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Parties increase efforts to boost diversity, but NDP leads the charge

The Globe and Mail with Erin Tolley and Melanee Thomas 17 October 2019

Party candidates in this election are more likely to reflect Canada’s diversity than they did previously, but while some parties are making incremental changes, under Jagmeet Singh the NDP dramatically increased its racial and gender diversity this year.

NDP candidates identifying as a racialized minority jumped more than 10 points between the 2015 election and this year, according to numbers from the party and research published in the Canadian Parliamentary Review. This year the party said 24 per cent of its candidates are racialized minorities, compared with 13 per cent in 2015.

Mr. Singh, a turbaned Sikh, is the first person of colour to lead a federal party.

“The NDP is the big story,” University of Toronto Professor Erin Tolley said. “It’s a dramatic shift.”

The party has traditionally lagged behind the diversity that researchers have tracked in other left-leaning parties, Prof. Tolley said, adding that part of the change this year could be attributed to the “role model effect” of having a racialized party leader. She said there is “clear evidence” that diversity within an organization helps increase candidate diversity, because you’re “more likely to listen to a recruitment appeal from someone who is like yourself.”

The Conservatives also increased the racial diversity of their candidates, from 14 per cent in 2015 to 17 per cent this year.

Conversely, the Liberals have made no progress over the last four years. According to research from Jerome Black in the Parliamentary Review, 17 per cent of Liberal candidates were racial minorities in 2015.

The Liberals were the only party not to tell The Globe how many racialized candidates they have this year, however, a review of candidate bios, and requests for clarification sent to specific campaigns, suggest that 16 per cent of the party’s candidates in this election are a racial minority. Some people declined to answer questions from The Globe and Mail.

The Green Party said 14 per cent of it’s candidates are racialized minorities. The Greens said “respect for diversity” is one of the values that underpin party operations.

According to the 2016 census, 22 per cent of people in Canada identify as a visible minority.

Prof. Tolley said part of the reason why some parties haven’t made as much progress is because the more incumbents a party has, the less room there is for new people.

Because of that, governing parties often hit a ceiling. However, she said that shouldn’t excuse parties from doing better.

Operation Black Vote Canada works with all political parties to ensure more black Canadians are nominated in winnable ridings. Its chair, Velma Morgan, told The Globe that data the group has collected show a mixed result. While more black Canadians were nominated this year, she said the Liberals and Conservatives slipped in their numbers.

She added that the group met with all four party leaders to push the need for nominations in ridings where the candidate truly has a shot at winning.

“We’re concerned about having representation across the board, at every decision-making table,” Ms. Morgan said.

Numbers compiled by the Assembly of First Nations show that a record number of Indigenous candidates are also running in this election. On Oct. 2, the AFN said there are 62 Indigenous candidates this year compared with 54 who ran in 2015. The assembly says the New Democrats are running the most Indigenous candidates at 27, followed by the Liberals at 18 and the Conservatives and Greens with seven each.

According to the 2016 census, there are more women than men in Canada. However, no party reflects that in their slate of candidates. The NDP comes closest; according to the party, 49 per cent of its candidates are women. The Greens follow closely with 46-per-cent female candidates, followed by the Liberals with 39 per cent and the Conservatives with 32 per cent.

Compared with 2015 numbers from Equal Voice, all of the parties increased their gender representation this year. In 2015, the NDP had 43-per-cent women, the Greens had 40 per cent, the Liberals had 31 per cent and the Conservatives had 20 per cent.

“This is a story of incrementalism still,” University of Calgary associate professor Melanee Thomas said. She noted that with approximately 2 per cent of women in Canada saying they have political ambitions, “parity should be the bar” that parties are judged by and if they can’t reach it they’re “not trying hard enough.”

“Women are under-represented by half, men are over-represented by half,” Prof. Thomas said. “There is no argument period to justify why that should be the case.”

She said research shows that female parliamentarians raise different issues in legislatures and bring different policies to the fore.

In order to get more women involved in politics, she said the research shows that parties need women involved in the local riding associations and earlier nomination contests that are left open longer. Ultimately, she said parties need strong organizations to get women involved, which raises questions about why the parties with fewer resources, the Greens and NDP, are doing a better job than the parties with bigger organizations and resources, the Liberals and Conservatives.

In 2015, Mr. Trudeau made gender parity a key target in deciding who sat in his cabinet. The Liberals note that nearly half of their new candidates, who are not incumbents, are women. Spokesperson Pierre-Olivier Herbert attributed the progress in new nominations to new rules that require local riding associations “to conduct a thorough search for women candidates and other candidates who reflect the demographics of the community, before a nomination can proceed.”

Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann said the party has no official procedures for recruiting diverse candidates but it made sure the party and local associations “got out and asked people.”

The NDP’s rules require local associations, without an incumbent, to show that they have “actively attempted to recruit an equity candidate,” spokesperson Nina Amrov said.

Prof. Thomas said the true proof point will come after the election when it becomes clear whether the female and racialized candidates were running in competitive ridings where they had a shot at winning.

Traditionally, she said the data shows there is an “insincerity” from parties in where they run women because “a super majority of women, across all parties, are nominated in districts where their party literally stands no chance.”

She said even now, when an incumbent decides to step down from a safe seat, the party is more likely to nominate a man in the riding.

Erin Tolley is a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

Melanee Thomas is a politcal science professor at the University of Calgary.