What We Might Look Like

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Canada is huge the second largest country in the world. It is also one of the least densely populated countries in the world. (If Canada was as densely populated as Germany or the U.K. both of which have lots of woods, mountains, moors and other open spaces she would have 2.2 or 2.3 Billion people respectively.) The immensity of our land is a blessing and a challenge.

Most of Canada is rock and forest. The prairies are flat to rolling and mostly treeless. Many parts of the country are underlain with vast mineral, gas and oil resources. Other parts have rich soils capable of producing the best tasting fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat and poultry products in the world. The range of geophysical realities in Canada is huge. Canada also has a continent’s worth of climates.

The history of Canada is as regionally varied as it is dramatically grand. Some regions of Canada have the oldest histories in North America. The name “Canada” has been on world maps since the 1540’s. For more than 200 years it referred to the land on both sides of the St. Lawrence River, a little bit down and up river from Quebec City and Montreal the mother and father cities of Canada. Other regions of Canada weren’t even explored, let alone developed, until the 20th century.

One thing is absolutely certain Canada is far more regionally diverse than ten provinces and three territories can possibly represent.

From the earliest times, valleys have been the natural homes of the cities and civilizations of mankind. Rivers run through them and form naturally unified watershed ecosystems. River systems don’t divide, they unite like the veins on a leaf. They centre regions and give them their identity. As a generalization, the ridgelines separating valley systems make far better, more natural boundaries than rivers do.

To better reflect on the ground reality, Canada could be redrawn into seven natural territories, and, with virtually no “shoe horning”, 15 natural regions in each of the seven territories. All territories and most regions would be based on watersheds. Where the rivers are too long, two or more regions would share a watershed.

There would be no territorial or regional governments.

The seven territories are illustrated on the following maps and are blandly named on purpose. The three outer territories contain the river systems that drain into the Pacific, Northern (Arctic and most of Hudson’s Bay) and Atlantic oceans. The Central territory embraces the great river systems draining the prairies and the western part of the Canadian Shield into part of southwestern Hudson’s Bay. The Shield territory adds some historic, resource and economic factors to watershed considerations. Besides the James Bay and North of Superior areas, it extends southeast to the upper St. Lawrence where the Canadian Shield pokes a tongue across the river into upstate New York. The territory also embraces all the Ottawa and Gatineau river systems except a short portion near the Ottawa’s mouth which is part of Ste. Laurent. The Ste. Laurent territory is basically the original Canada with the North Shore and Saguenay regions added. The Hurontario territory lies south of the Shield territory’s French, Mattawa and Ottawa river systems and includes all the short river systems that drain into southern Georgian Bay, Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, and the headwaters of the St. Lawrence.

Regions vary dramatically in size and population. Current provincial tourism areas; conservation areas; shared histories, industries and resources; common geographies and climates; and observation all contributed to identifying the 105 natural regions shown and named on the following maps. Some regional boundaries are not too far off existing county lines. They’re just not straight! Almost without exception, the new regional boundaries follow the ridgelines that separate valley systems.

Some examples. While the region is huge, the people living in the cities, towns, farms and wilderness of the Peace River region have much more sense of each other than of remote governors in either Victoria or Edmonton. Similarly, the residents of Kirkland Lake and Rouyn Noranda share a regional environment that can scarcely be comprehended in Toronto or Quebec City.

People living in Burlington feel more affinity for Hamilton than Toronto, thus, the newly named York region would have a western boundary along the ridgeline formed by the Bronte Creek and Credit River watersheds that drain the eastern side of the escarpment. York’s northern boundary would run along the ridgeline of the Oak Ridges Moraine to the point where it meets the eastern ridgeline of the Graham Creek watershed that runs to the lake just east of Newcastle.

Each of the 105 regions have many common features and interests that, added together, distinguish them from neighbouring regions. These internally shared, common elements have already fostered senses of regional identity that are more immediate and stronger than provincial ones. Certain specific functions like tourism, economic development, land use planning, etc., suggest the possible establishment of some kinds of cooperative, municipally controlled, staffed, equipped and operated regional boards or commissions. It might make sense for certain specific public services to be handled by a single regional agency or works department in some of the smaller, more densely populated regions. It would probably make no sense at all to try to do the same in huge, lightly populated regions.

Assuming that a Citizens’ Assembly redesigned the country’s internal boundaries and created the centralized/decentralized, national/municipal governance structure discussed in this essay, the result would look like this:

The family is the first and most important “government” for individuals. Citizens would elect representatives to their national parliament from among local riding or regional candidates and to their municipal councils from among local ward, district or village candidates, the same as we do now. (As a side note, neighbourhood names like Vanier, Leaside, Kerrisdale and so on, are friendlier, more descriptive and more capable of stimulating pride, involvement and proprietorship than “Ward 6”.)

A Citizens’ Assembly might go to the extent of specifying limits on the size of municipalities say, maximum 1 Million residents, or, no more than eleven councillors
and no fewer than five, or, some other device that would prevent local governments from becoming grotesquely bloated. If such a scenario was specified, newly named York region could contain the 17 municipalities of: Oakville, Milton, Halton Hills, Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon, Etobicoke, Woodbine (a new city including Rexdale, Malton, The Gore and part of S.W. Vaughan), Vaughan, Toronto, North York, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Markham, Pickerjax, Oshawhitby, and Clarington (including Bowmanville, Courtice and Newcastle).

