Karen Bird - Impact on Minority Group Representation

In September, we introduced you to Prof. Karen Bird, Chair of the Department of Political Science at McMaster University, and the arguments in her affidavit about how our current voting system inhibits the election and representation of women.  Today, we outline her evidence about how First Past the Post voting also discriminates against various minority groups.

Representation of Minorities Lagging

Overall, “visible minority MPs currently comprise about 15%” of MPs, which “lags behind the 22.3 percent share of visible minorities in the population.”  Similarly, only 3% of seats are held by Indigenous MPs, “in contrast to the overall 4.9 percent Indigenous share of the population.”

Results Vary Based on Geography

Prof. Bird says that, under our current voting system, “the most important determinant of minority representation is the degree to which minorities are geospatially distributed or concentrated.”  More specifically, the single-member districts (SMDs) of our current voting system “facilitates elections of candidates from ethnic and linguistic minority groups if they are territorially concentrated”, such as Bloc Quebecois supporters or ethnic minorities in some urban areas in the country.  And, in contrast, “minorities that are more geographically or ideologically dispersed do less well under SMD rules because voters belonging to these minorities do not form a local plurality, which is required to elect a candidate in SMDs.”  This means that “most racialized voters outside [so-called majority-minority] districts [are] unable to vote for members of their ethnic group – or more generally for any visible minority candidate.”

Overall Numbers Hide Both Under- and Over-Representation

This link with spatial distribution patterns means that the overall numbers hide some interesting contrasts: “MPs of South Asian descent held half of all seats (26 of 51) won by visible minorities, a number which makes them considerably over-represented (with 7.7 percent total seat share) relative to their population (5.6 percent). Virtually every other visible minority group remains under-represented, with most holding less than half the share of seats relative to their population share.”  Bird concludes that “proportional [multi-member district] systems are more likely [than FPTP] to achieve equitable representation across diverse racialized groups.”

FPTP Elects Minorities in Enclaves, But Also Has Other Problems

Interestingly, Bird says that “many scholars in Canada assume that visible minorities generally benefit from plurality SMD electoral rules” because geographic concentration for some groups is thought to compel parties to nominate minority candidates in these ridings to win the seats, but she notes that this presumed mechanism “requires the continuation of some degree of residential segregation” of minority groups, and “does nothing for minorities in other districts.” She concludes that, in contrast, “the evidence suggests thatproportional systems ... can produce minority representation at levels similar to SMDs [having] majority-minority districts,” without relying on ongoing segregation or denying minority groups outside of segregated areas appropriate representation. 

Implications for the Case

As with her evidence on women’s representation, Prof. Bird’s affidavit clearly shows that minority groups are systematically disadvantaged by the single-member district aspect of our current voting system, and that adopting multi-member districts would significantly reduce the impediments minorities face to being elected.  These findings will be central to our arguments that our current voting system violates our Section 15 equality rights.

Thank you for your continued support. More on the other affidavits coming soon!

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC


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  • Jesse Hitchcock
    published this page in Blog Updates 2021-10-20 10:08:22 -0300

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Key Events in the Case:

- We're currently preparing our appeal (we filed our Notice of Appeal on Dec 29, 2023).

- Justice Ed Morgan issued his ruling on Nov 30, 2023 and unfortunately dismissed our application.

- The case was heard September 26-28, 2023 in the Ontario Superior Court.

- We received the government's affidavits in late Fall 2022.

- We served the government with our affidavit and evidence package in May 2021.

- We filed the case with the Ontario Superior Court in October 2019.

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