A new myth-busting study by Equal Voice, a national, multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada, provides a fresh way of looking at female representation on the federal stage. In analyzing Canada’s 33 most ethnically diverse ridings, they found that, contrary to stereotypes that visible minority communities are less open to women leaders, representation of female visible minority candidates is far higher than that of the non-visible minority candidate pool. Part of the reason? Political parties cultivate visible minority women in these communities in a way we don’t see them do with so-called “old stock” Canadians, to employ the risible term used by Stephen Harper in a recent leaders’ debate.
The Equal Voice study was undertaken to determine candidate diversity in diverse ridings, says its executive director Nancy Peckford. Researcher Grace Lore, a Ph.D. political science student at the University of British Columbia, crunched data on 33 ridings where more than 50 per cent of the population is visible minority as identified by Andrew Griffith in Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote—23 ridings in Ontario, eight in B.C., one in Quebec and one in Alberta. Forty per cent of visible minority candidates were women; among candidates of the non-visible minority pool, women comprised just 21 per cent. These aren’t lame-duck contenders, says Lore: “Many of the visible minority women in those 33 ridings are absolutely in winnable ridings.”
Parties are strategic in these ridings, says Peckford, many of which are battlegrounds in the current federal campaign: “Parties inherently understand that to be competitive they need to reflect the community back to them,” she says. “I think there is a lot of diligence to ensure they’re choosing candidates who have fairly comprehensive reach.” The effort seems to be encouraging women to come forward, she says: “It’s auspicious. We need more of it.”
Asked why less diverse ridings don’t field women, Peckford is quick to answer: “I don’t think they have to try as hard,” she says.
The study’s finding is consistent with research documenting that female visible minority MPs are better represented in Parliament than in the general population. A 2008 study, “Ethnoracial minorities in the 38th Parliament: Patterns of change and continuity,” by Jerome Black reveals that representation of minority women doubled between 1993 and 2004, from just 4 per cent to 8 per cent (though, as Lore points out: “that’s hardly a level to cheer about”). By 2004, minority women comprised 40 per cent of minority MPs. “Given that, in 2004, women overall comprised just 21 per cent of all MPs, that’s pretty incredible,” Lore says. Minority women have done better than minority men, she points out: “So the way we can phrase this is when we do more to get more women, we end up with more diverse candidates overall.”