While voters decide who gets a seat, Saskatchewan’s political parties have already set the table when it comes to visible representation.
The candidate slate for the provincial election on Oct. 26 is majority male and majority white, with each party differing on the number of candidates from under-represented groups.
The Saskatchewan Party — which has held a majority government for the last three terms — told Global News it has nine candidates “who are members of the Sikh, Muslim, Indigenous and Métis communities.”
One of those candidates is female. Overall, 12 women and 49 men are running for the party.
In an email statement, the Saskatchewan Party said it “continues to work hard to attract the best candidates possible, as we believe candidates should be chosen by the members of each constituency.”
Additionally, the party said that 41 of its candidates, 67 per cent, are members of “equity-seeking groups,” meaning they identify as one or more of the following: women, Indigenous, visible minorities, disabled/differently abled, LGBTQ2S or new Canadians.
The Saskatchewan Green Party is vying for its first-ever seat in the provincial legislature, with a team that includes the most BIPOC candidates at 19.
“I wish that number was even higher. My goal for 2024 is to see absolutely everyone represented,” said party leader Naomi Hunter.
“Issues of race and gender and sexuality are part of our legislation here in this province and this is really something I feel strongly about.”
Hunter, who is the only female leader of a major political party in Saskatchewan, said the party created a policy for the 2020 election to open the door for people from under-represented groups.
“We were vetting candidates that if a qualified person of colour, especially a woman, stepped forward in a riding that a man had already had a spot set aside for, if possible, the white man would step aside,” she said.
The party leader said when that happened in some constituencies, those male party members supported new candidates by volunteering with their campaigns.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan told Global News it does not maintain “any such record” of its candidates in regards to equity and diversity.
“The PC Party picks our best candidate based on ability versus sexual orientation, gender, race or any other definition of identity politics,” leader Ken Grey said in an email.
The Saskatchewan PC Party is fielding 31 candidates, six of whom are women.
Manuela Valle-Castro, the co-ordinator for the Saskatoon Anti-Racism Network, said parties need data to address existing inequities within the current political structure.
“It’s absolutely crucial to think about who’s at the table, who is missing — and why?” Valle-Castro said.
“We do want to pick the best candidates of them all, but right now we’re not able to do that. We can only pick from a small pool of people who have privilege to access those spaces.”
Valle-Castro said evidence of that comes from the history of Canada’s political institutions, one she said is founded by and designed to benefit wealthy white men.
“Both people of colour and women were excluded, actively, from roles of political representation,” she said, adding people with disabilities and young people are also often left out.
Valle-Castro noted that meritocracy is often used to justify the whiteness — and maleness — of Canada’s political representation.
“There’s a whole culture of how we perceive political institutions to just be (that) the fact that there’s so many white men is just because they’re the best of the best,” she said.
“This is not to say that white men aren’t amazing leaders, many of them are, but we are being deprived of other voices, other forms of leadership because of the way the political structures function themselves.”
In order to create equitable opportunities, especially for prospective candidates, Valle-Castro said parties should speak with constituents to find out what the barriers are to political participation.
Those can include, but are not limited to, access to childcare, access to internet and technology, or access to accommodations for a person with a disability.
“Diversity is a consequence of equity, rather than something that you have to force,” she said.
“I think we’re not paying attention to what are the barriers, and it can just turn into some kind of tokenism.”
Valle-Castro said parties should also reflect communities within their agendas, and that voters should look at which candidates are prioritizing issues of racial inequities in Saskatchewan.
Global News reached out to the Saskatchewan Liberal Party, who have three candidates, and the Saskatchewan Buffalo Party, 17 candidates, about representation. Those parties did not respond by deadline.