British Columbia

Vancouver's new city council lacks diversity: so what next?

Visible minorities are the majority in Vancouver, with over half of resident identifying as non-white, yet that ethnic diversity isn’t reflected on the city’s newly elected city council.

Being elected is not the only way to get involved in city politics

Only one of the newly elected Vancouver city councillors identifies as a visible minority. (City of Vancouver)

Visible minorities are the majority in Vancouver, with more than half of its residents identifying as non-white, yet that ethnic diversity isn't reflected on the city's newly elected city council.

Only one of the elected city councillors, Peter Fry, identifies as a visible minority, leading diversity advocates like Niki Sharma to call for concrete motions to be passed by the city to tackle the lack of representation.

Fry's mother, Liberal MP Hedy Fry is a Trinidadian-Canadian.

"I would like the mayor and council to actually develop a strategy for equity and inclusion," said Sharma.

"Do we have enough [diversity] in our advisory meetings? How well are we doing in terms of consulting with communities? Those are all important questions."

Sharma, a former Vancouver Park Board Commissioner, ran unsuccessfully for a city council position in 2014, which would have seen her become the first South Asian female elected to the role.

"I know it can be discouraging sometimes in terms of the result of an election like that. It's on our city council and mayor to ensure that those voices are heard," she said.

Being elected is not the only way to get involved in city politics and policy creation. The City of Vancouver has volunteer positions for some boards and committees. (iStock)

Other avenues of representation

But being elected is not the only way to get involved in city politics and policy creation.

Volunteer positions with the City of Vancouver such as citizen agencies, boards and committees have been created to promote a deeper sense of a community and inclusion.

The city describes the roles as a way to encourage a "broad cross-section of applicants that reflect this rich diversity, including persons with disabilities and those of different ages, income levels, gender identities and backgrounds."

Kevin Huang, the executive director of the non-profit Hua Foundation, recently sat on the Vancouver food policy advisory committee. The foundation addresses environmental issues in food security and cultural food knowledge.

Huang said the experience allowed the committee to push council for increased representation.

"I originally was interested in food policy because that's a main portfolio of Hua Foundation's work in food security and especially cultural food security," Huang said.

Although the experience was positive at increasing the amount of diverse voices informing policy, Huang said more can be done to promote participation from minority groups.

"We want to see more lived experiences and diversity represented because food doesn't just impact people who care about food — it impacts all sorts of people," he said.

Range of diversity

While the lack of diversity within the new council has some upset with representation, others say there needs to be an understanding of the range in ways diversity can exist.

"I think representation is bigger than just seeing people as shells of their identity," said Kimberley Wong, a member of Love Intersections, a queer and trans artist collective. 

Any push for increased representation from a political level needs to also address potential tokenism that only gives the impression of diversity from a superficial level, Wong added.  

"In order to truly have meaningful representation beyond talking about why there are not that many people of colour on Vancouver city council, we need to engage in these kinds of topics," said Wong.

"[We need to] have people seen as more than just those quota-filling, box-checking things."

About the Author

Jason D'Souza is a broadcast journalist at CBC Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter @CBCdsouza