THE ORANGE WAVE AND THE IMPACT OF DIVERSITY ON CANADIAN POLITICS
Montreal, May 30, 2011
Much has been said about the Orange Wave of the May 2 Federal elections, and how it has changed the political landscape of our country.
Political pundits and media observers have extensively commented the number of firsts for recent political history in Canada: Quebec being under-represented in a Federal government after only returning five Conservative candidates; the NDP becoming the Official Opposition and almost wiping out the Liberal Party as a major political force; the decimation of the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party's parliamentary debut through the election of Elizabeth May.
Much has also been said of those young students swept along in the Orange Wave who have become “accidental MPs“, after only appearing as names and pictures in order for the party to run a full slate of 308 candidates (and as a means to obtain federal subsidies of $2 per vote received).
Having nine Aboriginal MPs on both sides of the House of Commons is another historic first. Furthermore, the two First Nation Cabinet members, Leona Aglukkaq and Peter Penashue, now hold senior portfolios at Health and Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Privy Council of Canada, respectively. That a former President of the Innu Nation of Newfoundland and Labrador becomes the President of the Queen's Privy Council is a major symbolic achievement that is not lost on many.
The fact that 76 women have now made it to the House of Commons is another crack in the glass ceiling of Canadian politics and is important in terms of the style and substance of the parliament. Women do and will change the status quo in a place that has long been dominated by old, white wealthy men. These new women MPs will also serve as role models for a generation of girls who have grown up with Britney Spears or Rihanna and who no longer believe in gender equality in a post-feminist world.
One issue that has not been adequately addressed is the ethnoracial make-up of the 41st Parliament, and the profound impact on Canadian political dynamics and public policy. Indeed, for the first time in history, 29 MPs (9%) come from racialized or visible minorities. Practically every racialized group in Canada is represented: Asians, Arabs, Blacks, Hispanics and South Asians.
The Federal Cabinet has a record four non-white MPs, testament to Conservative ability to be an inclusive governing party. Gone are the days when a MP of color would make headlines as being the first visible minority minister, as was the case of Jean Augustine, the first Black woman to enter the federal Cabinet. It is clear that the Conservative Party won the upper hand in the two largest racialized communities in Canada, the Chinese and South Asians, especially in Greater Toronto, Calgary and Greater Vancouver.
Across the aisle, an astounding 14 out of the NDP's 103, including 10 from Quebec, are racialized. More positively, the election of four Quebec MPs of Arab backgrounds, in ridings with large francophone populations, repudiates anti-Arab sentiments in Quebec. The Quebec NDP caucus also includes three MPs of Asian origin, two Latin Americans and one Black (in fact the only Black Member of Parliament).
This composition may be a sign that the NDP's policies and attempts to reach out to certain ethnoracial groups (notably Latin American, Middle-Eastern, Black and East Asian) have been as successful as the Conservatives' attempts to attract more conservative, economically advantaged groups such as the Chinese and South Asians.
As for the two other parties, the Bloc Québécois has a minority representation rate of 25% (1 MP) and the Liberals 5%. That a Liberal Party reduced to 34 MPs has only two racialized MPs speaks poorly of its inability to represent, reflect and capture the growing immigration-based constituencies in urban areas.
For the first time since 1990, the Liberal image is that of a party of the two founding peoples of Canada. Ultimately, it risks presenting an image of being stuck in the Trudeau era and unable (some would say unwilling) to make one of its most important achievements, multiculturalism, into the foundation for future party renewal and electoral success.
The greater diversity of race, age, class and gender generated by the Orange Wave makes the 41st Canadian Parliament undoubtedly the most diverse since Confederation. It is not just superficial change or an accident of history. It is history in the making, and the party that best capitalizes on and rides this wave of change will be the party of the Canada in the 21st century.