the words, not em-dashes.

Boundary adjustment

Riding boundaries are adjusted to reflect population changes after each decennial census. Depending on the significance of a boundary change, a riding's name may change as well. Any adjustment of riding boundaries is official as of the date the changes are legislated, but is not put into actual effect until the first subsequent election. Thus, a riding may officially cease to exist, but will continue to be represented status quo in the House of Commons until the next election is called. This, for example, gives new riding associations time to organize, and prevents the confusion that would result from changing elected MPs' riding assignments in the middle of a Parliament.

On some occasions (see for example Timiskaming—French River, Toronto—Danforth), a riding's name may be changed without a boundary adjustment. This usually happens when it is determined at a later date that the existing name is not sufficiently representative of the district's geographic boundaries. This is the only circumstance in which a sitting MP's riding name may change between elections.

The present formula for adjusting electoral boundaries was adopted in 1985. It starts with the number of seats in Parliament at that time, 282. One seat is automatically allocated to each of Canada's three territories, leaving 279. The total population of Canada's provinces is thus divided by 279, resulting in an electoral quotient, and then the population of each individual province is divided by this electoral quotient to determine the number of seats the province is entitled to.

Finally, a few special rules are applied. Under the senatorial clause, a province's number of seats in the House of Commons can never be lower than its constitutionally mandated number of senators, regardless of the province's population. Under the grandfather clause, the province's number of seats can also never fall below the number of seats it had in the 33rd Canadian parliament.

A province may be allocated extra seats over its base entitlement to ensure that these rules are met. In 2004, for example, Prince Edward Island would only have been entitled to a single seat, but through the senatorial clause, the province gained three more to equal its four senators. Quebec was only entitled to 68 seats by the electoral quotient alone; through the grandfather clause, the province gained seven to equal the 75 seats it had in the 33rd Parliament. Saskatchewan and Manitoba also gained seats under the grandfather clause, New Brunswick gained seats under the senatorial clause, and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador gained seats under both clauses.

A third protection clause exists, under which a province may not lose more than 15 per cent of its seats in a single adjustment, but specific application of this rule has never been needed. Only three provinces, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, could lose 15 per cent of their current seat allotment without automatically triggering the senatorial or grandfather clauses; to date, none of these provinces have ever faced this situation.

When the province's final seat allotment is determined, an independent election boundaries commission in each province reviews the existing boundaries and proposes adjustments. Public input is then sought, which may then lead to changes in the final boundary proposal. For instance, the proposed boundaries may not accurately reflect a community's historical, political or economic relationship with its surrounding region; the community would thus advise the boundary commission that it wished to be included in a different riding.

Once the final report is produced, it is then submitted to Parliament for approval.

See also

External links

  • Web site (http://www.canpolitics.com) with maps and information about Canadian federal electoral districts

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