Despite the progress that Canada’s racialized communities made in gaining the right to vote, ethnic communities including Chinese and black are underrepresented in the parliament as well as Trudeau’s cabinet. In planning the electoral system overhaul, Canadians should examine approaches to ensure our political system is more reflective of the ethno cultural makeup of the society, writes Avvy Go in her article published on the Star. With the consent of Go, Chinese News publishes the column as the final article in our series on Canada’s electoral reform.
Since the release of the Report of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, the media coverage has focused solely on whether Prime Minister Trudeau will live up to his promise that the 2015 election would be the last one based on First-Pass-the-Post system.
For racialized communities and other groups that are under-represented in our current political system, the issue of electoral reform goes far beyond the method of voting.
Historically, through overtly racist laws and policies, the federal government and a number of provinces had explicitly denied members of racialized communities, including but not limited to indigenous peoples as well as Canadians of Chinese and Japanese descent, their right to vote.
华裔加拿大人被剥夺选举权始于加国第一任总理Sir John A. Macdonald,他在1885年推出选举法时就明确剥夺了具有“蒙古和中国血统”的加拿大人的投票权，据Macdonald称，这是因为他们“没有英国人的本能或英国人的情感或愿望”。直到1947年，也就是第二次世界大战结束两年后华裔加拿大人才重获投票权。而原住民则直到1960年才获得投票权。
The disenfranchisement of Chinese Canadians began with Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, when he introduced an election law in 1885 in which he expressly deprived persons from the “Mongolian and Chinese race” of their right to vote, because, according to Macdonald, they had “no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.” Chinese Canadians did not regain their right to vote until 1947, two years after the Second World War. Indigenous people did not gain their right to vote until 1960.
When the 46 so-called “visible-minority” MPs were elected to the Canadian Parliament in the 2015 election, some media called it a “watershed” moment in our history and a victory for Canada’s multiculturalism. In reality, out of a total of 338 seats, the politicians from different communities of colour represent just over 13 per cent of Parliament, while about 19 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of people of colour, with the largest three groups being South Asian, Chinese and black, who together made up 61 per cent of all communities of colour. When Trudeau named his cabinet, one that he described as looking like Canada, not one Chinese or black made it to his short list.
Today, tens of thousands permanent residents of Canada are denied the right to vote because of the strict naturalization law, not to mention the 200,000 or immigrants with precarious status who have lived and worked in Canada for years, in some cases decades, without ever given a chance to regularize their status.
As Canadians ponder which electoral system will be best for our democracy, considerations should be given for the following two questions:
• Which electoral system will be best able to engage the marginalized communities, including racialized communities and new Canadians, in order to ensure their full participation in the democratic process?
• Regardless of which system is chosen, what can we do to make our political bodies more fully reflect the makeup of Canada?
On both questions, the special committee report fell short. While the Report did make some passing references to the need to increase representation of “visible minorities,” no specific recommendation — or an attempt to come up with one — was made to address this issue.
This is in contrast with the committee’s treatment of some of the other under-represented groups, or groups that are not as engaged in the political process as they should, such as indigenous peoples, students, youth, people with disabilities, and women, where there were specific sections in the report devoted to analyzing how to increase their democratic purification, and in the case of indigenous people and women, their political representation. But even then, the committee did not offer any concrete solutions for these critical challenges.
The government has since been hosting its own online consultation to gather public opinion. Apart from offering no public education or information about the electoral reform process or the various possible options, the questions posted on Mydemocracy.ca are replete with false dichotomy.
Canadians are asked a number of “either-or” questions, as if the choices presented are mutually exclusive. One question assumes, for instance, a system that requires greater collaboration among parties would be less accountable. Another asks Canadians to choose between improving representation of under-represented groups and greater political accountability.
While there is no perfect system, there is no reason why we cannot aspire to design a system that is inclusive, accountable, and above all, responsive to all Canadians.
Electoral reform is an opportunity to engage Canadians in a discussion of our democracy. We can begin by having a dialogue with each other on not only the technical aspect of voting, but the kind of society we want to live in. In addition to changing the way we vote, let us also examine how to extend the right to vote by reforming our citizenship and immigration laws.
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