Diversity of federal candidates up from 2015 but advocates say more work to be done

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The number of federal election candidates from diverse backgrounds continues to rise from election to election, but still falls far short of reflecting Canada’s multicultural makeup.

About 15 per cent of candidates for the country’s six major parties — the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, Bloc and People’s Party of Canada — are visible minorities, according to an analysis of candidate lists by The Canadian Press.

That’s up about one percentage point from the proportion of visible-minority candidates for the combined Liberals, Conservatives and NDP in 2015.

Both figures fall short of the 22 per cent of Canadians who identify as visible minorities, according to 2016 census figures (which do not include people who identify themselves as Indigenous).

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And the overall number obscures marked differences among the parties.

The NDP is far out ahead of the others, with around 24 per cent of its slate considered a visible minority. The Liberals are next at about 17 per cent, nearly tied with the Conservatives at near 15 per cent. The PPC is close behind them and the Greens lag at under 10 per cent.

Of particular note are higher numbers of black Canadians — long severely underrepresented in elected office — who have secured nominations, especially for the NDP and Greens.

“It’s an improvement, but we still have a long way to go,” said Velma Morgan, chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, a group dedicated to supporting the election of black people to public office.

It’s especially important, Morgan said, that those candidates run in winnable ridings, because the ultimate goal is representation in Parliament, not just on lists of nominees.

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Erin Tolley, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies diversity in Canadian politics, said recruiting diverse groups of candidates can be quite difficult for parties unless they have the right on-the-ground organization.

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She said the particularly strong numbers for the NDP are a sign of “intentionality” from the party.

“The NDP has traditionally not done much better than the Liberals and Conservatives — and sometimes even worse — when it comes to the proportion of racialized candidates,” she said.

Tolley suspects the push was at least in part due to the presence and influence of leader Jagmeet Singh.

“Anyone that works in party recruitment will tell you it’s not that hard to get white, male candidates to step forward. There’s lots that are willing. It’s harder to get people who have traditionally been left out of politics or thought politics hasn’t been a venue for them,” she said.

“If the party leadership and party membership is committed to that, you will see that.”

Singh said several times, when the New Democrats had markedly fewer candidates nominated than the other parties did, that it was because the party was making a special effort to find candidates from diverse backgrounds.

Another change this election is a massive increase in the number of female candidates.

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In 2015, a record number of women were elected to the House of Commons, but that number was just 88, out of 338 MPs.

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“We’re in an optimistic stage that we could actually hit the 30 per cent mark,” or 102 MPs, said Nasha Brownridge, spokesperson for the advocacy group Equal Voice.

Overall, about 37 per cent of candidates in the six major parties are women. The NDP has nearly achieved parity, while the Greens are close behind at 46 per cent.

The Liberals are approaching the 40 per cent mark, while the Conservatives have the biggest percentage increase, leaping from 20 per cent in 2015 to about 31 per cent this year.

The People’s Party lags, with just fewer than 18 per cent of its candidates women.

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Like Morgan, Brownridge emphasized it’s not just numbers that matter, but running women in winnable ridings. Actually winning races is what keeps the ball rolling toward parity in the House of Commons, she noted.

“It’s almost a chicken-and-egg situation where the more women are elected, the more women will run,” Brownridge said.

This election could also be another milestone for Indigenous participation in federal elections, with the Assembly of First Nations saying there are at least 62 Indigenous candidates in races across the country.

That’s up from 2015 when 54 First Nations, Metis or Inuit candidates ran, of whom 10 were elected.

According to a spokesperson for the NDP, 27 of those Indigenous candidates this year are running for the party. The AFN said 18 are running for the Liberals.

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While numbers are far less reliable when it comes to the number of LGBTQ Canadians running for office, the Green Party of Canada and the NDP said they have 28 and 40 candidates, respectively, who were members of those communities.

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Helen Kennedy, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Egale, said it’s encouraging to see “out” Canadians running for office, but it’s more important to see their views of the issues. And so far in this election, Kennedy has not been thrilled by the amount of attention paid to issues of importance to the LGBTQ community.

“I certainly haven’t seen any clear evidence that, on health care for example, our intersex folks are going to be better represented, or our transgender members of our community are going to have easier access to health care,” she said.

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