Federal electoral districts redistribution 2022

Comment on Process or Procedural Issues

Several MPs made objections based on procedural concerns.

A frequent point of contention was that the Commission did not provide an opportunity for public input following the publication of our Report. Several Members of Parliament objected that only minor changes should be introduced following the period for public consultations. The fact that some of the changes presented in the Report were major required, in their view, a second round of public hearings to respect due process and procedural fairness.

The Commission takes the accusation of procedural unfairness very seriously. Commissions, charged as they are with determining the territorial basis by which representation is constituted, are part of the formalistic dimension of representation.1 In Canada, the independence from government and the political impartiality of our electoral boundary commissions is the fundamental basis of their legitimacy.

The Commission firmly agrees that public hearings are a vital part of the boundary redistribution process. Among their most important purposes, in addition to providing valuable local knowledge to commissions about precisely where to draw sensible boundaries, is that they give people a voice and ensure they are heard. This lends greater transparency to the Commission's reasoning for making its decisions. These factors build procedural trust and legitimacy in this important democratic process.

But to be clear, not everyone will get what they request. In some instances, a great number of people may be dissatisfied with a decision affecting the district they live in. Though that is obviously not the Commission's aim, it is the inevitable result of the logic of fair redistribution.

The Commission has more than fulfilled its statutory mandate with respect to the procedural rules of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. These rules require that the Commission must hold at least one public hearing on publication of its Proposal, at which members of the public as well as Members of Parliament may make presentations (Section 19). The Commission first solicited public input as it began drafting its Proposal (February 2022). Following the publication of the Proposal (August 2022), the Commission held 23 public meetings, virtually and in person, across the province. The Commission received 2,361 oral and written submissions, in addition to multiple signed petitions in response to our Proposal. It would have been irresponsible to limit ourselves to making only minor changes in response to the voluminous and very valuable public input received at this stage.

The rules also set out a strict timeline for the Commission to complete its work (Sections 20 to 23). This work includes the Proposal stage followed by preparation of our Report, taking into consideration what the Commission learned from oral and written submissions in the course of public hearings. The procedural rules also provide Members of Parliament a second opportunity to file objections to our Report, which are duly considered by the Commission. There is also a strict timeline for the preparation, publication and proclamation of the entire Representation Order (Sections 24 to 28) resulting from the redistribution process.

Ontario is a large province, which makes the task before the Commission considerably greater and more complex that those facing other commissions. The timeline for the Ontario Commission is very tight. In addition, we note that while the timeline begins with the release of the population data of each province by the Chief Statistician of Canada, much of the data required for commissions to do their work is released in stages and not available until several months into the process. As a result, in preparing our Report, the Commission is not only taking into account what it learned through public hearings, it is also processing for the first time much of the key demographic data collected via the long-form Census needed to understand the relationship of proposed boundaries to potential communities of interest (such as official languages, visible minorities, and various socio-economic indicators).

To complete the task before us, our Commission requested and received the allowable two-month extension, per Section 20(2) of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. We were able to complete the work on time. However, it was not possible for us to schedule and hold a second round of public hearings. A second round of hearings would require prior circulation of the Report, advance notice of public hearings, and further time needed to take the resulting input into consideration and make any revisions. This would have far exceeded the statutory timeline.

Even if there were more time available, there are still two serious problems. First, it is not clear at what threshold "material changes" in the Report should necessitate further consultations. Second, it is not evident what substantive purpose such hearings would serve. It may lend the appearance that more people get to "have their say" on changes impacting them, however the fact is that any major boundary reiterations made at this stage would produce cascading changes that would leave still others feeling that they were not consulted.

Despite the unfortunate fact that not everyone will be satisfied with a local outcome, what is vitally important is that this entire process strengthens confidence in the fundamental fairness of our system of representative democracy. Public trust in representative democracy is fragile, and there is clear evidence that it is slipping in Canada.2 It can be further imperilled by baseless accusations about procedural unfairness. False and misleading public statements by Members of Parliament, such as the claim that there is "gerrymandering" regarding the adjustment of Canadian electoral boundaries, or that the public is "disenfranchised" by the process, undermine public confidence in democracy. Members of Parliament, especially, should not disparage democratic institutions because they do not give them the particular outcomes they want.

The Commission strongly rejects the charge of procedural unfairness. Nevertheless, Parliament may wish to consider revisions to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act that could further enhance public confidence in this important process, bearing in mind that many members of the public expressed confidence in and support for the independent, non-partisan process of boundary redistribution as presently constituted.


1 Pitkin, H. 1967. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

2 Foa, R.S., Klassen, A., Slade, M., Rand, A. and R. Collins. 2020. The Global Satisfaction with Democracy Report 2020. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Centre for the Future of Democracy.