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Through the ballot box, Canadians get a chance to directly express their opinion about how their country should be run. At the federal level, Canadians elect members of Parliament to the House of Commons to represent each electoral district. Elections are typically held every four to four and one-half years.
The distribution of seats in the House of Commons is based on population, although special considerations are made for less populous areas to ensure fair representation. The average riding has about 97,425 people, but it can range from 26,745 residents (Nunavut) to 124,572 residents (West Vancouver). The entirety of Nunavut is one riding. It is also the largest riding in Canada, at 2.1 million square kilometres; the smallest is Papineau, Quebec, at nine square kilometres.
At 10-year intervals, according to census results, the number of electoral districts is reviewed and readjusted, if necessary, to reflect changes and movements in Canada's population. The 38th General Election in 2004 saw the number of seats contested rise from 301 to 308, with three new ridings in Ontario and two each in British Columbia and Alberta.
Nearly 23 million Canadians were eligible to vote in the 39th General Election in January 2006, and65% turned up at the ballot boxes. This broke the pattern of the previous five elections in which voter turnout fell, bottoming out at 61% in the 38th General Election-the lowest rate of turnout since Confederation. For the third election in a row, voter participation was highest in Prince Edward Island, at 74%. Voter turnout was lowest in Nunavut and in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Of the 308 members elected in 2006, 21% were female candidates, the same percentage elected in the 1997, 2000 and 2004 elections.