There’s a lot of anticipation for the October 19 federal election. Many Canadians are asking for change, and a good place to start would be looking at the representation found in our government. We’re making strides, yes, but we are still a ways away from accurately representing the Canadian population.
Canada’s Public Policy Forum breaks down the current (41st) Parliament in terms of demographics, pointing out that 24.6% of Parliament are women and 9.4% are visible minorities. This is technically the most diverse Parliament in Canada’s history, and yet it still fails remarkably in its reflection of its population. According to Statistics Canada, 50.4% of Canada’s population are women, and 19.1% are part of a visible minority group.
“Some argue that it’s a matter of simple justice. Representation in positions of political power should be roughly proportionate to presence in the population. Those who are under-represented lack a voice,” says Linda Trimble, a political science professor at the University of Alberta. “Because politicians draw on diverse life experiences, I think it is essential that the elected representatives of the people mirror the diversity in the population, not least so Canadians see themselves represented in political life.”
Both the public and the current government should make steps to ensure diverse representation. Education and awareness seem to be the key, as a lot of the power seems to lay in the hands of the more privileged groups, particularly white, straight men. Privileged groups must be mindful of how they can help empower and encourage other people and groups.
“Because they’re part of the majority, it’s important that, when they’re in spaces with other people who look like them, that they stand up for people of colour, for minorities in general,” says Reakash Walters, an NDP nomination candidate. “My responsibility would be empowering other women, other people of colour, other queer people… to encourage them to take up space… [and] join the conversation. Their voice matters.”
Earlier this year, Alberta’s provincial election made headlines over its NDP win, which brought about Alberta’s most diverse government. Almost half the elected members are women, and three are open members of the LGBTQ community. It seems to be the start of more diverse representation, and it’s this presence of role models that can help inspire and empower both the community and the future of politics.
“Estefania [Cortes-Vargas] is MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park and she’s a queer woman of colour”, says Walters. “Before, she would think, ‘Well I don’t look like a politician. Look at those politicians, none of them look like me!’ But now [others] can look at Estefania and think, ‘Hey, maybe I can get into politics and represent my area.’ I think that’s a really important part of it, to have role models for other people to look up to.” She adds. “It’s bringing more diverse people into the conversation and ensuring that there’s people thinking about that… We know that Estefania is going to be thinking about certain things that other people probably won’t be thinking about.”
And that’s the point. Different people think about different things, so it stands to reason that politicians with differing backgrounds will have different priorities and will bring other ideas and perspectives to the table.
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