For racialized communities, electoral reform is about more than voting | Toronto Star

While Avvy gets the numbers wrong – there are 47 visible minority MPs, not 46  (14 percent), close to the 15 percent of visible minorities who are also Canadian citizens and who can vote, her broader point on the need for better representation would benefit for more attention to the declining naturalization rate, and how that disproportionately affects visible minorities, and hence participation in elections (see Citizenship Applications: Third Quarter Continues to Show Decline).

Moreover, while it is legitimate to criticize the specific choices of which  visible minorities made it into Cabinet (four Canadian Sikhs, one Afghan Canadian), a broader look at senior political positions (parliamentary secretaries etc) and Senate appointments presents a more nuanced picture (see my Government appointments and diversity).

My focus is more on the declining naturalization rate given the longer term impact on social inclusion/cohesion and representation:

When the 46 so-called “visible-minority” MPs were elected to the Canadian Parliament in the 2015 election, some media called it a “watershed” moment in our history and a victory for Canada’s multiculturalism. In reality, out of a total of 338 seats, the politicians from different communities of colour represent just over 13 per cent of Parliament, while about 19 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of people of colour, with the largest three groups being South Asian, Chinese and black, who together made up 61 per cent of all communities of colour. When Trudeau named his cabinet, one that he described as looking like Canada, not one Chinese or black made it to his short list.

Today, tens of thousands permanent residents of Canada are denied the right to vote because of the strict naturalization law, not to mention the 200,000 or immigrants with precarious status who have lived and worked in Canada for years, in some cases decades, without ever given a chance to regularize their status.

As Canadians ponder which electoral system will be best for our democracy, considerations should be given for the following two questions:

  • Which electoral system will be best able to engage the marginalized communities, including racialized communities and new Canadians, in order to ensure their full participation in the democratic process.
  • Regardless of which system is chosen, what can we do to make our political bodies more fully reflect the makeup of Canada?

On both questions, the special committee report fell short. While the Report did make some passing references to the need to increase representation of “visible minorities,” no specific recommendation — or an attempt to come up with one — was made to address this issue.

This is in contrast with the committee’s treatment of some of the other under-represented groups, or groups that are not as engaged in the political process as they should, such as indigenous peoples, students, youth, people with disabilities, and women, where there were specific sections in the report devoted to analyzing how to increase their democratic purification, and in the case of indigenous people and women, their political representation. But even then, the committee did not offer any concrete solutions for these critical challenges.

The government has since been hosting its own online consultation to gather public opinion. Apart from offering no public education or information about the electoral reform process or the various possible options, the questions posted on Mydemocracy.ca are replete with false dichotomy.

Canadians are asked a number of “either-or” questions, as if the choices presented are mutually exclusive. One question assumes, for instance, a system that requires greater collaboration among parties would be less accountable. Another asks Canadians to choose between improving representation of under-represented groups and greater political accountability.

While there is no perfect system, there is no reason why we cannot aspire to design a system that is inclusive, accountable, and above all, responsive to all Canadians.

Source: For racialized communities, electoral reform is about more than voting | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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