Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who Really Gets a Voice in BC? Most of us, not so much

An important topic as we continue onwards, who gets to have a voice in BC? Who gets space in the media, in political life, in society.

If you look at our newly elected Legislature, it's pretty easy to see that who gets voice in government in BC and it's not terribly representative of our communities and province. I would say it's the same with much of the mainstream media, especially print. It seems as though TV and radio seems to have been able to break through the colour divide a bit more than print media, except for "ethnic" media outlets. Things are just too homogenous to me. Our world is just so much more diverse than much of our media would lead us to believe. It's like we're all marching to different beats now, but one hasn't caught up. Isn't it time for that to happen?

Few Candidates Reflect the Makeup of their Constituents
More women, visible minorities would be on the ballot if voters' options more closely matched the demographics of their neighbours
If our elected representatives in British Columbia's 39th election looked like us, there would be 42 or 43 women seated in Victoria.

A quarter of the 85 MLAs would be visible minorities including 10 representing the Metro Vancouver ridings where more than 60 per cent of the population is not white.

A first nations person would represent North Coast, where nearly half the population is aboriginal, and maybe one would represent Stikine, where a third of the residents are first nations.

But that's not what you'll see in the gilded chamber even though there were a few breakthroughs Tuesday.

There's no way it was even possible because, in most ridings, candidates don't accurately reflect their constituents.

In 13 ridings voters' choices were white men only. Believe me, there are women, Chinese, Indo-Canadians and aboriginals living in Premier Gordon Campbell's Point Grey or the NDP's Mike Farnworth's Port Coquitlam ridings -- two of those 13.

Conversely, I'm sure there are white men living in Surrey-Tynehead and Surrey-Fleetwood. But all the candidates there were either Indo-Canadian or female.

In total, only 47 visible minority and aboriginal candidates were on the roster. Out of 345 candidates, 17 were South Asians, 10 Chinese, 10 aboriginals, five of Middle Eastern ancestry, two Filipinos, a Japanese-Canadian and an African.

Stephanie Cadieux, the Liberal in Surrey-Panorama, is the only physically disabled candidate that I know of. She won. That's one of those breakthroughs.

Bad enough that candidates aren't a very diverse lot, but then their parties either make them sacrificial lambs in unwinnable seats or pit minorities against each other.

B.C.'s largest 'minority' -- women -- continue to be the most spectacularly under-represented. At press time, women were leading or declared elected in 25 ridings. At 29 per cent, it's one of the best showings yet. Last time, only one in five MLAs was a woman.

"The first hurdle is the nomination," says Christianne Wilhelmson of the Canadian Women's Voters Congress. "That's when parties show whether they truly believe that women need to be part of the process."

The next two hurdles are getting elected and then getting a spot in cabinet where the real power rests.

Fewer than a third of the candidates -- 100 women in total -- were nominated. The NDP was the only party with half women candidates partly because they designated a third of the ridings for women.

The Liberals and the Greens managed only 25 female candidates each (29 per cent).

New Democrat Mable Elmore was another breakthrough. She made history in Vancouver-Kensington becoming the first Filipina elected, beating Liberal Syrus Lee.

She drew strength from the Filipinos in the riding (12.7 per cent) as well as others from the Philippines who live outside the riding.

"One of my key volunteers told me that for the first time she feels like she is in Canada, that she is Canadian and is part of the process even though she has been living here for 25 years and has volunteered in other elections," Elmore said.

While some might chalk up a win for Elmore to block voting, the fact is block voting would have elected Lee. The riding is 40 per cent Chinese.

Wally Oppal was elected in 2005 in Vancouver-Fraserview where 75 per cent of the residents belong to one of several visible minorities, although only 16 per cent are Indo-Canadian. He was appointed attorney general and multiculturalism minister and became the highest profile South Asian in the Liberal government.

He won easily in Fraserview, considered a safe Liberal riding and one that another Indo-Canadian Liberal, Kash Heed, won easily Tuesday.

This time, Oppal ran in Delta South where three of four people are white. He was in a tight race at press time with Independent Vicki Huntington. Among his opponents was another South Asian, Dileep Athaide.

Although Oppal lives in Delta, he was accused of being parachuted in. Oppal was called an outsider.

"I can't say if it has anything to do with colour," he said diplomatically on Tuesday afternoon. "It's a lot of mean-spiritedness and that discourages people from running whether they are ethnic or others."

(That kind of attack crossed party lines. Oppal's Liberal colleague Bill Bennett in Kootenay-East ran an ad that described Bennett as "one of us." Bennett's opponent was NDP Troy Sebastian, an aboriginal candidate.)

Oppal said more diversity might help change the tone of debate in the legislature, perhaps ending what he calls the "childish taunts."

"More women would certainly change it. But in any institution, there is added credibility lent by more diversity."

Credibility and more civility. We should all be hoping for even more change next time.


Old media, new media and the election

Paul Willcocks, Paying Attention. May 13, 2009.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Selector: Bias against Unattractive Nominees in BC's 2005 Candidate Selection Contests.
Ashe, Jeanette and Kennedy Stewart (2009). Vancouver: SFU Centre for Public Policy Research.

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