Candidate diversity is high on the agenda as Canada’s political parties prepare for a federal election


OTTAWA — During what’s widely expected to be an election year, Canadians have been confronted with the realities of discrimination, racism and reconciliation as never before.

That’s something major federal parties are thinking about as they craft their slates of candidates, who, if elected, will need to represent the interests of a diverse electorate.

The Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens have all made efforts to connect with under-represented communities, mostly through updated recruiting requirements and fundraising initiatives.

But they’re less forthcoming about the specific targets they’re hoping to hit, such as what proportion of racialized or LGBTQ+ candidates would indicate a successful and representative nomination process.

Women, for example, make up just over half of Canada’s population, but it took until 2020 for just 100 of its 338 MPs to come from that group. Millennials are one of the largest populations in Canada, yet most federally elected officials are much older. And visible minorities, Indigenous people, the LGBTQ+ community and disabled Canadians are all under-represented in the House of Commons.

“Parties are largely vote seeking, organizational machines,” said Erin Tolley, Canada Research Chair in Gender, Race and Inclusive Politics at Carleton University.

“So if a party is looking out into the public landscape and sees that issues related to equity or to diversity or to representativeness are something that the public is hungering for … parties will respond to that in a way that is consistent with their ideological vision.”

Here’s how four major federal parties are looking at tackling the balance this time around. (The Bloc Québécois did not reply to requests for comment.)

The Liberals

As of Tuesday, the Liberals had nominated 191 candidates, with more announcements expected throughout the week. Women make up 43 per cent of that total, with racialized Canadians accounting for more than 20 per cent of those nominated. Seven candidates are Indigenous.

Navdeep Bains, who is chairing the Liberals’ national campaign along with Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly, has been tasked with seeking out candidates for the governing party.

One of the changes the party has made is to widen requirements within its nomination process. Previously, local riding associations needed to prove they had sought out female candidates. Now, associations must show how they’ve attempted to bring anyone from an equity-seeking group into the fold.

“You’ve got to document, and really have to engage and have a thorough search for potential candidates,” Bains said. “We’re talking about women, Black and Indigenous (candidates), people of colour, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities.”

The party is also dipping into two pre-existing funds to assist with that work. One is the Judy LaMarsh Fund, which supports female candidates running for the federal Liberals. The other is the Indigenous Electoral Endowment Fund, which is intended to help recruit and support Indigenous candidates.

The Conservatives

The Conservatives had nominated 240 candidates as of Monday. The party did not provide a breakdown of the groups to which those candidates belong because it’s still compiling that information, but party spokesperson Cory Hann identified several as Muslim.

Hann said party supporters and staff have been asked to “work their networks and encourage people from all backgrounds to get involved” as either candidates or campaigners.

“The candidates we’ve nominated so far all have varying backgrounds both professionally and personally, ensuring that, as (Conservative Leader Erin) O’Toole has said, Canadians from all over the country see themselves in our Conservative party.”

Where representation is concerned, the party appears to be focusing most on building bridges with racialized and Indigenous communities, although the party is tight-lipped on the specifics of those plans.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis has been leading engagement efforts with “cultural and religious minority communities,” telling the Star he is “excited about the potential that we have for growth in that area in the upcoming campaign.”

Genius would not expand on which communities he was specifically courting, or how those efforts look in practice, citing the Tories’ “inside strategy.”

The NDP

In 2019, the New Democrats led the charge when it came to candidate diversity, hovering near the gender parity benchmark and reaching or surpassing representative levels for Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQ+ groups.

For the next election, the party is trying to ensure more than 50 per cent of its candidates are women — the only specific target cited by any federal party for any equity-seeking group.

The party has nominated 97 candidates so far, half of whom are women. Racialized Canadians make up 33 per cent of that total, while six per cent are Indigenous and 18 per cent are LGBTQ+. People living with a disability account for 12 per cent of nominated candidates, and 11 per cent have been identified as “youth.”

As with the Liberals, riding associations must demonstrate how they’ve sought to recruit diverse candidates. The party is also now requiring that any outgoing incumbent is replaced with someone from an equity-seeking group. Departing MP Jack Harris, for example, will be succeeded by one such candidate.

“This is a huge priority for us. It’s part of our DNA,” NDP national director Anne McGrath told the Star.

McGrath said that because the party has more resources heading into the next election than it did in 2019, more emphasis is being placed on recruitment.

The Green party

There may be no party for which running a diverse roster of candidates is more important than the federal Greens.

While Annamie Paul is the first Black and Jewish woman to lead a major federal party, she is currently embattled within a party structure that insiders charge is perpetuating racism and sexism.

What’s more, a confidential report prepared for the Greens and obtained by the Star found the party fell short of recruiting and supporting diverse candidates in the last general election. In 2019, the party ran fewer visible minority candidates than the far-right People’s Party, according to a report by The Canadian Press.

That’s something Paul is committed to changing, despite opposition she says she’s faced from some party officials.

“There’s a tremendous amount of power in making the invitation. Just making an open invitation to say we see you, we value you, we want you,” Paul told the Star.

As of Monday, 148 applicants had been approved through the drive and other recruitment streams, though only 39 have been formally nominated. Of the approved applicants, 41 per cent are women, followed by racialized Canadians at 19 per cent and youth under 30 at 15 per cent. Six per cent of approved applicants are Indigenous, while 17 per cent belong to the LGBTQ+ community and 12 per cent are persons with disabilities.

With files from Alex Ballingall

RP

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel





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