Election Riding: Canadian Political Glossary

Canadian Government Glossary
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In Canada, a riding is an electoral district. It is a place or geographical area that is represented in the House of Commons by a member of parliament, or in provincial and territory elections an area represented by a member of the provincial or territory legislative assembly.

The federal ridings and provincial ridings may have similar names, but they usually have different boundaries. The names are usually geographic names that identify the area or names of historical personages or a mix of both. Provinces have different numbers of federal electoral districts while territories have only a single district.

The word riding comes from an Old English word that meant one-third of a county. It is no longer an official term but it is in general use when referring to Canadian electoral districts.

Also Known As: electoral district; constituency, circonscription, comté (county).

Canadian Federal Electoral Districts

Each federal riding returns one Member of Parliament (MP) to the Canadian House of Commons. All of the ridings are single-member districts. The local organizations of political parties are known as riding associations, although the legal term is electoral district association.  The federal electoral districts are designated by a name and a five-digit district code. 

Provincial or Territorial Electoral Districts

Each provincial or territorial electoral district returns one representative to the provincial or territorial legislature. The title depends on the province or territory. In general, the boundaries for the district are different from those of the federal electoral district in the same area.

Changes to Federal Electoral Districts: Ridings

Ridings were first established by the British North America Act in 1867. At that time, there were 181 ridings in four provinces. They are periodically reallocated based on population, often after the results of the census. Originally, they were the same as the counties used for local government. But as the population grew and changed, some counties had enough population to be divided into two or more electoral districts, while rural population may have shrunk and riding needed to encompass parts of more than one county to contain enough voters.​

The number of ridings was increased to 338 from 308 by the 2013 Representation Order, which took effect for the federal elections in 2015. They were revised based on the 2011 Census population numbers, with seat counts rising in four provinces. Western Canada and the Greater Toronto area gained the most population and the newest ridings. Ontario gained 15, British Columbia and Alberta gained six each, and Quebec gained three.

Within a province, the boundaries of the ridings also shift each time they are reallocated. In the 2013 revision, only 44 had the same boundaries as they had before. This shift is done to reallocate representation based on where the most population was located. It is possible that the boundary changes could affect the outcome of elections. An independent commission in each province redraws the boundary lines, with some input from the public. Name changes are done through legislation.

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Munroe, Susan. "Election Riding: Canadian Political Glossary." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/riding-508186. Munroe, Susan. (2020, August 25). Election Riding: Canadian Political Glossary. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/riding-508186 Munroe, Susan. "Election Riding: Canadian Political Glossary." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/riding-508186 (accessed June 10, 2023).