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More diversity on election ballots could help improve policy, former federal candidate says

Last Updated Sep 25, 2020 at 9:22 am PDT

(CityNews Vancouver)

VANCOUVER (CityNews) – If you’re among those already knows who they’re going to vote for in the upcoming provincial election, one thing you might not have considered is the diversity on your ballot.

One former federal candidate believes diverse options could improve policy for underrepresented people.

“Myself, growing up as a queer male, I came out at a very young age,” Kyle Demes told CityNews Vancouver. “I remember when I was in university, I took a class that wasn’t part of my major because a professor was gay, and I wanted to see a role model. That was the first time it occurred to me that identity was really important in representation.”

Demes ran as an openly gay Liberal Party candidate during the 2019 federal election. Demes, who is a marine ecologist, attracted supporters not just in his riding of Vancouver East but across Canada.

“As I started looking at politics myself, I started looking for more queer candidates and members of parliament and MLAs to look up to, and there weren’t many. And that’s the first time I started reflecting on, why isn’t there more representation?” he recalled.

“I think of non-binary candidate for Green leader, Amita Kuttner, who, if they’re elected, we’ll now to have to change the way we talk about gender breakdown in parliament. And that would be transformative. For the first time we’ll have to talk about the proportion of male, female, and non-binary MPs. And trans youth around Canada will have that role model to look up to.”

The House of Commons saw a growth in visible minorities during the 2019 federal election, though, some groups still remain underrepresented.

“The playing field is, obviously, historically challenging,” Dr. Sanjay Jeran, senior lecturer, chair, SFU Political Science, says. “The numbers speak for themselves. There’s always been a lower percentage of different minorities in the House of Commons relative to their members in the population.”

But Jeran says you can’t ignore the efforts in trying expanding the pool of political candidates. Parties have recruited people to make themselves look more representative of the population.

One negative side of it, Jeran says, is the history of some parties trying to organize the vote along ethnic lines, pointing at the 2015 election as an example.

“No parties innocent of this — trying to get candidates in ridings that are ethnically diverse to match the, sort of, dominant ethnicity in that riding as a way to potentially organize voting along ethnic lines. When that’s the intention, is it a laudable goal?”

At least on the 2SLGBTQ+ front, Demes says he’s seen positive changes.

“Something I’ve noticed as a queer male is that some of my friends who are having kids, two men having children have a different amount of leave that they’re allowed to take as parents because the original structure was dependent on maternity leave, plus then parental leave, as opposed to just parental leave. So, that’s something that now with queer representation in government, there’s been advocacy for and they’re working to change that.”

Demes adds, “You have to remember that governments are responsible for the well-being of all of their citizens in all of their communities, and if you don’t have a diverse set of opinions, worldviews, perspectives, you risk having policies that don’t support everyone in your community.”