Federal electoral districts redistribution 2022

Extraordinary Circumstances: Labrador

Before the redistribution of 1987, Labrador was included as part of a district on the island of Newfoundland. Labrador had been part of the electoral district of Grand Falls—White Bay—Labrador in the 1984 election and for most earlier elections. In the first federal election in the province (1949), Labrador was included in the district of Grand Falls—White Bay, but its name was not included in the name of the district.

That meant that the population of all electoral districts in the province was more or less equal. Following an amendment to the Act in 1986 (see the 1987 report, page 5), a commission was empowered to find that, in "circumstances viewed by [it as] being extraordinary," an exception could be made to adherence to the direction to be as close as possible to the provincial quota. This meant that it was possible to deviate more than 25% from the quota if a commission considered that "extraordinary circumstances" existed.

To summarize, as of 1986, the Act provided that a commission follow these rules:

  • The population of each electoral district "shall, as close as reasonably possible, correspond to the electoral quota for the province."
  • The commission may deviate from adherence to the quota, where necessary, to respect a community of interest or identity or to maintain a manageable geographical size for sparsely populated districts.
  • Where the commission deviates from the quota, it must ensure a variance of less than 25% from the quota.
  • The commission may deviate more than 25% from the quota where it finds extraordinary circumstances.

Such deviations are permissible if they are deemed necessary to achieve specific goals related to effective representation, including (a) the protection of community of interest or identity, (b) historical patterns and (c) manageable geographical size in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions of a province. The Act requires the Commission to consider these factors in the determination of reasonable electoral district boundaries in addition to the simple math involved in seeking to closely adhere to the electoral quota.

The Commission was also guided by a direction of the Supreme Court of Canada on the meaning of the right to vote contained in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 3 of the Charter reads as follows:

3 Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

In Reference re Provincial Electoral Boundaries (Sask.), [1991] 2 S.C.R. 158 (the Carter decision), the Court held that the purpose of the right to vote is not equality of voting power but the right to effective representation. Justice Beverley McLachlin (as she was then) said, at paragraph 26,

It is my conclusion that the purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 of the Charter is not equality of voting power per se, but the right to "effective representation". Ours is a representative democracy. Each citizen is entitled to be represented in government. Representation comprehends the idea of having a voice in the deliberations of government as well as the idea of the right to bring one's grievances and concerns to the attention of one's government representative. ...

The Court determined that absolute parity among voters may detract from the primary goal of effective representation. It determined that factors such as geography, community history, community of interest and minority representation must also be weighed in the drawing of electoral boundaries. Departures from voter parity can be justified on the ground "that they contribute to better government of the populace as a whole" (Carter, para. 32).

Those provisions are in effect and govern the work of this Commission.

In our view, the case of Labrador requires an examination of features that make it unique both in this province and in the country as a whole. These factors include its history, its geographical characteristics, its Indigenous populations, its culture and its political orientation vis-à-vis the island portion of the province. It is also necessary to examine whether the prejudice to the other districts would outweigh the benefits if Labrador were to remain a separate district. We cannot assess the place of Labrador without considering voters in other parts of the province, but importantly, we simply must assess the place of Labrador in the electoral process within the province.


Labrador has a long and storied history, somewhat connected to, but often quite separate from, life on the island of Newfoundland. Governance of the large territory moved from St. John's to Quebec and back several times in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Labrador was administered by the French, operating from present-day Quebec, by 1748. By the Treaty of Paris (1763), it was transferred to the British, who continued to administer the territory as part of the colony of Lower Canada, now the Province of Quebec. In 1809, the British transferred responsibility for Labrador from Lower Canada to the separate colony of Newfoundland.

Newfoundland continued to administer the territory; however, the boundary between Labrador and Canada was undetermined until a decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London in 1927 set the boundary at its present-day limits. While these historical facts do not, by themselves, set out a historical background for Labrador that is entirely separate from the island, they do demonstrate that the historical roots of Labrador and the island of Newfoundland are not identical.

