The city of Vancouver is widely recognized as one of the most diverse cities in Canada, yet many communities have begun to question the extent to which this diversity is captured by municipal politics. Although Vancouver has seen a more diverse slate of electoral candidates in recent years, many ‘status quo’ candidates continue to win city elections.
This pattern has resulted in the underrepresentation of women and marginalized communities, contributing to their exclusion from important decision-making processes. For instance, “only 19 of the 87 members in the B.C. legislature are people of colour” (Sharma) despite the fact that people made racialized constitute almost a quarter of BC’s population according to census data.
Additional data from Canadapopulation.org reveals that this figure is even higher in Vancouver, where “just over half [of residents] are from a visible minority group.” The unequal nature of electoral representation in BC is directly linked to the barriers women and other communities made marginalized face when engaging in politics.
According to a CBC study conducted by Ouelett, Shiab, and Gilchrist, not only do candidates from communities made marginalized in BC experience “racist attacks and discrimination on the campaign trail” but recieve 10% less in campaign funding than white male candidates. They also occupy ridings that have been associated with lower chances of electoral victory.
The candidates placed in the most ‘winnable’ ridings are typically white men, most of whom had previous success in a federal election. This disproportionate access to these ‘winnable’ ridings give them an additional advantage over their less privileged counterparts, revealing that equal opportunities do not necessarily lead to equal outcomes when it comes to municipal politics.
Yet, this reality is rarely acknowledged by political parties. Generally, political parties are not very forthcoming in terms of sharing information about their equity policies says Erin Tolley, Canada Research Chair in Gender, Race and Inclusive Politics at Carleton University in an interview with CTV News.
This lack of transparency on behalf of parties paired with minimal efforts to promote equity not only discourages potential candidates from marginalized communities to run for political office but dissuades many communities from voting in the first place as they are often unconvinced that their political efforts will make a difference.
Equality vs. Equity
"Equality is giving everyone the same pair of shoes. Equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits."— Author unknown
To better understand how we can promote inclusivity within municipal politics, we must recognize the distinction between ‘equality’ and ‘equity.’ While often seen as interchangeable, ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ mean different things when it comes to meaningful political engagement.
As stated in an article by the Milken Institute of Public Health, equality is something that occurs when an “individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.” Meanwhile, equity acknowledges that every individual has different lived experiences and may require additional supports to achieve an equal outcome.
This is important because while individuals and groups might have equal rights, in theory, they are still treated unjustly. An equity-based approach is more useful as it accounts for the candidate’s background when considering fairness rather than assuming that every candidate has equal means to succeed.
It also requires an ongoing commitment to social justice. It cannot simply be something that parties cross off a list when they have a candidate that comes from a community made marginalized.
To ensure equity is achieved within municipal politics, we recommend that all political parties implement equity mandates. Equity mandates are policies that require parties to actively create opportunities for women and communities of marginalized identities who face barriers to political participation.
These mandates ensure that members of communities made marginalized are provided with the resources they need to excel in their political careers despite any pre-existing inequalities they face. Equity mandates make the electoral process more democratic, as they help create a political forum that represents a diverse set of views and lived experiences.
As Professors Marland and Caesar-Chavannes point out, it becomes less likely that municipal politics will be “dominated by one segment of society” when women and communities made marginalized play a central role in political debate and decision-making.
Equity mandates take many forms, but according to Clayton, author of “How Do Electoral Gender Quotas Affect Policy?”, they “are most effective when they set placement mandates.” This means that the most ‘winnable’ seats are set aside specifically for candidates who are women or from communities made marginalized.
For example, the BC NDPs have created a policy where ridings vacated by male MLAs can be filled only by women or members of communities made marginalized. Mandates such as these address issues of underrepresentation and make our community better for folks of marginalized identities.
They do this by drawing attention to the importance of diversity and inclusion in municipal politics. Because they set the standard for how women and communities made marginalized should be engaged at the policy level, equity mandates can inspire a shift in political culture.
This shift would be marked by a greater acceptance of the value women and communities made marginalized bring to the political sphere. As a result, the agendas of policymakers would better reflect the need for affirmative action, ideally leading to more policies that benefit all of us equitably.
Equity mandates can also foster accountability among political parties by holding them responsible for their compliance with the tenets of the mandate. Based on these outcomes, we believe that equity mandates can help us fulfill our ultimate goal of making Vancouver a city where communities of all identities can live and thrive.
This article was written by WTC volunteer, Alexa Traboulay
Sharma, Rishi. “Diversity and Inclusion Are Tools for a Political Party's Success.” Policy Options, 16 Apr. 2021, https://policyoptions.irpp.org/fr/magazines/fevrier-2021/diversity-and-inclusion-are-tools-for-a-political-partys-success/.
Caesar-Chavannes, Celina, and Alexa Marland . “Make Way! Creating Space for Change in Canadian Politics.” The Conversation, 7 Oct. 2021, https://theconversation.com/make-way-creating-space-for-change-in-canadian-politics-156812.
Ouellet , Valérie, and Nael Shiab. “White Men Make up a Third of Canada's Population but a Majority of Mps - Here's Why.” Radio, Radio-Canada.ca, 26 Aug. 2021, https://ici.radio-canada.ca/info/2021/elections-federales/minorites-visibles-diversite-autochtones-racises-candidats-politique/en.
Rodriguez, Jeremiah. “Advocates Disappointed by Lack of Racial Diversity among Major Parties' Candidates.” CTVNews, CTV News, 8 Sept. 2021, https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/advocates-disappointed-by-lack-of-racial-diversity-among-major-parties-candidates-1.5571347.
“Vancouver Population 2021/2022.” Canada Population, https://canadapopulation.org/vancouver-population/.
“Equity vs. Equality: What's the Difference?: Online Public Health.” The George Washington University, 9 Dec. 2021, https://onlinepublichealth.gwu.edu/resources/equity-vs-equality/.
Clayton, Amanda. "How Do Electoral Gender Quotas Affect Policy?." Annual Review of Political Science 24 (2021): 235-252.