04/30/2012 11:58 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Why Ethnic Politicians Should Move to Ontario

Ryerson University's Myer Siemiatycki recently released a timely report on electoral successes among visible minorities within the GTA. The report found out that the GTA has 40 per cent of its population as visible minorities while 11 per cent of our elected officials consist of a multicultural background.

The report titled "The Diversity Gap: The Electoral Under-Representation of Visible Minorities" found: "while they comprise 40 per cent of the GTA population, only 11 per cent of those elected to office are visible minorities. This means we would need to elect almost four times as many visible minorities, across all levels of government, for visible minorities to hold elected office in proportion to their share of the population in the GTA."

The report also pointed out of many facts including that most diversity is found in provincial politics, municipal government still lacks little or no diversity, Arabs, and Filipinos are some of those that have very little representation in any electoral offices. South Asians and Chinese are the most successful group, that the City of Toronto has fewer multicultural representation compared to area governments, that no political party exclusively enjoys the loyalty of the ethnic vote and that little progress, while slow, is being achieved in the GTA.

If a recent diversity electoral achievement was to be noted in Ontario, it would probably be found in the recent inspiring election of Neethan Shan as President of the Ontario NDP. A community activist and one time refugee from Sri Lanka, the Tamil Canadian became the second South Asian to lead a major political party in Ontario. Yaser Naqvi, a Pakistani Canadian Ottawa MPP, was the first as he was elected president of the Ontario Liberals two years ago.

In Canada, many firsts have been achieved in the past not by the mainstream electors but by party politics and membership. In the 1993 Progressive Conservative leadership, Kim Campbell was chosen as the first woman Prime Minister to only lose a general election in mere months that reduced her mighty party to two seats. When Lyn McLeod was chosen as leader of the Ontario Liberals in 1992 by the members, it was also seen as a great breakthrough for equality and diversity for women. In the general election that followed, she was humiliated as Mike Harris won a huge majority with his Commons Sense Revolution mantra.

Many great efforts have been made and achieved in Ontario in our electoral journey as we attempt to best reflect our population in our elected office. In leadership races, more so in the recent NDP leadership race, the contributions and presence of new Canadians and in particularly South Asians was historic. It almost always seems like party politics is ahead of the general population in accepting change, acceptance and progress. As the report notes, there has been many achievements made but not fast enough especially compared to the United States.

In a one hour CBC Ontario Today call in show, the author of the report was put on the spot late last week. While many callers reflected on their own personal electoral journey, some asked why it would be important to have diversity in elected office. The author was quick to defend his report as he also reflected on the experiences of Toronto city Councilors Ana Bailao and Michael Thompson.

Councillor Bailao was recently in the news when she spoke out for the defense of city cleaners from her own humble immigrant background. Councilor Michael Thompson has also spoken about youth violence as well as the plight of adopted children from his native Jamaica from his own distinct points of view. These important points of view would never have been part of the discussion had it not for the two councilors, Siemiatycki noted.

The report offered direct recommendations that may lead us to be more reflective of the makeup and the fabric of our modern society. It calls for electoral reform to address under- representation in federal politics, an increase commitment from governments and formal institutions and intervention by political parties in mentorship.