While the next federal election is not officially due until February 2004, plans are already underway for
how that election will take place. Every ten years, after a national census, the boundaries of federal
electoral ridings in Canada are reviewed and adjusted as needed. The intention behind the review and
the adjustments is to ensure that every person's vote is roughly proportional to every other person's
vote (that is, that each federal riding has roughly the same number of people), and that some basic
rules about the allocation of seats in parliament between Canada's provinces and territories are
The review and adjustment of federal electoral boundaries is carried out by independent commissions
in each province (as Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon each have only one federal
riding, there is no need to review or adjust riding boundaries-the boundaries are the same as the
In reviewing and adjusting the electoral boundaries, the commissioners may take into account the
notion of "community of interests." That is, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act allows for the
possibility of moving beyond geographical criteria when setting electoral boundaries.
Recently, the electoral review commission in New Brunswick has developed an innovative proposal for
ensuring the representation of first nations communities within a single federal riding in the province of
New Brunswick. Under the proposal, all Indian reserves in New Brunswick, no matter what their
location, would be grouped into the single electoral district of Miramichi. The existing Miramichi riding
has a high proportion of first nation reserves located within its boundaries. Under this proposal, the
remaining reserves would also be grouped into the Miramichi riding.
"Regrouping all Indian reserves in one electoral district would allow the currently dispersed
communities to interface with only one Member of Parliament instead of several as is currently the
case," says the commission. "It would also give strength to these communities because their numbers
would no longer be fragmented."
The proposal, if approved by the House of Commons, would be a first in Canada. However, it has
already attracted some negative publicity. A Globe and Mail editorial piece in mid-August called the
proposal "a flawed response to historic injustice."
The author, Colin Feasby, is a Calgary-based lawyer. His article suggests he is worried about the
precedent this new style of representation might set for other communities than first nations
communities. "...the US experience shows that once the question of race-conscious districting opens
for one group, other groups will advance claims. Can we realistically limit ethnic districting in Canada
to Aboriginal people residing on reserves? Or will we witness a proliferation of claims from different
Hearings on the proposed new electoral district are set for the fall. At that time, Ottawa Watchers may
hear whether first nations people in New Brunswick support this proposal to concentrate their
representation in the federal parliament.