The history of the district supports a finding of extraordinary circumstances.


The land mass of Labrador comprises some 70% of the area of the province, while it contains only 5.2% of the total population. It is physically separated from the island, and there is no fixed transportation link between the two. In some respects, it is similar to the northern regions of six of the other provinces. It has, when one considers the sizable Indigenous populations, transportation difficulties, climate and level of services, similarities to the three northern territories of Canada.

Notwithstanding the fact that other provinces have large, sparsely populated northern regions, none of them has a northern territory that is geographically separate. Several have, in the past, established boundaries for northern districts that deviated from the quota for those provinces. However, none has a deviation that is comparable to that of Labrador.

That Labrador is separate is a geographical fact. That separateness has given it a culture and history that is unique within Canada. This fact makes a significant difference in the context of electoral boundary adjustments. In other provinces, it is possible to move a boundary of a remote northern district slightly up or down without making a significant change to the character of the district. This is not possible in our province: the inclusion of Labrador within an island-based district would mean substantial changes to the nature of political representation in that part of the province.

This factor strongly supports a finding that extraordinary circumstances exist to justify deviation from the provincial quota of greater than 25%.

Culture and Politics

History and geography have meant that Labrador has developed its own culture in music and the other arts. It has also had unique political movements since Confederation with Canada. For example, a provincial party bearing the name New Labrador Party was formed in the late 1960s; it elected a member of the House of Assembly in the election of 1971 and again in a by-election in 1972. The party disappeared in the mid-1970s, but was resurrected in the 1980s in response to perceived grievances against the island-based government. It did not elect members during this latter period, but its existence adds weight to the view that Labrador's political culture is somewhat distinct from that of the island and that the region feels disadvantaged or disconnected from power, unable to adequately have its voice heard.

This factor somewhat supports a finding that extraordinary circumstances exist.

Indigenous Populations

A significant portion of the population of Labrador is Indigenous (43%, according to the 2016 census). This compares with 24% for the district of Long Range Mountains and under 6% for all other federal districts in the province.

There are several Indigenous groups in Labrador, including the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, the Innu Nation and the Inuit of NunatuKavut. The presence of such a large proportion of Indigenous people within the district creates communities of identity and interest quite distinct from the other districts. The issue of appropriate Indigenous representation within the Canadian political system has been raised in numerous contexts, including the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), which recommended the creation of a third chamber of Parliament elected by Indigenous nations or peoples. While other countries include separate seats for Indigenous populations (e.g. New Zealand), Canada has no such system. Regardless, within a framework of reconciliation, acknowledging the sizable Indigenous population residing in Labrador suggests that special attention ought to be paid to this region.

This factor strongly supports a finding that extraordinary circumstances exist.

Prejudice to Other Districts

The only prejudice to other districts is the potential for their representation to be diminished by a decision to have a separate district for Labrador. If the boundaries for all districts were set to achieve some degree of parity, each would have a population of about 72,936. That is the quota for the province, including Labrador. Without Labrador, the parity population for each of the island districts would be 80,649, a gap of about 8,000 per district. The Commission notes that adherence to this level of population for the island districts is still well below the average of most other provinces. This means that the level of representation in the province, as measured by the number of citizens for each elected member, is comparable to (and potentially better than) that seen in many other Canadian districts.

In the view of the Commission, continuing to recognize Labrador as a separate district does not create a significant disparity of representation in the other districts. Indeed, it is likely to improve representation for whichever district would be attached to Labrador since the added travel and distance would make it much more challenging for its MP to adequately represent all the constituents scattered across the two distinct land masses. The increase in population in the island districts does not present a compelling reason to deviate from the communities of interest and identity found in the Labrador district.

This is not a factor that, in the view of the Commission, negates a finding of the existence of extraordinary circumstances in the case of Labrador.


