Once again, Toronto's representatives don't reflect the population that elected them.
Many observers have already commented that this election demonstrated the power of incumbency: 37 of the 38 sitting councillors who were running won back their seats. The 2014 council will therefore look very much like the 2010 council—and that includes its lack of diversity. Fourteen of Toronto’s 44 wards will now be represented by women, a slight slip from the record-high 15 women who were elected in 2010. In terms of racial diversity, only 6 of the 44 newly elected councillors come from visible minority communities, unchanged from 2010. All of them are also incumbents: of the great many promising visible minority council candidates who ran for office, not a single one managed to break through and win.
These numbers are dismal.
In a city that prides itself on diversity, we still have representation that isn’t remotely representative.
This was true of the mayoral race as well. Olivia Chow was long seen as the only woman in the race with a chance of winning, and there were only a handful of women in the 65-candidate field to begin with. Chow was also the lone visible minority mayoral candidate considered a contender.
While elected officials are empowered to represent all of their constituents, regardless of race or gender, it is deeply troubling that women and visible minorities continue to be so underrepresented. Their absence contributes to a narrowing of perspectives and experiences among our politicians. Chow, for instance, was the only mayoral candidate to speak with authority about the troubling instances of racism throughout the campaign. She even noted that, as a candidate of visible minority status, she risked alienating the electorate by talking about racism—the kind of nuance we need to have in our public discourse—while John Tory denied that white privilege exists and Doug Ford redefined the victims of racism to include anyone who was called a racist. An individual of any background can serve his or her constituents well, but collectively our government must include the full range of experiences and communities that make up Toronto if it is to serve us—all of us—adequately.
The city has implemented mentorship programs to encourage more women to run for office, and non-profit groups like the Maytree Foundation have provided training for women and visible minorities who aspire to elected office. Given last night’s results, it is clear these efforts are not enough. We must begin talking about how to do better, and we need the politicians we have just elected to do the same.