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Written by Jehad Aliweiwi & Leo Zuniga, Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office.
Who runs and gets elected is an important indicator of inclusion in our society. And while the just published DiverseCity Counts 4 report, The Diversity Gap: The Electoral Under-Representation of Visible Minorities, identifies actions that might help visible minorities bridge the supply side, there may be further opportunities on the demand side.
Who votes might be just as important.
Professor Myer Siemiatycki’s report finds that while visible minorities make up 40% of the population in the Greater Toronto Area, at all levels of government their elected representation stands at 11%. Provincially the number is 26%, while at the local level, only 7% of all city councillors in the GTA are visible minorities.
It is at the local level where the greatest barriers to representation lie. Perhaps redefining the voter base is one tool for removing that barrier.
Expanding municipal voting rights
For several years, advocates have been calling for a local vote for permanent residents at the municipal level in Toronto. In any given City of Toronto election, for example, 200,000 permanent residents are excluded. These city residents, having attained permanent residency status, have long planned to make Canada their home, and indeed, within ten years, close to 90% of them will be Canadian citizens.
Efforts to expand municipal voting rights have new life now that a legal front has been opened by Scott Bernstein, a U.S. born lawyer claiming that the section of the Vancouver City Charter that bars non-citizens from voting is unconstitutional. As Bernstein and Ontario advocates argue, they are excluded from having a political voice with the order of government that provides direct service to them and their families.
The municipal franchise has a unique history when compared with the provincial and federal levels. It evolved from land ownership, and here the argument of taxation being accompanied by representation can be most easily made. It makes sense to look at whether the franchise should evolve with changing times in what is one of the world’s most global regions.
To expand the franchise would level a playing field in relation to local government. While nonresident property owners can vote in municipal elections, permanent residents are excluded. And while nonresident property owners (including those who are not parents) can vote in school board elections, non-citizen parents cannot elect their school board trustee.
Municipal government is, according to Professor Siemiatycki, the government that should be closest to the people. The people in our city region are increasingly born outside of Canada. To make the local level truly representative of those people that make up our communities, these Canadians in the making might require a say at the ballot box.
We can emulate other successes in the U.S. and Ireland. And this change may very well be one way to close the diversity gap.
by Hema Vyas, School4Civics alumnus
What does the transformed political map mean for urban issues? What does the changing face of Parliament mean in our increasingly diverse city region? Warren Kinsella, one of Canada’s most prominent political strategists and commentators led a multi-partisan discussion with members of Maytree’s School4Civics alumni. Many thanks to the School4Civics alumni for organizing this excellent and inspiring event!
On a steaming hot Wednesday in July, 60 people gathered to discuss one of the more shocking events of this past spring.
Warren Kinsella, Toronto-based lawyer, head of Daisy Consulting and Liberal spin doctor, led a discussion exploring how the federal election resulted in a Tory majority, New Democratic Official Opposition and a historically low number of seats for the Liberals. Depending on your party stripes, you were cheering, jeering or devastated in May, but I know of few people who were not stunned.
Kinsella’s insights regarding the power of (negative) campaigning, the extent to which election timing really is everything, and our party leaders’ styles led to a lively discussion.
One of the central themes that emerged was the alienation of Canadians from the democratic process. With voter turnout at 61% and youth voting estimated to be even lower, Kinsella mentioned that the lack of young voters determined federal election results.
But why were voter numbers so low?
Even with the high turnover of Members of Parliament this year, Ottawa is far from representing today’s Canada. In demographics, experience and style, there is often a gap between what we find compelling and who we see speaking to our needs in Parliament.
An unusually high number of us in the room had been candidates and campaign organizers but still talked about how tough it is to have influence without the usual establishment credentials. The heart of the issue is about getting your foot in the door and then stubbornly remaining in the arena long enough to make a change, any change in politics.
This past election has broadened the appetite for change: It will take both the political establishment’s willingness to adapt and our own determination to get involved for federal transformation.
Will politicians sacrifice outdated traditions to restore their own relevance in Canadian homes?
To a great extent, that’s up to us.
Last week, the 2011 DiverseCity Fellows met with John Tory, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly (a director of CivicAction), and Chief of Police Bill Blair to discuss and reflect on the Greater Toronto Summit, civic leadership, and opportunities to take collaborative action.
For the past ten months the 26 participants in the DiverseCity Fellows program have been exposed to collaborative leaders from a variety of sectors.
Earlier this month, the DiverseCity Fellows had a chance to explore the city in the attempts to unearth the benefits of partnerships in city-building initiatives.
My name is Foraiyah Babar and I am a determined and motivated high school student.
Project Inspire is a pilot program launched by a multi-sectoral team of 2010 DiverseCity Fellows.
Being a DiverseCity Fellow has opened my eyes to the meaning of diversity in a very broad sense.