Politics

Advocates disappointed by lack of racial diversity among major parties’ candidates

TORONTO —
Given the racial reckoning that began in 2020, community organizers and political scientists say it’s disappointing that major political parties are still failing to have slates of candidates that fully reflect Canada’s diversity.

“My sense is that that moment is passing away,” Debra Thompson, Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies at McGill University, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

“Politicians are really interested in what’s going to get them elected today, not what might have gotten them elected a year ago,” said Thompson.

As happened in the U.S., the murder of George Floyd by a police officer sent shockwaves across Canada, sparking calls for an end to anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination — with political leaders, businesses, and even entertainers all lending varying degrees of support.

But throughout 2021, critics have been calling out the lack of substantive change towards racial equity when it comes to business practices, health care outcomes, and now, representation among candidates for members of Parliament.

THE NUMBERS

The five parties taking part in the debates organized by the Leaders’ Debates Commission were asked to break down the diversity of their candidates across all 338 ridings, including racial identity, if nominees are members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and if they identify as having a disability. The Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois did not provide such data before this article was published.

LIBERALS

In this election, 147 Liberal Party candidates are women, 25 candidates identify as Indigenous, and 18 Liberal candidates identify as Black.

A party spokesperson noted that more than one in five of the party’s candidates identify as racialized or persons of colour, and 17 identify as LGBTQ2S+.

CONSERVATIVES

As for the Conservatives, they will be running 114 female candidates, which a spokesperson said is the most they’ve ever had. The party is running six Metis candidates and eight others who identify as Indigenous.

The Tories have nominated 14 candidates who identify as Black or African Canadian, and 10 Muslim candidates.

A spokesperson said the party is also putting forth four LGBTQ2S+ candidates, including its first trans nominee.

NEW DEMOCRATS

The NDP has nominated 177 women, and 29 candidates who identify as Indigenous. A party spokesperson said there are 104 candidates who identify as “POC” or people of colour.

The spokesperson said 69 candidates are LGBTQ2S+, with 39 candidates saying they had a disability.

‘WE DON’T ALL EXPERIENCE DEMOCRACY IN THE SAME WAY’

Thompson said having diverse slates isn’t about checking off a box, but about empowering decision-makers to have a “better sense of all the nuances and complexity of particular issues.”

“There’s a lot that happens in this country that white Canadians simply don’t see and don’t experience,” said Thompson.

“The perspectives of white Canadians are limited in the same way that everyone’s perspective is limited to their own experience,” she said. “But having people with different backgrounds is really important because they begin to bring those experiences to bear in the halls of power… it changes how we view even the nature of institutions or democracy.”

Evidence shows Black, Indigenous and other marginalized communities have vastly different experiences when it comes to encounters with police, the health-care system, experiencing hate crimes, and the child welfare system.

“We don’t all experience democracy in the same way,” Thompson said.

‘WE NEED TO BE BETTER’: OPERATION BLACK VOTE CANADA CHAIR

Based on the election race so far, Thompson said she doesn’t have a lot of hope racial disparity will be at the forefront of leaders’ electoral concerns.

But that isn’t to say there hasn’t been any progress when it came to marginalized groups.

According to Equal Voice, a not-for-profit organization that tracks gender diversity in Canadian politics, women and gender-diverse candidates account for 43 per cent of all nominees across the five major parties – a slight increase from the 42 per cent total in the 2019 federal election.

Operation Black Vote Canada said there has been a slight increase in the number of Black candidates overall since the last election.

In 2019, roughly 45 candidates were Black but only five ending up getting elected. And so far, the advocacy group has counted roughly 60 Black candidates across all of the political parties, including independents. But candidate numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“A lot of these candidates are not in winnable ridings for the particular party that they’re running for,” Velma Morgan, chair of non-partisan Operation Black Vote Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

She also noted that Black candidates are mostly running in Ontario and Alberta. “I think we need to be better. We’re disappointed,” she said.

LACK OF SUPPORT FROM PARTIES

Morgan said that the bulk of Black candidates overall were nominated fairly late in the process, including by the Liberals.

“Political parties need to engage our community a lot sooner,” she said.

Erin Tolley, Canada Research Chair in Gender, Race and Inclusive Politics at Carleton University, echoed Morgan, saying it also matters how much actual backing those candidates get from leadership.

“Do they have a chance of winning? Is their party supporting them with the organizational and financial resources that will help them be successful?” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

“Because often… parties pat themselves on the back just for having a racialized candidate,” she said, adding that research shows white male candidates continue to be better financed and put in the most competitive and winnable ridings overall.

PARTIES COULD GIVE RACIAL STATS ‘IF THEY WANTED TO’

Another huge barrier to increasing racial diversity political parties’ unwillingness to share information on candidates from racialized and marginalized groups, Tolley and others said.

They said parties aren’t forthcoming with consistent data. Every election cycle, Operation Black Vote Canada has counted and kept track of every Black candidate themselves.

“[Parties] know who their candidates are. They’ve had to vet them. They’ve had to interview them,” she said. “They could actually give us the data on particular groups of people if they wanted to,” Morgan said.

“When we leave it the parties to come up with their own categories of information, they obviously put forward their best foot,” she said, adding that without some sort of standardized system, political parties can keep hiding behind blanket phrases such as “diverse candidates” or “people of colour.”

And she said parties can’t be relied on to be transparent.

And Tolley noted that even the Library of Parliament, the main research resource for elected officials, doesn’t even go beyond listing MPs’ gender or potential Indigeneity. And that means stats on race, LGBTQ2S+ identity or whether people have disabilities are mostly left for others to find out, she said.

Thompson said that simple representation in parties’ candidate slates is simply the first step.

“Just having a slate of non-white candidates or women in it of itself doesn’t do anything to fix structural racism, and it doesn’t fix institutionalized misogyny,” Thompson said. “Power concedes nothing with a demand.”

With a file from CTVNews.ca’s Jackie Dunham


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