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Mainstreaming diversity in Nova Scotia's political parties

by Leena Ali

Newly elected MLA Kevin Murphy on the campaign trail.
Newly elected MLA Kevin Murphy on the campaign trail.

If you’ve ever tried getting the numbers when it comes to diverse representation in Nova Scotia provincial politics –you may find you have to do a bit of digging.

That’s because we don’t really keep track.

“We don’t classify people that way. That’s not our obligation,” says Dana Doiron, Director of Policy and Communications at Elections Nova Scotia.

“Why would we?”

It’s seemingly a different story when it comes to other fields of work. Many job applications will ask if you’d like to identify as a member of a visible minority, or a person with a disability.

During the recent election the number of visible minority candidates running for office were four in the NDP, two Liberal and one Conservative candidate.

Then again, these numbers are only from a tweet by a journalist.

“What someone’s background is, is not part of the qualifications. That’s up to the parties to try to balance,” says Doiron.

Keeping track may not be as simple as it sounds, but some think that it should be done regardless.

Caroline Andrew is a political science professor at the University of Ottawa, and co-author of Electing a Diverse Canada: The Representation of Immigrants, Minorities and Women.

“If you can’t monitor it, how can it be a policy objective?” she says.

Andrew argues that diverse representation is important in order for all voices to be heard. “It’s important as role models for young people growing up in Canada.” She thinks keeping track of the numbers is perfectly legitimate public information, and should be made available.

“We welcome everybody of every background,” says Jim David, Provincial Director of Nova Scotia’s Conservative party.

He says the party monitors demographics such as age and gender, but anything other than that isn’t viewed as being necessary or beneficial, because “how would you be correct?

Obviously, diverse representation isn’t just about ethnicity or race.

Media reports focused on Joanne Bernard of the Liberals as the first openly gay MLA in Nova Scotia.

Another newly elected MLA is Kevin Murphy of Eastern Shore.

Murphy has a disability and from his experience, other people with disabilities automatically engage with him since they get the sense that, “I’m talking to a peer I’m not just talking to another quote unquote politician,” he says.

“People become engaged and a lot more interested when they feel they have a real legitimate chance to have their views heard.”

While we’ve seen some progress, some think more needs to be done.

“I think there are many things that we can be doing,” says former African Nova Scotian MLA Percy Paris.

“We can certainly as a government do more in the way of hosting workshops [and] educational events.”

For Yvonne Atwell, it not just about saying everyone is welcome. It’s about commitment. She’s taken part in engagement workshops that encouraged diverse representation at the municipal level. She believes there needs to be more commitment.

Atwell was an MLA in the late nineties representing Preston. She was the first African Nova Scotian female to have this position.

“It’s just probably educating the public around how it’s important to have diverse candidates around the table. There’s been a little more movement of course, a lot more than there was 15 years ago when I ran, but there still needs to be more discussions,” she says.

“The parties need to talk about it. They need to be able to get in the communities and talk –but I don’t think that’s on any of their agendas.”


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