Andrew, Caroline, John Biles, Myer Siemiatycki and Erin Tolley, Editors. Electing a Diverse Canada: the Representation of Immigrants, Minorities, and Women.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Electing a Diverse Canada: the Representation of Immigrants, Minorities, and Women (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Andrew, Caroline; Biles, John; Siemiatycki, Myer; Tolley, Erin|
Andrew, Caroline, John Biles, Myer Siemiatycki and Erin Tolley,
Electing a Diverse Canada: the Representation of Immigrants, Minorities, and Women.
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008.
"I never thought I would live to see this day" was the repeated comment of many African-Americans on the inauguration of Barack Obama. The hope and inspiration drawn from the event speaks to the importance of our democratically elected representatives looking like us, speaking for us, reflecting our experiences and hopefully acting on behalf of groups long denied proportionate and effective representation.
Do Canada's politicians reflect our diversity and our supposed commitment to a multicultural society? This edited volume shows that federal, provincial and municipal elected representatives in major urban cities across the country are disproportionately white, male, middle-aged, well-educated, and of European ancestry. No one should be surprised by this. The book adds to an already significant body of research that has repeatedly described the under-representation of women, visible minorities, First Nations peoples, and new Canadians amongst elected representatives. While the book does not follow historical trends, when taken together with other research, the conclusion must be that our elected representatives have never reflected or represented our diversity and any progress has been shamefully slow.
The chapters follow a similar methodology. Each author--Myer Siemiatycki on Toronto, Irene Bloemraad on Vancouver, Carolle Simard on Montreal, Shannon Sampert on Edmonton and Calgary, John Biles and Erin Tolley on Ottawa, Karen Bird on Hamilton, Joseph Garcea on Regina and Saskatoon, Karen Murray on Halifax, and Brenda O'Neill and Jared Wesley on Winnipeg--compares the gender, ethnicity, religion, visible minority, age and education and foreign born characteristics of each city's census region with those of municipal, provincial and federal representatives elected to office in the 2004 Federal election and the closest provincial and municipal election years. Information on the background of representatives was obtained through surveys or other information where respondents did not reply.
Chapter after chapter reports that elected representatives do not reflect the diversity of the population: "power in Montreal remains concentrated in the hands of a social and ethnic elite"(p. 256); "the archetypal elected official [in Halifax] is 51 years old, university educated, White, Anglo-Saxon, male, [and] Christian" (p.180); "The under-representation of women, First Nations, Metis, Franco-Manitobans, and the growing visible minority populations make it clear that the city's political leadership fails to reflect much of Winnipeg's diversity" (p. 256); and so on.
If the book's strength lies in documenting the pattern of under-representation of demographic groups at all elected levels and in all major urban areas, its weakness is in explaining from the pluralist framework (in which the book is firmly rooted), why these representational deficits persist, some for as long as the history of Canadian liberal democracy. While many of the chapters locate important barriers to mirror representation in political institutions and assume that they can be overcome, too few chapters look for answers in a political class that continues to fashion or defend exclusionary representative institutions such as disproportionate electoral systems, the rationing of representation apparent in municipal amalgamations, election campaign and party finance rules that favour the wealthy and the defunding of effective proponents such as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.
Not enough is made of the repeated finding that representatives are well-educated and generally wealthy even when they come from an under-represented group. Often unmentioned is one of the greatest representational deficits: that of working class Canadians. Bird observes that in Hamilton "not a single representative was employed as a tradesman or industrial worker, despite this being the largest occupational group (27 percent) in the city" (p. 148).
The chapters on Ottawa and Halifax are the only two that investigate the struggles of under-represented groups to participate in the political process and the limited gains they have achieved. How these groups are able to organize to build their resources, overcome obstacles placed in their way, form coalitions to broaden their claims, and overcome the divisions that flow from their multiple identities will ultimately determine their success in achieving the presentation of their needs. The next book on this important topic should focus there.
Robert MacDermid, Associate Professor,
Political Science, York University.
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