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Women and minorities, still often “star” candidates in Canada

Photo: Annik MH De Carufel archives Le Devoir Women and LGBTQ+ candidates have been over-represented in landslide defeats in the last three federal elections.

Boris Proulx and Sandrine Vieira in Ottawa

January 9, 2024

  • Canada

Women and LGBTQ+ people who ran in the last three federal elections did so in ridings where they were less likely to win, according to a new study that compares them to “sacrificial lambs” by their political parties .

In 2021, Nathanielle Morin tried to realize her dream of becoming a member of the House of Commons under the banner of the Liberal Party of Canada (PLC). The 28-year-old trans woman, however, had a strong opponent to face in her riding: Gérard Deltell, famous Quebec City politician and outgoing Conservative MP.

“I was totally aware that in that constituency, it would be difficult,” she recalls.

In the end, it was the Conservative Party that easily won their constituency, with almost 52% of the vote. Despite everything, the candidate describes the adventure as a “great experience” that she would not hesitate to try again. She claims to have been supported and to have experienced “almost no transphobia” on the ground.

“It is certain that I am for more representation in constituencies which are, in quotes, more easily “winnable”. But it’s a change that is happening gradually,” said the former candidate, who now works as a political advisor in Ottawa. She recalls that in the PLC, it is the members of the party who determine who their candidate will be, during investitures.

Nathanielle Morin's journey is part of the data compiled in an article written by researchers at the University of Ottawa to appear in the next edition of the journal Electoral Studies, and consulted by Le Devoir.

The analysis of the journey of 3,966 candidates who presented themselves during the last three general elections shows that self-declared lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ+) people and women are significantly over-represented (by 17 and 6 percentage points respectively) in crushing defeats — those in which they came in more than 15 points behind. Indigenous or visible minority candidates are also disadvantaged, although to a lesser extent.

To the researchers' surprise, the Liberal Party does not fare any better than the Conservative Party in this regard: minority candidates are more often appointed where both parties expect to lose.

“We did not find any big differences between the Liberals and the Conservatives, even if the Liberals tend to emphasize that they have parity and the question of diversity more at heart than the Conservative Party,” underlines Valérie Lapointe, researcher postdoctoral fellow in political studies at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the study.

In fact, both parties field predominantly heterosexual men in districts deemed “taken”, a trend compounded by the fact that incumbent MPs generally retain their place as candidates. At the end of the last federal election, the House of Commons was 69.5% male.

Lack of transparency

The statistics do not surprise former New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Camille Esther Garon, who ran in the riding of Beauport-Limoilou in the 2021 federal elections. The young black and “queer” woman admits, with in hindsight, having sometimes felt like I was “used”.

In an interview with Le Devoir, she recalls that diversity and inclusion were very strong themes during the 2021 campaign, a year after the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s clear that the parties wanted to look for candidates [from diversity]. There is a side where we feel used, but [the party] also wants to represent their values,” she adds.

Despite everything, Camille Esther Garon rejects the term “postal candidate”, since she believes that her party encouraged her to run in a constituency where her chances of winning were better. She ultimately came in fourth place, well behind Julie Vignola of the Bloc Québécois, who won the race with 31% of the vote.

The NDP is the only federal party that has set objectives to guarantee the presence of diversity in the nomination process. Although these rules are too recent to evaluate their impacts, researcher Valérie Lapointe believes that they can lead to better representation among candidates.

However, where the problem lies for candidates from “difficult” constituencies, it is rather the lack of transparency regarding their chances of victory, believes Camille Esther Garon. Political parties must have “honest” conversations about the odds of winning, she insists.

“[It would be necessary to explain] that it is going to be a difficult campaign, that the chances of winning are more [slim], but that we have the potential to move forward in the long term with the party. » Even with this caveat, she says she would have run.

Sensitive “low cost”

For their study, the researchers analyzed the candidacies of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party  and the Green Party of Canada, during the general elections of 2015, 2019 and 2021 .

Since there is no official data on the declared sexual orientation of candidates, they had to fall back on compilations carried out by the specialized magazine Xtra!. The Bloc Québécois was also excluded from the study, due to failure to make data on diversity among its candidates available in time.

Even though they constitute half of the population, women — even white and heterosexual — are also often designated to fight in constituencies that are historically more difficult to win. A surprising observation for researcher Valérie Lapointe.

“One would have expected, given the rhetoric of the political parties, that women would be less disadvantaged. But we see that no, they are still sacrificed animals of Canadian politics,” she comments.

The study, also co-signed by researchers Benjamin Ferland and Luc Turgeon of the University of Ottawa, evokes the existing tension between political parties and their local associations when nominating candidates. She also argues that parties benefit from appearing sensitive to issues of diversity by nominating certain candidates where it involves “low cost”, i.e. where defeat is predictable.

Former candidate Camille Esther Garon hopes to see people from diverse backgrounds try their luck in the next federal elections scheduled for 2025, regardless of their chances of victory. “I can understand some feeling like 'sacrificial lambs' at first, if it's an unwinnable constituency. But on the contrary, they are warriors. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116