Provinces 2.0

Canadian provinces have economic, historical and cultural characteristics that make them distinct from one another, but it is pretty natural to ask whether or not the administrative boundaries of provinces match the economic and social landscape of the country.  Do the provincial boundaries divide into regions of shared interests, or are do they split up more natural groupings of people into artificial geographic areas?

One way to explore this question is by mapping out census data on things like employment, language, population density, etc., and then visually comparing how these attributes are distributed across the country to determine whether or not they align with existing provincial boundaries.  Here is a map of census divisions portraying the distribution of median income based on the 2006 Canadian census:

MapCanada1

From this map we can observe where median income is higher (dark blue) or lower (light blue), and the apparent regional patterns–for example, lower in eastern Canada, and higher in southern Ontario and western Canada.  It is clear from the map, however, that the provinces are themselves internally heterogeneous; northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba have lower median income than the southern urban regions, for example. Perhaps northern regions could be sensibly ‘grouped’ into their own province if we thought median income was an important defining attribute of provincial identity, or if it empowered traditionally underrepresented groups in a way that traditional provincial boundaries did not.

An alternative approach is to use a computer algorithm to re-draw the provincial boundaries based on the attributes of interest.  Here I use a political districting algorithm developed in my lab to redraw the provincial boundaries in a way that makes them as internally similar as possible with respect to median income.  I also ensured that the provinces are roughly equal in population size (between 2.5 and 5 million in each).  The result is a map of the country with new provincial boundaries (‘Provinces 2.0’).

MapCanada2

Here’s one of just southern Ontario:

MapCanada3

In practice, defining provincial boundaries based on similarities of income makes little sense.  Indeed, it may make more economic sense to create provinces that are economically heterogeneous so that wealthier regions can contribute provincial tax revenue to poorer regions. Furthermore, these alternative boundaries can be based on different attributes (e.g., language, ethnic background, unemployment, economic growth, housing stock, voting behaviour) or some combination of attributes that prove important.  It could also be interesting to observe how how these maps may change over time.

Expect some more experiments with these maps in the near future…