Apathy greater threat than lack of diversity
you might think it’s bad enough to show up again this year near the top of demographia’s listing of cities with the least affordable housing markets in the world, and a rental vacancy rate of less than one per cent, and to have been reduced to ground zero of Canada’s fentanyl crisis, with a worldwide reputation as the epicentre of a global money laundering system run by organized crime networks in China.
you might also think it is a bit disturbing that voter turnout in vancouver’s recent civic election was about 40 per cent.
on the bright side, it’s a good thing vancouver mayor gregor robertson, after having presided over vancouver’s transformation from lotusland’s metropolis to a seedy gangland paradise of drug-money laundering and shady real estate swindles, is in history’s dustbin. on the downside, robertson’s successor, Kennedy stewart, won the race for the mayor’s office backed by only about 12 per cent of eligible voters.
whatever might be said about all that, the post-election thing to get worked up about, judging by reports in the Toronto star, the local CbC news, various city webzines and the Twitter hashtag #councilsowhite, is the noticeably pale complexion of the new city council members, save one. Pete Fry. his Trinidad-born mother is the vancouver liberal fixture hedy Fry, the long-serving mP for vancouverCentre.
The whiteness of recently elected municipal councils is being noticed right across Canada at the moment.
erin Tolley, an assistant professor at the university of Toronto and “co-investigator” with the Canadian municipal election study, a project of the social sciences and humanities research Council of Canada, writes: “all else being equal, we know that voters gravitate toward candidates with whom they share an ethnic or racial background.”
maybe so. but the examples she cites — recent elections in vancouver, mississauga and Toronto — could be held up as evidence against her claim. voters in vancouver, mississauga and Toronto do not appear to have followed the pattern of ethnic gravitational pull at all.
in mississauga, 57 per cent of voters identify as members of a “visible minority” but only one “racialized” councillor got elected. in a city where slightly more than half the people identify as members of “visible minority” groups, Toronto’s 25-member city council can boast only four people of colour. statistics Canada’s recent data show the same sort of ratio for vancouver. slightly more than half of vancouverites identify as members of “visible minority” groups.
so, what’s with all the white people on city councils?
it’s a question worth asking, and although the answers are likely to differ from city to city, Tolley’s remedial prescription, an interim measure consisting of diversity and inclusion advisory committees to provide councils with advice about ethno-cultural relations and diversity, is perfectly reasonable, so far as it goes. an approach like that might also give “racialized” participants some public exposure, access to networks and degrees of civic exposure “that might serve them well if they choose to enter electoral politics,” Tolley writes.
but isn’t this just a bureaucratic solution in search of a problem? does the ubiquity of white people in civic politics really mean “many voices are excluded from the decision-making process” and that this state of affairs “puts municipalities at risk”?
in vancouver, Kennedy stewart, backed by metro vancouver’s labour unions, won the race for the mayor’s office by squeaking past the NonPartisan association’s Ken sim, who is Chinese Canadian. The result was 49,812 votes to sim’s 48,828. sim can hardly complain he wasn’t taken seriously.
There are far bigger “process” issues that require attention. like the abysmally low voter turnout. and vancouver’s antiquated at-large voting system. and apathy.