Residents of Labrador (including members of various Indigenous communities, settlers and more recent immigrants), whether residing in small coastal communities, in or near the major service centre in Upper Lake Melville or in the major natural-resource-development towns of Labrador West, have for decades asserted the existence of a shared community of interest. Taken together, the Labrador region's history, geography and community of interest, as well as the strength of its many distinct Indigenous communities, warrant the continuance of a separate electoral district. Because of its immense geographical size, effective representation in this region is extraordinarily difficult to achieve. If Labrador were part of a riding that extended to the island portion of the province, it is clear that adequate representation for all its constituents would be difficult to achieve.

The Act is quite clear that representation by population is the primary consideration in the Commission's work, but there is also leeway for divergence based on communities of interest and identity as well as cultural and geographical factors. The direction contained in the Act charges the Commission, as a first principle, to achieve equality of voting power as it redraws the electoral map. The Supreme Court in the Carter decision provided an interpretation that values "effective" representation over absolute "parity" of representation. The Commission must consider factors such as "geography, community history, community interests and minority representation." Indeed, in the majority opinion, Justice McLachlin noted that this "list is not closed," meaning that additional factors could also be considered by commissions (Carter, para. 31). The Act permits a deviation from the quota for these factors and, in addition, to maintain a manageable geographical size and to recognize communities of interest and identity. All these factors have been considered by the Commission in its decision respecting Labrador.

For the past 35 years, the Labrador portion of the province constituted a separate electoral district, even though its population was more than 25% below the electoral quota. In the previous redistribution, that deviation was 63.6% under the provincial electoral quota. This is a significant deviation - in fact, the largest deviation of any district across the country. Only the three northern territories have a population that is close to that of Labrador. They, of course, are not subject to adherence to a provincial quota since they are entitled to only one representative each in the House of Commons.

Using the numbers from the 2012 redistribution, the deviation of large, remote northern districts in other provinces from the provincial quotas was quite varied. The table below illustrates the point.

Province District Deviation from Provincial Quota
British ColumbiaSkeena—Bulkley Valley−13.53%
AlbertaFort McMurray—Cold Lake−5.29%
SaskatchewanDesnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River−5.88%
ManitobaChurchill—Keewatinook Aski−1.34%

It is interesting to note that, in Quebec, because the Commission in that province decided to apply the quota on a regional basis, one riding, that of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, situated in the south of the province, and amply served by a transportation network, had a deviation of -26.42%, the highest in that province. Only in Ontario, in the case of Kenora, did the Commission find it necessary to find "extraordinary circumstances" to provide a rationale for the deviation.

Labrador bears some comparison to several of these ridings. It is remote, has a limited transportation network and is geographically comparable in size to the largest districts in other provinces. Uniquely, it is the only district in any province that is geographically separate from the rest of the province.

Given these factors, and the discussion above, the Commission is of the opinion that extraordinary circumstances exist to permit a deviation from the provincial quota of more than 25% in the case of Labrador.

Even if the Commission were inclined to re-examine this issue, given that Labrador has been a separate riding for some 35 years, there would need to be compelling reasons to change the status quo. Previous commissions decided that the circumstances of Labrador were sufficiently extraordinary to permit a greater deviation from the quota. The continuance of the current boundaries has an impact on the level of representation of the other electoral districts in the province. The impact, however, is not so great as to constitute a compelling reason to depart from the existing boundaries.

The redistribution process, including public hearings and the input that the Commission received from the public, served to emphasize the unique circumstances of Labrador. The Commission notes that all conversations that took place with the public provided further support for the notion that special circumstances for Labrador warranted a sizable deviation from the electoral quota. No objections were raised to this part of our proposal. Indeed, we received a public presentation that took this issue of geographical representation one step further: it recommended that Labrador receive two ridings rather than one. This recommendation was based on the perceived need to take further steps toward reconciliation with Indigenous groups, and it acknowledged the specific representational challenges that exist in the large, geographically dispersed regions of our country. The Commission is grateful to the many citizens who submitted verbal and written presentations as this process helped to clarify our thinking on many issues.