Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Diversity in Government

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (LPC - Papineau, QC) announced his cabinet one of the noted aspects was its diversity. A great deal of attention was given to the gender parity, but there is also substantial representation from visible minorities in the new cabinet. Admittedly it is not perfect, and the claim that cabinet now 'looks like Canada' is incorrect. Several prominent ethnic groups are not included in cabinet such as Chinese Canadians, or Black Canadians.

Why does this matter? Diverse decision-making bodies are valuable because they can offer perspectives a more uniform group cannot. Different ethnic groups and communities experience criminal justice, policing, housing, and general discrimination is ways that it can be hard to know without personal exposure. Remember that an individual is not a single person but is tied into a family and a network of friends in a broader community and can speak to and for their experiences in Canadian life. I think the Trudeau governments gender parity policy was an admirable one, and one can hardly say the women in cabinet are not qualified for the posts they hold.

Recently an issue came up in Brampton that had me note that when governments do not accurately represent their people strange outcomes can be the result. A week ago or so a house burned down in Brampton, the cause of the fire was linked to fireworks during Diwali. As a result one of the city councillors, Grant Gibson, is proposing a total ban on residential fireworks. Being a resident of Brampton I find that fireworks can go off at strange times of year, and I have no idea why. I guess we're a pro-firework city, even if the city government is not. As you can read in the article there are already restrictions and permits required for fireworks in Brampton.

The four firework-approved holidays (New Years, Victoria Day, Canada Day, and Diwali)  are unequally matched with public firework displays. It's easy to impose these restrictions for Canada Day when the city puts on fabulous firework shows. As far as I am aware the city does no show for Diwali. Arguably if a total ban is going forward a city celebration should be put in place as compensation.

How does this question tie back to diversity? In the 2011 census the largest ethnic group was South Asians at 38.4% of Brampton's population. Obviously the "South Asian" group is difficult to parse and consists of many distinct ethnic and religious groups. Regardless, looking at Brampton's Council this diversity is not reflected. Elected in 2014 of the ten councillors only one is of South Asian origins, Gurpreet Dhillon. The 'White' community makes up 32.9% of the population, but nine of the councillors and the mayor hail from that group. Brampton has a Black population of 13.5% but no city councillor. Finally I will note there are only three women on council, Mayor Jeffrey, Councillor Moore, and Councillor Mills.

I do not believe that it is impossible for a person of one ethnic group to represent the interests of another, or that elected/governing bodies must be a perfect match for their constituents. What I am suggesting is that with a different composition conversations are likely to be less homogeneous and reflect a broader range of opinions and experiences. Creating a representative body is very difficult. Balancing ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, ideology and geographic is impossible, but certainly there should be an effort. 

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