Racial Diversity and the 2021 Federal Election: Visible Minority Candidates and MPs.

AuthorBlack, Jerome H.
Position2021 Canadian congressional election

A record 53 candidates with visible minority origins were victorious in the federal election of September 20, 2021, itself the fourth in a row to witness an increase in their numbers and, as well, their share of the available seats. As in previous elections, however, there were offsets to these positive aspects. Not only was the absolute increase in numbers from 2019 to 2021 modest at best (three MPs), but a comparison with the visible minority population at large implies a sizeable representation deficit that has barely changed over time. The 2021 election is also notable for a further and quite noticeable jump in visible minority candidacies, solidifying a trend that had become evident in the last few elections. This could be taken as an indication that the candidate data provide an alternative, more optimistic, and, perhaps, even more realistic perspective on the openness of the political process to visible minorities.


The federal election of 1993 was a breakthrough event for MPs who could be identified as racialized minorities or, in government parlance, as visible minorities. (1) With 13 MPs elected, this was the first time that more than a handful of such individuals had won their way into Parliament and, thus, constitutes a significant early development in the racial diversification of the legislature. Subsequent elections have yielded further increases: so while those 13 MPs occupied 4.4 per cent of the available seats in the House of Commons, 50 visible minorities were elected in 2019, making up 14.8 per cent of the chamber. At the same time, the growth in visible minority representation has been at times uneven. On two occasions a subsequent election actually led to fewer such MPs being elected --cross the 1997-2000 and 2006-2008 pairings. More significantly, when increases have occurred, they have been, as a rule, modest in scale.

It is true that visible minority MP numbers did jump from 29 or 9.4 per cent of the House's membership in 2011 to 47 or 13.9 percent in 2015. But more typical are the numbers associated with the interval covering the 2008 and 2011 elections, which entailed an increase of seven MPs, from 22 to 29 (with corresponding percentages of 7.1 and 9.4) and the 2015-2019 pairing, when the number of visible minority MPs edged up from 47 to 50 (with percentages of 13.9 and 14.8, respectively). Not unimportantly, this mostly incremental change has meant that the parliamentary representation of visible minorities has remained decidedly below their relative incidence in the population at large. In fact, the "ratio of representation," the MPs percentage divided by the population percentage, has only reached at most the two-thirds level, as was true in 2015 and 2019.

The 2021 election outcome very much fits in with this mixed characterization. On the positive side, and as shown in Table 1, more visible minority MPs were elected than ever before. The 53 winning legislators raised the percentage of seats held by minorities to 15.7, besting the numbers produced by the 2019 election (50 MPs and 14.8 per cent of the seats). On the other hand, an increase of three MPs is certainly on the modest side though perhaps a bit more notable given that altogether less than two dozen seats traded hands from 2019 to 2021. Also encouraging is the fact that the 2021 election is now the fourth consecutive election associated with an increase in numbers over the previous contest, thus helping to firm up a recent trend. Finally, on the downside, the ratio of representation has probably not changed much, if at all. Pending release of the visible minority population data from the recent census, the contemporary percentage can only be supposed, based on an extrapolation from the 2016 figure of 22. (2) per cent. Thus, assuming levels of about 24 or 25 per cent in 2021, the exercise implies ratios no higher than roughly two-thirds, which, as noted, is about the same levels achieved in the two previous elections. (2) Put differently, it appears that enough visible minority MPs are being elected to keep pace with their general population growth, but in insufficient numbers to diminish the disparity in their parliamentary representation. (3)

Table 1 also sets out the visible minority numbers according to their party affiliation for the 2021 election and, to indicate trend lines, for the four previous contests.

Once again in 2021, most of the minority MPs were elected as Liberals, and indeed overwhelmingly so --3 of the total of 53. This achievement marks the third election in a row that the party has dominated in this regard. In the aftermath of the 2015 contest, the party counted 39 visible minority MPs within its ranks (which itself represented a dramatic departure from the election of 2011 when the party elected only two such individuals), and in 2019, the Liberals elected 37 minority MPs. The increase of six MPs from 2019 to 2021 perhaps deserves a bit more weight given that overall, the party barely gained any seats in its repeat minority government victory. With six visible minority MPs elected in 2021, the Conservatives not only trailed far behind, but that number is down from their 10 minority MPs elected in 2019, and equal to what they accomplished in 2015. As for its part, the NDP continued to fall far short of its record achievement in the 2011 election, when the party welcomed 14 visible minority MPs into...

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