New Canadian Media

Ethnic Women Still Underrepresented in Parliament

Written by  NCM Election Desk Tuesday, 03 November 2015 09:50
Ruby Sahota, one of three newly elected visible minority women MPs in Brampton, stands outside of the Islamic Forum of Canada with supporters during the recent election campaign.
Ruby Sahota, one of three newly elected visible minority women MPs in Brampton, stands outside of the Islamic Forum of Canada with supporters during the recent election campaign. Photo Credit: Ruby Sahota Facebook Page

by Anita Singh in Toronto

There has been much excitement about the record number of female members of Parliament (MPs) elected on Oct. 19. However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

In the last parliament, 76 of 308 MPs – or 25 per cent – were women. The recent election saw a record number of 88 female MPs elected to office, but in a parliament with 30 additional seats, this increase represents just 26 per cent of the total. 

To see how Canada truly stacked up in terms of representation in the House of Commons, many factors must be considered.

“Winnable factor”

To its credit, the incoming ruling party has vowed to be a more inclusive, representative party than governments past. Along these lines, 33 per cent of Liberal candidates were women – a considerable number, although obviously lower than the proportion of women in the general population.

Research in this field has noted though that counting female candidates is not the best estimate for how well women are represented. 

For example, women may not be given “winnable” ridings to run in. Those may be saved for their male counterparts, which inevitably means women are less likely to win.

Other examples show how women are used to balance each other out. 

In a number of cases this election, female candidates were often running against each other. With only one victor per riding, often more than one female candidate was eliminated from the race.

Ethnic women voices missing

In contrast to its gender representation, this parliament is highly representative of ethnic communities – with a record 52 ‘ethnic’ MPs. 

Notably, communities beyond the usually well-represented South and East Asian immigrant groups have gained representation in this parliament.

Disappointingly, this has not translated into similar representation for minority women in parliament.

Two notables are Somalia-born Ahmed Hussen who won York South–Weston and Afghanistan-born Maryam Monsef in Peterborough-Kawartha. Both Liberals are the first-ever MPs from their respective communities to sit in the House of Commons.

With these 52 seats, 15.4 per cent of parliament will be made of members of a visible minority or ethnic group. Disappointingly, this has not translated into similar representation for minority women in parliament, as only 16 out of 338 MPs are minority women (4.7 per cent). 

Representation of visible minority women is even worse outside the Liberal party.

While the Conservative party, with the single-handed mission of Jason Kenney, had made major in-roads with a number of ethnic and immigrant communities since 2006, the party lost ‘ethnic women candidates’ such as Nina Grewal in British Columbia and Leona Aglukkaq in Nunavut. 

The Conservative downfall has also affected visible minority males including Devinder Shory and Tim Uppal in its Alberta heartland, as well as handpicked candidates like Parm Gill and Bal Gosal in Ontario.

Representation of visible minority women is even worse outside the Liberal party.

For the Conservatives, five ethnic candidates were elected and of those, only one woman: Alice Wong from Vancouver.

On the New Democratic Party (NDP) side, the loss of female candidates can be attributed to defeat by the red wave in many key ridings. Former and incumbent MPs such as Megan Leslie, Rathika Sitsabaiesan and Olivia Chow all lost to Liberal candidates in their ridings. 

Party

Number of candidates elected

Number of ethnic candidates elected (men & women)

Number of female ethnic candidates elected

Liberal Party of Canada

184

44 (24%)

13 (7.1%)

Conservative Party of Canada

99

5 (5.1%)

1 (1.0%)

New Democratic Party of Canada

44

3 (6.8%)

2 (4.5%)

Other

11

0

0

Total

338 (100%)

52 (15.4%)

16 (4.7%)

Note: Data collected from official party candidate websites

Some areas show promise

While these numbers are a dismal representation of ethnic women in the new government, there are a few surprises. 

In Brampton, Ontario, three of five seats in the city have gone to minority women – all newly elected. Ruby Sahota, for instance, defeated Parm Gill in one of the Conservative’s “highly ethnic” ridings identified in the party’s election strategy.

[W]e continue to have a long way to go in ensuring that all Canadians find their voices in their elected representatives.
 

Similarly, three of Vancouver’s six ridings have gone to visible minority female candidates: Jenny Kwan in Vancouver East for the NDP, and Hedy Fry in Vancouver Centre and Jody Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver Granville for the Liberal party.

While incumbency didn’t seem to matter as much, party affiliation surely played a role.

Of the 16 ethnic women elected last Monday, only three were incumbents in their own ridings.  More significantly, seven of the 16 candidates beat the incumbent Conservative MP in their ridings, suggesting that party politics reigned supreme in these decisions.

Finally, five of these visible minority female candidates were elected in the newly formed ridings that came out of the 2012 redistribution.  

Next steps

Later this week, prime minister-designate Trudeau will be releasing his new cabinet. He has made a commitment to form it with gender balance in mind. 

In addition, he should also consider adequate ethnic representation in cabinet, including front-bench cabinet positions, to reflect the diversity of the electorate. 

Despite the important commitment from the incoming prime minister, we continue to have a long way to go in ensuring that all Canadians find their voices in their elected representatives.


Anita Singh is a founding partner of Tahlan, Jorden & Singh Consulting Group and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.

This is part 2 of a two-part commentary looking at the representation of ethnic women in Canadian federal politics.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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