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by Alejandra Bravo
The political terrain in Ontario looks a little different after the Ontario New Democratic Party Convention held in Hamilton in mid-April. And we’re not talking about Toronto artist K’naan’s address and performance. It was the election of a new party president, Tamil Canadian Neethan Shan, an NDP candidate in the 2011 provincial elections.
Neethan’s election shows how political parties are making efforts to be both relevant to and reflective of a growing diverse population, especially in the Greater Toronto Area.
Such developments across the political spectrum are urgently needed. In the report, The Diversity Gap: The Electoral Under-Representation of Visible Minorities, Ryerson University’s Myer Siemiatycki found that visible minorities accounted for only 11% of elected officials at all levels of government. This, while making up 40% of the population.
Ethnic vote? What ethnic vote?
Siemiatycki also argued that the notion of an “ethnic vote,” to be mobilized for one or another candidate or political party, is a myth. He found that the relative success of the party in an election is what determines the success of visible minority candidates, not the tendency of any one community to vote along ethnic or racial lines.
Last year’s federal and provincial elections produced very different results in terms of the election of visible minority candidates in GTA ridings.
In Ontario, visible minority candidates were evenly distributed among the three main parties. Twenty ran for the NDP, 19 for the Conservatives and 18 for the Liberals. Twelve of 13 visible minorities elected Members of Provincial Parliament were Liberal and one was NDP.
The federal election result was completely different. Six out of eight visible minorities elected Members of Parliament are Conservative, while two are NDP.
More remains to be done
While the bar has been raised in recent elections for diversity among nominated candidates and their success at the ballot box, much work remains to be done behind the scenes. Party officials with important decision-making roles are far less representative of the diversity of our region, when compared to those who put their name on the ballot. Who chairs campaigns, who writes the party platform and who makes key policy decisions is a matter of interest for all Ontarians.
Neethan Shan’s election to helm a provincial party is a significant development on the long road to ensuring the political arena is inclusive. Neethan joins MPP Yasir Naqvi, who is President of the Ontario Liberal Party, as a second visible minority tapped to lead a provincial party in Ontario.
The power of one party changing hands, with visible new leaders at the helm, is significant. Two makes a trend.
We celebrate progress towards prosperity
DiverseCity’s School4Civics has seeded this movement by training emerging leaders with affiliations across all party lines.
Neethan Shan is one example. Another School4Civics alumnus is Judith van Veldhuysen, a provincial candidate who is seeking an executive position with the Green Party of Ontario. David Mousavi, now a Liberal riding vice-president, is actively broadening his party’s network among diverse young professionals. Finally, Yasmin Mawani contested a Conservative Party nomination in York Region.
The political arena is enriched by their commitment and dedication. They help bring more diverse communities into political activity and decision-making.
Our region gains from this inclusion. As the best and the brightest rise to senior leadership positions, their expertise and talents fuel our social and economic prosperity.