The division of the territory for electoral purposes must respect a basic democratic principle: the effective representation of electors. The Supreme Court of Canada recognized this principle at the beginning of the 90’s as a guaranteed right to the elector under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The first condition of effective representation resides in a relative equality, meaning that the weight of an elector’s vote is not out of proportion in relation to the weight of another elector’s vote. However, although essential, this condition is not exclusive, and some factors such as geographic characteristics, history and interests of the collectivities, for example, must be taken into consideration.
The Election Act provides for a number of rules making it possible to ensure the effective representation of electors, namely the criteria on the equality of the votes and on the natural communities.
The criterion on the equality of the vote consists of regrouping an approximately equal number of electors in each electoral division in the Province of Quebec. The Act specifies that the number of electors in an electoral division cannot be greater or less than 25% of the provincial average.
However, the Commission de la représentation électorale (CRE) can establish an exceptional electoral division that will have special dispensation from the ±25% criteria, if it judges that the decision can meet the goal of the Act: effective representation. In these cases, the CRE must give its grounds for the decision in writing.
The second criterion aims at ensuring that each electoral division represents a natural community established on the basis of geographical, demographic and sociological criteria. To do so, the Act specifies examples of elements to consider, such as the population density, the relative growth rate of the population, accessibility, the area and the shape of the region, the natural boundaries of the area as well as the territories of the local municipalities.
However, these elements are not exclusive and no element must be taken individually if we want to create coherent geographical entities and regroup collectivities with common interests. This is why the CRE also takes into consideration other elements such as the citizens’ sense of belonging, community of interests, recognition of regional development centers, cultural and historical heritage, urban district boundaries as well as the various administrative boundaries of the territory.