Will our new city coun­cils have more di­ver­sity?

Women and vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties re­main un­der-rep­re­sented around coun­cil ta­bles

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - DAPHNE BRAMHAM dbramham@post­media.com

When Andy Yan looks at the chaotic civic elec­tion land­scape with its many in­de­pen­dents fol­low­ing the col­lapse of long-stand­ing par­ties and so many in­cum­bents pack­ing it in, he’s not sur­prised.

“It’s be­cause the city has changed so much,” says Yan, the direc­tor of Si­mon Fraser Uni­ver­sity’s City Pro­gram.

He’s not talk­ing about bricks and mor­tar. Yan is talk­ing about cit­i­zens and how the civic par­ties and the civic politi­cians look noth­ing like the pop­u­la­tion.

At 51 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in pol­i­tics has never mea­sured up to that. It sur­prised Yan. But for women, this is noth­ing new.

Fewer than a third of B.C.’s cur­rent may­ors are women, ac­cord­ing to Equal Voice. It doesn’t have sta­tis­tics on the per­cent­age of fe­male coun­cil­lors.

There are anom­alies. Dur­ing her three terms as Sur­rey’s mayor, Dianne Watts led coun­cils that had a ma­jor­ity of women, as does the cur­rent coun­cil un­der Mayor Linda Hep­ner. At first, those fe­male-dom­i­nated coun­cils got a lot of me­dia cov­er­age, which is funny since the male­dom­i­nated ones are rarely writ­ten about in those terms.

But this time around, only one of the eight may­oral can­di­dates is a woman and only 11 women are among the 48 coun­cil can­di­dates. In Van­cou­ver, a third of the may­oral can­di­dates and 46 per cent of the coun­cil can­di­dates are women.

The whys of women’s chronic un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion have been widely stud­ied, dis­cussed and writ­ten to lit­tle ef­fect. So­cial me­dia is just the lat­est rea­son fewer women may be will­ing to run or run again. Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, for ex­am­ple, isn’t run­ning again. Her sin­gle term was marred by cred­i­ble death threats that forced her out of the pub­lic eye briefly.

Vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties, even in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties where they com­prise roughly half the pop­u­la­tion, are also not well rep­re­sented.

Over the years, old-line civic par­ties have been slow to re­cruit and men­tor non-male and non­white can­di­dates.

This time, women and mi­nori­ties with po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions have gone else­where. They’ve formed new par­ties or are run­ning as in­de­pen­dents.

They’ve been helped by changes to the elec­tion fi­nanc­ing rules that limit do­na­tions to $1,200 and make it eas­ier to com­pete.

With less money be­ing spent on cam­paign­ing, it’s pos­si­ble that turnout will be low on Oct. 20. That too may be an ad­van­tage to can­di­dates closely con­nected to a spe­cific group — whether it’s ge­o­graphic, eth­nic, gen­der-based or LGBTQ. Of course, can­di­dates still need to en­sure that their sup­port­ers get to the polls.

The dis­crep­ancy be­tween who gov­erns and who is gov­erned is starkly ob­vi­ous on Yan’s charts that use 2016 cen­sus num­bers to cal­cu­late the per­cent­ages of women, vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties and im­mi­grants in Metro Van­cou­ver.

Across Metro Van­cou­ver, 49 per cent of the res­i­dents iden­tify as mem­bers of a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity. Nowhere near that per­cent­age sit at the coun­cil ta­bles or in the Metro Van­cou­ver board­room.

Rich­mond is the most dra­matic ex­am­ple. There, 76 per cent of res­i­dents are “vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties” and nearly two-thirds are im­mi­grants. On the cur­rent coun­cil, only three are of Chi­nese an­ces­try and only one is an im­mi­grant.

In Sur­rey, 58 per cent of the res­i­dents are not white. Most are South Asian, but Tom Gill is the only South Asian on the cur­rent coun­cil. He’s run­ning for mayor this time and his Sur­rey First slate has three “mi­nor­ity” coun­cil can­di­dates.

Three of Sur­rey’s may­oral can­di­dates are non-white, as are 23 of the 48 reg­is­tered coun­cil can­di­dates.

But there are only 11 women run­ning for coun­cil and only one for mayor.

Van­cou­ver’s record is worse. It has never had a fe­male mayor and the last South Asian elected to coun­cil was Setty Pen­dakur in 1972. While just over half of the res­i­dents are so-called vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties, nearly two-thirds of the 21 may­oral can­di­dates and 71 coun­cil can­di­dates are what we still mis­tak­enly call “the ma­jor­ity.”

With so many in­cum­bents across Metro re­tir­ing, there is a chance to re­bal­ance gen­der and eth­nic rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

As well, there also ap­pears to be an ap­petite for gen­er­a­tional change.

Ear­lier this month, a poll by Re­search Co. done for the Fo­rum for Mil­len­nial Lead­er­ship found that 75 per cent of Bri­tish Columbians want younger lead­ers with that per­cent­age ris­ing to 77 per cent among both the 18- to 34-year-olds and those over 55. Why does di­ver­sity mat­ter? First, it isn’t — or at least shouldn’t be — win­dow dress­ing or crass vote get­ting. It should be about find­ing the best peo­ple for the hard work.

That’s es­pe­cially so as Metro mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties face a cri­sis in hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity, trans­porta­tion gaps, over­dose deaths and stag­nant wages as costs keep ris­ing.

Reams of stud­ies on the lack of di­ver­sity on cor­po­rate boards have con­cluded that bet­ter de­ci­sions are made when the peo­ple mak­ing them have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and a va­ri­ety of lived ex­pe­ri­ences. The ben­e­fits in­clude im­proved fi­nan­cial per­for­mance, bet­ter gov­er­nance and in­creased in­no­va­tion.

There’s rea­son to ex­pect that with di­verse coun­cils, leg­is­la­tures or par­lia­ments, cit­i­zens might also reap those ben­e­fits. Women, mi­nori­ties, mil­len­ni­als, even Gen-Xers may have very dif­fer­ent views about where money should be spent, how safe their com­mu­nity is, how un­af­ford­able hous­ing is, and whether schools or other com­mu­nity ser­vices meet their needs.

They’ve al­ready dis­rupted the old-line par­ties and they’re not seek­ing spe­cial seats at the ta­ble. What non-tra­di­tional can­di­dates are ask­ing for is a chance to fully par­tic­i­pate in their com­mu­ni­ties be­cause, as Yan says, “You can rule as a tribe, but in a lib­eral democ­racy you need to gov­ern as a coali­tion.”

Women and mi­nori­ties with po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions have gone else­where. They’ve formed new par­ties or are run­ning as in­de­pen­dents.

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