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A maintenance worker cleans the House of Commons ahead of the return of Parliament on Jan. 27, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A maintenance worker cleans the House of Commons ahead of the return of Parliament on Jan. 27, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Crunching Numbers

New ridings <br/>unlikely to clear path <br/>to majority government Add to ...

Canada's population is growing, and as the country grows so does the House of Commons. After the next election, new ridings will be created and Canada's political landscape will be tweaked and transformed. Though recent poll numbers make a majority government more plausible than it has been in years, the country's four-party system has some wondering whether anything can break the cycle of minority governments. Will a few extra seats outside of Quebec do the trick?

Every 10 years, electoral districts are re-distributed and new ridings are allocated to the provinces with growing populations. The last time this happened was in 2003, based on the results of the 2001 census. Population figures drawn from the short-form of the census scheduled to be held this year will determine where new seats will be created, likely in 2013.

A formula exists to determine how seats are allocated to the 10 provinces and three territories in the country. A province must have at least as many seats as they have in the Senate and cannot have fewer seats than were allocated to them in 1976. This ensures, for example, that Prince Edward Island is represented by four MPs in the House of Commons, rather than the one or two its population warrants.

According to calculations by Alice Funke at Pundits' Guide, the next re-alignment in the House of Commons would increase the total number of seats to 315, with Ontario being allocated four new seats, British Columbia two, and Alberta one.

Based on the 2006 census's population figures, the regions most likely to be allocated these new seats would be the suburbs around Toronto (Brampton, Markham, and Vaughan), Vancouver, and Calgary or Edmonton.

After analyzing the profiles of these regions and their electoral histories, it is safe to say the four new ridings around Toronto would likely feature tight Liberal versus Conservative races, with the Liberals holding the edge in three of them. In British Columbia, one would likely be a safe Conservative seat while the other would be a contest between the Tories and the New Democrats, with the NDP having the advantage. In Alberta, the extra seat would almost certainly be a Conservative lock.

It is very unlikely that these seven seats would be the key to a majority government. The Conservatives were short 12 seats in 2008, and would only have a very good chance of winning three of the new districts.

But there is another possibility. An amendment to the seat allocation formula is currently working its way through Parliament. According to government estimates, Bill C-12 would likely serve to allocate 18 new seats to Ontario, seven to British Columbia, and five to Alberta.

In Ontario, that would likely mean another two seats for Ottawa, one near Lake Simcoe, another in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and an additional 14 seats around Toronto. About two-thirds of these new seats would be toss-ups between the Liberals and Conservatives, while three of them would be safe Liberal ridings and two would be secure Tory seats. The Liberals would likely have the advantage in 10 of the new seats (all around Toronto), with the Conservatives taking the remaining eight.

In British Columbia, the Greater Vancouver region would likely get five of the seven new seats, with the other two going to Vancouver Island and the Interior (around Kelowna). The Conservatives would have a heated battle with the Liberals in one seat and the NDP in another, while the Liberals and NDP would duke it out in one more. The remaining four seats would be safe Conservative bets. The edge would go to the Liberals and NDP in one seat each, with the Conservatives likely to win five.

And in Alberta, Edmonton and Calgary would probably get two new seats each, with northern Alberta getting one. Though the extra ridings in Edmonton could give the Liberals and New Democrats an opportunity, it is more likely that all five seats would be in the bag for the Tories.

In all, the Conservatives would have a very good chance of taking about 18 of the 30 new seats, with the Liberals winning 11 and the NDP one. Tacking these wins onto the results of the 2008 election gives the Tories 161 seats, nine short of the 170 that would be needed for a majority in a 338-seat House of Commons.

Of course, between now and 2013 there will have to be a federal election. Whether Bill C-12 is passed or not, there is a very good chance that the next federal campaign will play a bigger role in the re-drawing of the Canadian political landscape. A change in votes, rather than riding boundaries, is the way out of another minority government.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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