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

Federal electoral districts each return one Member of Parliament (MP) to the Canadian House of Commons; provincial or territorial electoral districts each return one representative — called, depending on the province or territory, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Member of the National Assembly (MNA), Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) or Member of the House of Assembly (MHA) — to the provincial or territorial legislature.

While electoral districts in Canada are now exclusively single-member districts, in the past, multiple-member districts were used at both the federal and provincial levels. Alberta had a few districts in its history that returned from two up to seven members: see Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat. British Columbia had a mix of multiple-member districts in Vancouvermarker and single-member districts elsewhere until the 1991 election, and Prince Edward Island had dual-member districts until the 1996 election.

As of June 28, 2004, there were 308 federal electoral districts across Canada. Provinces will sometimes follow similar boundaries for their own provincial ridings — however, this is not always the case, nor is it required. The only province which currently does so is Ontariomarker — at present, electoral districts in the Southern Ontario region use the same boundaries as their current federal counterparts following the 2004 boundary adjustment, while seats in the Northern Ontario region correspond to the federal districts that were in place before the 2004 adjustment. All other provinces have completely different federal and provincial ridings. Ontario also had separate provincial ridings prior to 1999.

Elections Canada is the independent body set up by parliament to oversee Canadian federal elections.


Originally, most electoral districts were equivalent to the counties used for local government, hence the French unofficial term comté. However, it became common, especially in Ontariomarker, to divide counties with sufficient population to multiple electoral divisions; these became unofficially known as ridings, from an archaic British term denoting a subdivision of a county.

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 organization is generally known as a riding association.

Naming conventions

Electoral district names are usually geographic in nature, and chosen to represent the community or region within the electoral district boundaries. Where a federal district's 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, as "Cape Breton" is a single geographic name.) Where a single geographic name contains a hyphen, that is also not replaced by an em dash (e.g., Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagotmarker, not Saint—Hyacinthe—Bagot; Saint-Lambert, not Saint—Lambert.) Where a district's name includes a geographic designation and an ordinal direction (e.g., Calgary Centre), there is generally no punctuation between the two words or phrases.

Some electoral districts in Quebec are named for historical figures rather than geography (e.g., Louis-Hébert, Honoré-Mercier); these contain hyphens between the words, not em dashes. This practice is no longer employed in the other provinces and territories.

Some ridings, especially ridings with large numbers of both francophone and anglophone voters, may be named or punctuated differently in English than in French. The Manitoba riding of Saint Boniface, for example, is referred to in French as "Saint-Boniface", with a hyphen.

Depending on local convention, however, provincial electoral districts may use a hyphen instead of an em dash in this context.

Boundary adjustment

Electoral district boundaries are adjusted to reflect population changes after each decennial census. Depending on the significance of a boundary change, an electoral district's name may change as well. Any adjustment of electoral district boundaries is official as of the date the changes are legislated, but is not put into actual effect until the first subsequent election. Thus, an electoral district 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' electoral district assignments in the middle of a Parliament.

On some occasions (e.g. 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 to which the province is officially entitled.

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 Islandmarker would have been entitled to only a single seat, but because of the senatorial clause, the province gained three more seats to equal its four senators. Quebecmarker was only entitled to 68 seats by the electoral quotient alone, but through the grandfather clause, the province gained seven seats to equal the 75 seats it had in the 33rd Parliament. Saskatchewanmarker and Manitobamarker also gained seats under the grandfather clause, New Brunswickmarker gained seats under the senatorial clause, and Nova Scotiamarker and Newfoundland and Labradormarker 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, Albertamarker, British Columbiamarker and Ontariomarker, 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.

Some sources incorrectly state that a special provision guaranteeing a certain number of seats to Quebec is also applied. While such a provision was proposed in the failed Charlottetown Accord, no such rule currently exists — Quebec's seat allotment in the House of Commons is in fact governed by the same adjustment clauses as all other provinces, and not by any provisions unique to Quebec alone.

An amendment to the process, proposed in 2008 by the government of Stephen Harper but not yet passed into law, would see Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, the three provinces whose electoral districts currently have an average size larger than those in Quebec, given a total of 32 additional seats by applying Quebec's average of 105,000.

Boundary review

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 electoral district.

For example, in the 2003 boundary adjustment, the boundary commission in Ontario originally proposed dividing the city of Greater Sudburymarker into three districts. The urban core would have remained largely unchanged as Sudbury, while communities west of the central city would have been merged with Algoma—Manitoulin to form the new riding of Greater Sudbury—Manitoulin, and those east and north of the central city would have been merged with Timiskaming to create the riding of Timiskaming—Greater Sudbury. Due to the region's economic and transportation patterns, however, "Timiskaming—Greater Sudbury" was widely opposed by its potential residents — the Timiskaming Districtmarker is much more strongly aligned with and connected to North Baymarker, to which it has a direct highway link, than to Sudbury. Instead, in the final report that was passed by the House of Commons, the Sudbury area's existing ridings of Sudbury and Nickel Belt were retained with only minor boundary adjustments, while the Timiskaming riding was merged with Nipissing.

Once the final report is produced, it is then submitted to Parliament for approval, which is given by voting on the report as a piece of legislation known as a Representation Order.

Political issues

Because electoral district boundaries are proposed by an arms-length body, rather than directly by political parties themselves, gerrymandering is not generally seen as a major issue in Canada. However, in 2006 the provincial government of Prince Edward Islandmarker was accused of gerrymandering after it rejected the independent boundary commission's report and instead proposed a new map which would have seen the cities of Charlottetownmarker and Summersidemarker each gain one additional seat, with two fewer seats allocated to rural areas of the province. The alternate map gave every incumbent member of the governing party a "safe" seat to run in, while the original report would have forced some of the party's MLAs to compete against each other in nomination contests.

See also


  1. "Ontario to gain seats in Parliament", The Globe and Mail, December 17, 2008.
  2. "No Christmas election: Binns"., November 16, 2006.
  3. "Electoral map a distraction: Constable"., June 15, 2006.

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