Ethnoracial Identities and Political Representation in Ontario and British Columbia.

AuthorPassy, Pascasie Minani

Political representation of minority groups is an important aspect of modern societies. Are our parliaments generally reflective of the people they serve? In this article, the authors use the results of two recent Canadian provincial elections (Ontario, 2018 and British Columbia, 2017) to explore whether majority and minority groups are proportionally represented in legislatures and to probe some explanations as to why these groups may be over-represented or under-represented. They address notions of residential concentration and the assumption of ethnic affinity to partially explain where ethnoracial minority candidates are likely to be elected. In contrast to past work which has found a general under-representation of minority groups, this analysis finds some nuance. Some racialized groups, notably Chinese Canadians, appear to be proportionally more under-represented than others. The authors explore a range of arguments to explain this finding. In conclusion, the authors highlight two key findings from this research. First, they suggest it is difficult to make the case that being part of a racialized group has a negative impact on political representation at the provincial level--at least currently in two provinces with large racialized populations--without introducing nuance that subdivides ethnoracial minority groups. The second finding is conceptual: ethnic affinity cannot solely predict voting behaviour. The authors contend that the concept must be broadened to include centripetal ethnic affinity and transversal ethnic affinity.


Political representation for minority groups has proven to be a key aspect of the recent evolution of modern societies. This article specifically examines the political representation of ethnoracial groups in the Ontario and British Columbia legislatures. By discussing various theories about political representation and ethnoracial origin, this article seeks to address the complex notions of residential concentration and especially the assumption of ethnic affinity; the latter concept is based on the idea that members of a given ethnic group are more likely to vote for a candidate from their identity group than from another.

This article introduces a distinction between two concepts: centripetal ethnic affinity and transversal ethnic affinity. The first concept accounts for how members of a given ethnic group are more emotionally disposed to respond positively--through concrete actions--to people who share their ethnic identity than to those who do not. Electorally, these emotional dispositions result in more votes for ingroup candidates, except in cases where there is an irreconcilable opposition between the moral convictions of voters and those of their ingroup candidates. The second accounts for how members of a given ethnic group are more affectively disposed to respond positively to members of another ethnic group when perceived as objective allies who share the same socio-economic conditions and/or the same attitude toward another ethnic entity in society. The importance of transversal ethnic affinity cannot be understated, especially in the discussion of political dynamics in multiethnic societies. The majority/minority distinction in these societies has been obscured by the composite nature of these entities, which include a number of ethnic groups whose interests converge or diverge circumstantially. This concept is also a useful tool for determining how meaningful the dichotomy between "the white majority" and the "racialized minority" is in the political space.

Two theoretical arguments will be challenged in this article. The first is that racialized candidates are far more likely to be elected in constituencies where whites form a significant minority; this would be indicative of an ethnoracialization of the political space. The second is that racialized individuals make rational political investments in candidates from their ingroup to improve their limited access to resources in the economic space. The implicit component of this argument is that the most vulnerable racialized groups are the most likely to seek out political representation as they are cognizant of its effectiveness in determining the rules of access to and distribution of resources (in the economic space like in any other space). This argument appears to be at odds with Bourdieu, (1) whose influential theory states that control over resources, including money, educational capital and free time, determines political participation. But the contradiction is only apparent because even the most vulnerable racialized groups include members or allies who have these resources and whom those groups can count on to defend their interests.

In terms of methodology, this article will pore over the results of the Ontario and British Columbia provincial elections, in 2018 and 2017 respectively, with a focus on two criteria: (a) the ethnoracial identification of the elected candidates; and (b) the ethnic distribution of the constituents who elected racialized candidates. Given the extremely complex and fluid nature of ethnoracial identity (2) in an era of generational multiracialism (i.e. biracial children born to biracial parents), this concept is unquestionably problematic. In light of this, we have opted for a crossover design that incorporates both self-definition (the racial identities as assigned by the candidates themselves) and exo-definition (the racial identities as assigned to candidates by the media or other agents of the political space) into the methodology. Elected candidates are considered racialized if they identify as such on their party's website or in Canadian media. Institutionally recognized official categories of racialized groups include "South Asian," "Black," "Chinese" and "other visible minorities."

In the social sciences, there is a considerable amount of literature dedicated to analyzing the relationship between ethnoracial minority groups and politics in Canada's extremely diversified society. By examining the political participation of members of different social groups, Black (3) found that immigrants have the same degree of political participation as Canadians who were born here. In their study on the political participation of Muslim Canadians, Munawar et al. reveal that context plays an interestingly significant role. (4) According to the authors, the participation rate and political representation of Muslim Canadians increased in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, during which Muslims faced a considerable amount of negative stigma. Bird argues that the high number of racialized MPs elected in the 2005 federal election is due to the generosity of Canada's citizenship regime, affirmative action in the candidates' nomination process and the residential concentration of ethnoracial minorities. (5)

Political representation in Ontario: Inequality for racialized minorities

Ontario and British Columbia are two of the most ethnoracially diverse provinces in Canada. According to the 2016 census, Ontario had a population of 13,242,160, with 3,885,885 (or 29.3 per cent) identifying as non-white. (6) There are 124 members (MPPs) in the Ontario legislature, or one for every 106,792 residents. (7) Canadians of European descent form a clear majority in Ontario (70.7 per cent). At 8.7 per cent, South-Asian Ontarians are the largest minority, but they do not considerably outweigh the other racialized groups. Chinese and Black Ontarians follow with 5.7 per cent and 4.7 per cent of the population, respectively. (8) If parliamentary membership was proportional to ethnoracial representation, the seat counts would be 11 for South-Asian Ontarians, 7 for Chinese Ontarians, 6 for Black Ontarians, 13 for the other racialized groups and 87 for European Ontarians. However, current representation differs significantly from this proportional projection. With 96 out of 124 seats, European Ontarians are overrepresented in the current legislature, while ethnoracial minorities are collectively underrepresented with 28 seats. This creates discrepancies where the representation by demographic weight favours European Ontarians by a factor of 1.1 and disadvantages ethnoracial minorities by a factor of 1.3.

This data reveals further inequality regarding the...

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