For racialized communities, electoral reform is about more than voting

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Since the release of the Report of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, the media coverage has focused solely on whether Prime Minister Trudeau will live up to his promise that the 2015 election would be the last one based on First-Pass-the-Post system.For racialized communities and other groups that are under-represented in our current political system, the issue of electoral reform goes far beyond the method of voting.Historically, through overtly racist laws and policies, the federal government and a number of provinces had explicitly denied members of racialized communities, including but not limited to indigenous peoples as well as Canadians of Chinese and Japanese descent, their right to vote.The disenfranchisement of Chinese Canadians began with Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, when he introduced an election law in 1885 in which he expressly deprived persons from the “Mongolian and Chinese race” of their right to vote, because, according to Macdonald, they had “no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.” Chinese Canadians did not regain their right to vote until 1947, two years after the Second World War. Indigenous people did not gain their right to vote until 1960.When the 46 so-called “visible-minority” MPs were elected to the Canadian Parliament in the 2015 election, some media called it a “watershed” moment in our history and a victory for Canada’s multiculturalism. In reality, out of a total of 338 seats, the politicians from different communities of colour represent just over 13 per cent of Parliament, while about 19 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of people of colour, with the largest three groups being South Asian, Chinese and black, who together made up 61 per cent of all communities of colour. When Trudeau named his cabinet, one that he described as looking like Canada, not one Chinese or black made it to his short list.Article Continued BelowToday, tens of thousands permanent residents of Canada are denied the right to vote because of the strict naturalization law, not to mention the 200,000 or immigrants with precarious status who have lived and worked in Canada for years, in some cases decades, without ever given a chance to regularize their status.As Canadians ponder which electoral system will be best for our democracy, considerations should be given for the following two questions: Which electoral system will be best able to engage the marginalized communities, including racialized communities and new Canadians, in order to ensure their full participation in the democratic process.

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