Visible Minority and Indigenous Members of Parliament

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Political News Thursday, November 26, 2015 View Count = 6935

Visible Minority and Indigenous Members of Parliament

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Visible Minority and Indigenous Members of Parliament” is written by Erin Tolley from the University of Toronto. 

Within just 96 hours of October's federal election, Erin Tolley and 65 other leading thinkers and political scientists in Canada each wrote a short, snappy analysis of the election. Never before have Canadian experts collaborated to produce such a complete—and fast—response to an election. Together with UBC Press, Samara is proud to bring you all 57 articles as part of the "Election 2015" blog series, the definitive look at all angles of the 42nd general election.  

Watch this space to get all the analyses. For a complete list of academics involved, click here

Canada’s 42nd Parliament will include 47 visible minority Members of Parliament and 10 Indigenous MPs, record highs for both groups. The Liberals elected the most MPs of colour—83% of visible minority and Indigenous MPs will sit in the government caucus—followed by the Conservatives and the New Democrats. 

Erin Tolley Table 1
The diversity of the 42nd Parliament dramatically outpaces the high-water mark reached in the previous Parliament when 28 visible minority and seven Indigenous candidates were elected. Following the 2011 election, MPs of colour made up 11% of the House of Commons, compared to 17% following the 2015 election, an increase of 54%.

The presence of visible minority MPs reasonably reflects the presence of visible minorities in Canada. Among Canadian citizens—those who are eligible to run for office and vote in Canadian elections—visible minorities make up 15% of the population. Visible minority MPs, meanwhile, occupy 14% of seats in the House of Commons, meaning that near mirror representation has been achieved. However, the bulk of visible minority MPs are of South Asian and Chinese descent; most other visible minority groups are under-represented in Parliament. This underscores that while benchmarking the elevation of diverse voices to elected office is important, a singular focus on “success” can conceal persistent representational gaps. 

Numerical under-representation is also evident when we look at Indigenous MPs. While Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, make up more than 4% of the Canadian population, Indigenous MPs occupy just 3% of seats in the House of Commons, meaning they are only three-quarters of the way to proportionality. 

Fifteen visible minority women and three Indigenous women were elected in 2015. This is on par with the 15 visible minority women and two Indigenous women who were elected four years earlier, but because the number of seats in the House of Commons has also increased, in proportionate terms, women of colour have in fact seen their presence decrease. Still, they remain a powerful force among visible minority and Indigenous MPs where 32% are women, compared to 25% of women among white MPs. 

Candidates of colour tend to be elected in only the most racially diverse ridings. On average, visible minority MPs were elected in ridings where visible minorities made up 45% of the population, compared to the average federal riding, where 18% of the population identifies as visible minority. Indigenous MPs, meanwhile, were elected in ridings where Indigenous peoples make up, on average, 33% of the population, even though Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the population of the average federal riding. In other words, to the extent that people of colour are elevated to elected office, this typically only occurs when they run in ridings whose demographic complexion mirrors their own. Analysis by myself and Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant shows that the majority of ridings did not include a single candidate of colour running for any of the competitive political parties, even though voters—both white and minority—show little bias against candidates of colour. This suggests party elites are making assumptions about the ridings in which they think candidates of colour can win.

The Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP fielded 143 visible minority and 44 Indigenous candidates in this election. That compares to the 64 visible ­minority and 23 Indigenous candidates nominated by the same three parties in advance of the 2011 election. The number of candidates of colour thus more than doubled in just one electoral cycle, though we should bear in mind that 30 more electoral districts existed in the 2015 contest. The large number of ridings without incumbent candidates undoubtedly widened the pipeline for new political entrants. Visible minority MPs were more likely than others to run in ridings without an incumbent (34% of visible minority MPs ran in so-called open ridings, compared to 27% of white MPs and 20% of Indigenous MPs). Given the advantage of incumbency in Canadian politics, running in a riding that does not include a sitting MP is a considerable electoral advantage. Of the visible minority candidates who were elected, 85% were non-incumbents, compared to 59% of white candidates. 

When political parties make an effort to recruit and nominate diverse candidates and do so in ridings where the party is competitive, those candidates can—and do—win. We should celebrate the inclusion of diverse faces in the House of Commons, but remain conscious of the ways in which their pathways to politics can be obstructed. Although it is beyond the scope of this analysis, we should also examine the positions that MPs of colour occupy on committees, within caucus, and in Cabinet. Presence is important, but influence matters most. Above all, in spite of the representational gains that have been made, they are in some cases small, meaning we still have some way to go to achieve a truly representative democracy.

Erin TolleyErin Tolley’s research looks at women, minorities, and diversity in Canadian politics. She is co-editor of five books on immigration and multiculturalism and the author of Framed: Media and the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics (UBC Press, 2015).

You can also find this article in the e-book Canadian Election Analysis 2015: Communication, Strategy, and Democracy, which is available for download on UBC Press's website

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