The Liberals' diversity-in-cabinet initiative was an important step, but inclusiveness has yet to trickle down to many key parliamentary committees for all parties.

With the recent election of the remaining Parliamentary Committee Chairs, we have the final piece in the puzzle of how the overall increased diversity in the 42nd Parliament is reflected in the remaining leadership positions.

To recall, the Prime Minister appointed a Cabinet with gender parity (15 each of men and women) and almost 17 percent visible minority ministers (four Sikh and one Afghan Canadian).

Gender parity was not attained for parliamentary secretaries (12 positions out of 35 or 34 percent) or other leadership positions such as whips and house leaders, visible minority parliamentary secretaries are over-represented (9 positions or 24 percent) in relation to their share of the voting population (15 percent).

In terms of the percentage of the Liberal caucus, there are 27 women in leadership positions out of 50 elected, or 54 percent. For visible minorities, there are 14 out of 39 elected, or 36 percent. In contrast, 30 non-visible minority men are in leadership positions out of 107 elected,  or 28 percent.

In other words, relatively fewer female Liberal MPs remained compared to visible minority and male MPs. As Liberal Whip Andrew Leslie noted, “we’ve literally run out.”

For the Conservatives, only two women and no visible minority MPs remained after critics and deputy critics were named. For the NDP, no women and only one visible minority MP remained.

Parliamentary Committee Membership

If we look at the overall committee membership of 288 members in both the 25 House of Commons and three joint-Senate-Commons committees (some MPs are members of more than one committee), only 21.2 percent are women, significantly lower than the overall 26 percent of women MPs.

For visible minorities, however, committee representation largely matches overall Commons representation at 14.6 percent, just marginally under the number of visible minorities who are Canadian citizens. Indigenous peoples committee representation is less than their share of the population (3.1 compared to 4.3 percent).

Looking at individual committees, only the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and Industry, Science and Technology committees have no women members. Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Environment and Sustainable Development, Fisheries and Oceans, Official Languages, National Defence, Physician-Assisted Dying have no visible minority members.

Women are predictably over-represented in Status of Women (9 out of 10 members) and visible minorities are similarly overly represented in Citizenship and Immigration (7 out of 10 members).

Parliamentary Committees Membership by Party

In terms of individual parties, the numbers break down as follows, again reflecting the relative availability of MPs, once again highlighting the relatively strong representation of visible minorities in the Liberal caucus and women in the NDP caucus, and the weakness of both in the Conservative caucus.

Committee Chair and Vice-Chair numbers for all 28 committees reflect a similarly low number of women (19.2 percent of chairs) and a lower number of visible minorities (3.8 percent) in the 26 committees which have held these elections.

The chart below compares Liberal Chair and CPC and NDP Vice-Chair women and visible minority representation for the 24 committees chaired by Liberals.

Parliament Committee Chairs

Again, the same general pattern of under-representation of women and visible minorities applies for all parties, with the NDP, reflecting its caucus, has a significantly higher share of women vice-chairs.

The two Opposition-chaired committees, Government Operations and Estimates and Public Accounts, have male Conservative Chairs, with Liberal female vice-chairs (one of whom is visible minority), and two NDP male vice-chairs.

Does this matter? In many ways, it does not. Gender parity in Cabinet and relatively strong Parliamentary Secretary representation set the tone for the Government and Parliament. However, witnesses testifying at committees may be struck by the relatively lower number of women.

For visible minorities, on the other hand, the strong electoral success of mainly Liberal visible minority candidates means strong representation throughout, largely in line with their share of the population who are Canadian citizens.

Overall, this suggests that greater gender representation may be a harder challenge for all parties than visible minority representation. As Equal Voice has noted, the real issue lies in increasing the number of women in Parliament from its current low level of 26 percent of all MPs to improve their representation throughout Parliament.

This post was also featured in The Hill Times

Photo: The Liberal Party of Canada | Parti libéral du Canada – Facebook.com / Fair Use