Most Canadians live in cities or towns. Most of Canada is farmland or wilderness. The national parliament needs to reflect these two realities. Members of the House of Commons would continue to reflect representation by population as at present as close to the democratic ideal of “one person, one vote” as fairness permits. Members of a newly named House of Regions would represent the widely varying regional and territorial characteristics of Canada.

Each region would elect at least one representative to the House of Commons with the exception of the extremely lightly populated regions in the Northern territory where the 15 regions would be grouped in 5 ridings to better reflect rep by pop fairness. More heavily populated regions would have as many ridings as they had 100,000’s of people and each of these ridings would have as close to 100,000 people as possible, as at present. Canada’s population of 33 million suggests a House of Commons of 330 members at 100,000 people per member’s riding. Stipulating that each region (ex those in the Northern territory) would have at least one member in the Commons, even though it had less than 100,000 population, means that the House would have more than 330 members. That’s okay, the U.K.’s Commons has about 640 members for its 60 million people

Each region, without exception, would elect one representative to the House of Regions, thus, there would be 105 members in the House of Regions, fifteen from each of seven territories. Each region and territory, though having widely different populations, would have equal representation in Parliament’s House of Regions. Members of the House of Regions could be elected for fixed six year terms half of them every three years at the time of municipal elections.

Given the different timing of its elections, and the regional/ territorial character of its mandate, it is conceivable that the Regions could become a non partisan House rather quickly.

The roles of the two Houses would be much like the ones set down in the BNA Act for the Commons and Senate. The House of Commons would control the legislative, regulatory and supervisory functions of government. Cabinet, Department and Committee Ministers would come only from the Commons no member of the House of Regions would be a government Minister.

The House of Regions would have the same power as the current Senate to compel three reconsiderations, but not rejection, of legislation coming from the Commons. Oversight of judicial and senior bureaucratic appointments could be added functions of the Regions.

Charles W. Conn
May 14, 2008.


Territories (and Regions where possible) are watersheds


1. Pacific                  approximate population,               3.8 million.
2. Northern              approximate population,                0.5 million.
3. Central                 approximate population,                5.0 million.
4. Shield                   approximate population,                1.5 million.
5. Hurontario            approximate population,             10.0 million.
6. Ste. Laurent          approximate population,                7.0 million.
7. Atlantic                approximate population,                2.2 million.

Total population base – 30.0 million.



1. Pacific Territory

1. Stikine & Nass
2. Skeena & Queen Charlottes
3. North Island/Coast
4. South Island
5. Lower Mainland
6. Fraser Valley
7. Prince George centred
8. Plateau (Quesnel/Williams Lake)
9. Cariboo (100 Mile House/Lillooet)
10. Kamloops Tete Jaune
11. Revelstoke Golden
12. Coquihalla Similkameen
13. Okanagan
14. Kootenay The Arrows
15. South Columbia


2. Northern Territory

1. Klondike
2. Central Yukon
3. Whitehorse
4. Delta
5. Great Bear MacKenzie
6. Yellowknife
7. Nahanni
8. Liard Liard/Hay
9. Hay River
10. Peace River
11. Yellowhead Peace/Athabaska
12. Athabaska
13. Franklin
14. Keewatin Nunavut
15. Ungava


3. Central Territory

1. Edmonton centred
2. Red Deer centred
3. Calgary centred
4. Lethbridge centred
5. Lloydminster North battleford
6. Saskatoon centred
7. Palliser
8. Churchill River
9. Prince Albert The Pas
10. Regina centred
11. Yorkton Swan River
12. Souris River
13. Winnipeg Red River Lakes
14. Nelson/Hayes/Severn Rivers
15. Lake of the Woods


4. Shield Territory

1. Petit Nord
2. Nipigon
3. Lakehead
4. Algoma
5. The Sault
6. Abitibi
7. North Shore
8. Nickel Belt
9. Temiskamingue
10. Nipissing
11. Ottawa Valley
12. Mistassini
13. Gatineau
14. National Capital
15. Rideau St. Lawrence

5. Hurontario Territory

1. Essex
2. Kent
3. Lambton
4. London centred
5. Huron
6. Bruce Grey
7. North Grand River
8. South Grand River
9. Niagara
10. Hamilton centred
11. York (G.T.A., E. of Escarpment and S. of Moraine)
12. Lake Simcoe
13. Muskoka Parry Sound
14. Trent
15. Frontenac

6. Ste. Laurent Territory

1. Duplessis
2. Manicouagan
3. Saguenay Lac Saint Jean
4. Charlevoix
5. Quebec City centred
6. Bois Francs
7. Laurent ides
8. Greater Montreal (Islands)
9. “Le Nez”
10. Monteregie
11. Estrie
12. Mauricie
13. Chaudiere Appalaches
14. Bas Saint Laurent
15. Gaspesie

7. Atlantic Territory

1. Labrador
2. Vinland
3. Avalon
4. Restigouche
5. Madawaska
6. Miramichi
7. Fredericton centred
8. Saint John centred
9. Acadie (Moncton/Amherst)
10. P.E.I. (incl. Isles de la Madeleine)
11. New Glasgow (Truro/East Nova)
12. Cape Breton Island
13. Halifax centred
14. Fundy Annapolis
15. South Shore

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