How well does Canada integrate immigrants and visible minorities into political life? While the barriers to entering political life are significant, as the Samara Centre for Democracy study on nomination processes has shown, the recent election is cause for hope.
This article is based on an analysis of the 2019 election I undertook, using a dataset developed together with the Hill Times, Samara, and McGill University political scientist Jerome Black. We drew on a mix of official party biographies, media articles, social media, and name and photo analysis (we did not include Indigenous candidates and MPs). We also compared the 2019 results with those for the 2015 election and with visible minority representation in other countries’ legislatures. Our results show that in 2019 in Canada the visible minority composition of MPs elected is reasonably representative of the immigrant and visible minority populations in the country as a whole.
There are notable disparities in political participation among visible minority and immigrant groups. This reflects a variety of factors; for example, how they are concentrated in specific ridings, the proportion who become citizens, and whether their ethnic media encourages political participation and their political habits.
In 2015 visible minority groups represented 12.9 percent of the all the candidates from the five main parties (Liberal Party of Canada [LPC], Conservative Party of Canada [CPC], New Democratic Party [NDP], Bloc Québécois [BQ], Green Party of Canada [GPC]). In 2019 that proportion increased to 15.7 percent (with the addition of the People’s Party of Canada, the PPC). The total number of visible minority MPs elected increased from 47 in 2015 (13.9 percent) to 51 in 2019 (15.1 percent).
When we compare the proportion of visible minority candidates elected with that of the visible-minority population as a whole in Canada, which is 22.9 percent, that figure of 15.1 percent of all MPs could be seen as a problem of under-representation. But the number we should be comparing it with is the proportion of the visible minority population who are citizens, and thus eligible to run for office, 17.2 percent. Now, the proportion elected seems much more reasonable.
In figure 1 I break down the visible minority candidates in the 2015 and 2019 elections by party. In all the parties the proportion of visible minority candidates increased in 2019. Even the People’s Party of Canada, which argued for less immigration and an end to multiculturalism, fielded a sizeable proportion of visible minority candidates.
In figure 2 the 2019 candidates are broken down by party and visible minority group. Some groups were not represented in certain parties, but South-Asian and Arab-Canadian candidates ran for all the major parties, particularly in areas where these communities had large populations. In contrast, Filipino-Canadians, who are the fourth largest visible minority group in Canada, were particularly under-represented as candidates. (In this figure “Other” refers to candidates not identified in standard visible minority categories. “Multiple visible minorities” refers to candidates that have two parents from different visible minority groups. “Unclear” refers to visible minority candidates where we were unable to ascertain their cultural community.)
Figure 3 looks at the communities from which the newly elected or re-elected visible minority MPs are drawn. (Note that the Bloc Québécois and Green Party did not elect any visible minority MPs).
In terms of gender, 39 percent of visible minority candidates were women, compared with 12 percent of the total number of candidates. Of the visible minority women who ran in the 2019 election, 37.3 percent were elected; this compares favourably with the 29 percent of the overall slate of women candidates who were elected.
Meanwhile, the number of immigrants (foreign-born Canadians) elected has only marginally increased since 2015, from 46 to 47 (13.9 percent); two-thirds of these are visible minority immigrants.
How does Canada compare with other countries in terms of representation of racialized people in their legislatures?
In the US, visible minority groups represent 22 percent of the Congress and Senate, compared with 39 percent of the population, and only 3 percent of them are immigrants. In Australia, immigrants form 9.7 percent of both houses of parliament, and only 4 percent have one or more parents with “a non-European background.” In the UK, just over 8 percent of MPs are from visible minority communities.
The 2019 federal election in Canada demonstrated the continuing political integration of immigrants and visible minority groups. This is in sharp contrast to their representation in other Western democracies, perhaps suggesting there is a greater resilience here to the type of anti-immigrant populist sentiment that has proliferated elsewhere. Still, the major Canadian parties need to increase their efforts to recruit candidates from under-represented visible minority groups in ridings that are potentially winnable. Cultural communities must also encourage political participation among their members. Addressing political under-representation would ensure that cultural communities’ interests are reflected in policy and parliamentary deliberations, thus further facilitating their integration into Canadian society.
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