How does diversity in the provincial and territorial legislatures compare with diversity in the federal Parliament? Federal Parliament diversity has been tracked systematically since 1993 by Jerome Black, but little comparative analysis has taken place at the level of the legislatures. This analysis aims to fill that gap by contrasting the most recent elections with the previous ones for all provinces and territories, looking at the percentage of women, visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples elected among the total of 772 provincial and territorial legislature members.
Just as diversity in the federal Parliament has increased over time, the last two provincial/territorial election cycles have shown an increase in diversity in most legislatures.
For a benchmark, the percentage of visible-minority citizens from the 2021 census is used rather than the percentage of visible-minority residents. This narrow approach reflects the fact that only citizens can become members of legislatures, whereas the population approach recognizes that non-residents also participate in supporting candidates and political parties. For Canada, visible minority citizens make up 21.4 per cent of the total population, compared to 26.5 per cent for all visible minorities, but there is considerable variation among provinces.
Diversity and inclusion are tools for a political party’s success
We need to stop blaming women for their under-representation
Table 1 compares overall representation to citizens. Underrepresentation of women ranges from almost 30 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to only four per cent in Quebec. Underrepresentation of visible minorities ranges from nine per cent in British Columbia to around five per cent or less for other provinces. Nova Scotia is the only province with greater representation of visible minorities (seven per cent) than their share of the population, in part because of a significant African Nova Scotian population. Underrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples ranges from a high of 14 per cent in Saskatchewan to two per cent in Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, with only Nunavut, not surprisingly, having representation reflecting the population.
Table 2 contrasts representation at both the member and cabinet levels, highlighting overall representation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous members. Given that governments often factor diversity into cabinet formation, the third set of columns assesses the degree that provincial and territorial governments have compensated for underrepresentation of their caucus. It is clearly the case with Alberta for both visible minorities and Indigenous members, and for Ontario in the case of visible minorities. It is striking that Saskatchewan and Manitoba cabinets have not done so for both visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples, whereas it is less surprising that Quebec has not done so for visible minorities.
Table 3 contrasts the most recent provincial and territorial elections with the previous election. Representation of women increased in all provinces save Alberta, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Similarly, representation of visible minorities remained stable or increased in all provinces save Newfoundland and Labrador. However, Indigenous Peoples’ representation decreased or remained stable in all provinces save Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and The Northwest Territories.
Table 4 examines the intersectionality between gender and visible minorities. Visible minority women members made up a larger share of the total number of visible minority members than their respective non-visible minority counterparts, and by 9.5 per cent overall. Notable exceptions are Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon. (Provinces with no visible minority members are excluded.) In short, visible minority women were more likely to contribute to greater gender diversity in most provinces.
While there is no clear political alignment between parties at the provincial/territorial levels, table 5 attempts an approximate ideological lens between left-leaning, centrist and right-leaning parties. Left-leaning parties have the strongest representation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples followed by centrist parties for women and visible minorities. Right-leaning parties have lower representation for all groups save men.
Public-service news delivered to your inbox.
Provincial and territorial legislatures, like the federal Parliament, have considerable underrepresentation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples with the exceptions noted above. In general, greater diversity can be found in parties leaning left compared to parties leaning right. However, compared with the previous election, representation is improving for women and visible minorities in most provinces and territories, with a more mixed record for Indigenous Peoples.
For the four largest provinces, Quebec has the least underrepresentation of visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples while British Columbia has greatest underrepresentation of visible minorities and Alberta has the greatest underrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples.
The 2021 census has highlighted an ongoing increase in immigrants and visible minorities. Parties at the provincial level, like their federal counterparts, are clearly taking this into account in their candidate selection and campaign strategies. The increase in representation, while uneven and partially dependent on which party wins an election, indicates the degree to which this is so.
Women, visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples are identified through name, photo and biographical analysis. MLA lists come from provincial and territorial election organizations and legislatures.
For the ideological lens, we classified parties as follows, recognizing that there is considerable variation among the provinces:
Left-leaning: NDP, Québec solidaire, Parti québécois, Green
Centrist: Liberal, Independent Liberal, Independent
Right-leaning: Conservative, CAQ, UCP, Saskatchewan Party, B.C. Liberal (now B.C. United), People’s Alliance