Under-representation in Parliament is a longstanding issue in Canadian politics. When the Liberal Party took power in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Canadians a more diverse government to better reflect the socio-cultural makeup of the country, and while the 44th Parliament of Canada is the most diverse in Canadian history, there is still a long way to go. Change, however, towards an inclusive House of Commons with significant, proportionate representation of women, racialized, and Indigenous members, is “slow and incremental.”
Indigenous peoples in Canada have historically been under-represented in the House of Commons. Between 1867 to 2021, there have only been 46 Indigenous members. This under-representation has occurred partially because Indigenous peoples face systemic barriers to political participation. One significant barrier of entry for Indigenous people into the Canadian parliament has been the fact that this very system has been historically used, “as a means of assimilation”. Indigenous peoples’ relationship with Canada is also uniquely complicated as they are “internal nations (rather than ethnic minorities), who, by nature of their […] experience of colonialism, hold distinct rights in the Canadian constitution”, rights that have not always been honoured, which consequently leaves many Indigenous peoples in Canada with a sense of distrust in the Canadian government. The historic exclusion of Indigenous peoples from electoral power has also been associated with a lack access to the resources, opportunities to engage with political parties, attend rallies, or participate in campaigns. However, there have been significant gains in recent years with Indigenous people elected to 3.3% of the seats in the House of Commons following the 2021 election, as compared to comprising 5% of the population.
Despite making up 51% of Canada’s population, only 30.5% of seats in the House of Commons are held by women. Systemic impediments that keep women out of politics are a significant cause of the under-representation, including sexism, discrimination, a lack of resources and support for women, and a lack of female role models in politics act to discourage women from pursuing politics. For example, women may be subject to gender-based harassment and discrimination and may be held to higher standards and expectations than male politicians. Women may also face challenges related to work-life balance, particularly if they have caregiving responsibilities. Furthermore, parties often place women in districts where that party has little chance of winning–so-called “unwinnable ridings”. If appointed to Cabinet, women are typically assigned only to newly established or less significant portfolios. Several initiatives are aimed at increasing women’s representation in Canadian politics, including quotas for women’s representation in political parties, training, mentorship programs, and public education campaigns.
Additionally, there is a considerable under-representation of “visible minorities” in the Canadian Parliament. Visible minorities in Canada comprise 22% of the population, although they only hold 15.7% of the seats in the House of Commons. In a study concerning attitudes Canadians identifying as visible minorities toward voting and representation, one participant noted visible minorities are represented in the House of Commons, they become “tokens”, saying “our politicians are not full the way a white person can be. They come in with token issues and orders about what their role is. They are in a box”. Even though representation from visible minorities has increased as the population has grown, many still question whether the rate of increase is enough, and whether the representation of different racial and/or ethnic groups within the broad umbrella of “visible minorities” is enough to be genuinely representative.
People with Disabilities
Very little research has been conducted on the representation of people with disabilities (including people with “hidden” disabilities) in the House of Commons, although given that 1 in 5 Canadians above the age of 15 live with a disability, it follows that there is likely significant under-representation of people with disabilities in Canadian Parliament. People with a disability face many barriers to electoral success, one of them being the attitude and biases of the Canadian population toward those with disabilities. Parties also tend not to run candidates with disabilities, and for candidates who might run, experiences of poverty and marginalization that are often connected to experiences of disability make it even more difficult for would-be candidates with disabilities to achieve success.
When groups like people with disabilities, women, visible minorities, and Indigenous people are systemically left out of our elected representatives, the legitimacy of the House of Commons is compromised. Our representative democracy is not representative when it does not include these groups, and may result in decisions that do not consider marginalized groups’ needs and concerns, which would increase social and economic inequality.
- Current Members of Parliament
- Statistics Canada research on “Who are Canada’s legislators?“
- Article from Policy Options entitled: “Do MPs Represent Canada’s Diversity?”
- Excerpt from the Report of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform: A Parliament that Mirrors Canada
Contributors: Shauryaa Bhardwaj, Braydon Bolster, Ethan Brown, Kalkidan Burke, Thien Dang, Emily Ede, Isabella Gunderson, Kat Harwin, Chelsey Hill, Kossy Kipkemoi, Dillon Lister, Kolten Michaud, Jasim Musa, Nisarg Pandya, Jesse Paquet, Brooke Payne, Jean Raworth, and Ashton Takhar