Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

Electioneering aside, it's time to alter the political DNA in N.L.

With a provincial election on the horizon, columnist Prajwala Dixit wonders how diverse the slate of candidates will be.

How diverse will the slate of candidates be when Election Day rolls around?

Columnist Prajwala Dixit says political parties need to step up their recruitment game to improve the diversity of candidates in the upcoming election. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Guess what time of the year it is? No, not spring.

And, thank goodness, it's not winter. It is, of course, election time.

Within the next few days, Premier Dwight Ball is expected to tell us when we're going to vote. We've been told to get ready for a spring election.

However, we've already been surrounded by an unofficial campaign.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to news that the parties were already in the field, filling the roster of potential MHAs for the next few years.

Expectantly and with anticipation, I perused this list — only to be disheartened, not only as a woman but also as a melanin-rich individual.

Of the 38 confirmed candidates in a story that CBC published on Tuesday, only seven are women — that's not even 20 per cent. There were no candidates — yet, anyway — that could be described as a person of colour, although there is an Indigenous presence.

Something significant is missing

This speaks to a need to change the political narrative that ensconces Newfoundland and Labrador. Why? It boils down to two main reasons — policy and philosophy.

Multiculturalism isn't new to Newfoundland and Labrador. The plethora of Indigenous cultures present in this province is testimony to that fact.

There are 40 seats in the House of Assembly. Many political observers are expecting an election to be called in the spring. (CBC)

In addition, the francophone culture adds its colours to the beautiful multicultural landscape of the province. Further, N.L. has been home to Chinese, Lebanese and Jewish immigrants who arrived in the late 19th century, more than a hundred years ago.  

Currently, 15,755 immigrants coming from different parts of the globe reside in this province.

However, the roster of candidates fails to reflect the breadth of this diversity. 

That has a direct bearing on how we are governed.

Policies – implemented through a set of procedures — shape and inform the blueprint of the culture, values, decisions and actions that any governance stands for.

From our grassroot organizations to the highest echelons in this province, policies play a vital role in constructing a narrative that influences the present and foretells the future.  

Who's not in high office? 

Today's climate, where our policies and procedures have an ethnocentric view attempting to be "inclusive" to anything that isn't the prescribed norm, is a result of the lack of diverse perspectives in the highest offices in our province.

For transformative policy-making to take place, the table (around which decisions of today that affect tomorrow are made) needs to have a wide range of voices.

However, a word of caution: having diverse perspectives is only the first step. To avoid tokenism, it is imperative to understand that diversity is merely the ticket to a table and inclusion the voice at that table.

Pluralism is the active engagement of the plethora of voices around that table and can be achieved by providing equitable opportunities to those at the table and by recognizing their contributions.

Policy aside, philosophically, seeing persons of colour — I prefer the phrase "melanin-rich" — in elected office sets a precedent for individuals who identify with that demographic, empowering them to, hopefully, participate actively in politics.

For the mainstream culture, it creates an opportunity to view a demographic differently (perhaps even shattering any stereotypes along the way).

Barriers are systemic

Last week, the Gender and Politics Laboratory at the Department of Political Science at Memorial University held a path-breaking conference called Gauging Women's Presence in Municipal Politics: Newfoundland and Labrador.

Interesting discussion aside, it provided an insight into the makings of a political figure in our province. Focusing on community development and finding a mentor were pointed out to be major plusses while navigating a political career.

But for melanin-rich demographics (especially immigrants), this poses to be a problem to be actively engaged in politics.

To avoid tokenism, it is imperative to understand that diversity is merely the ticket to a table and inclusion the voice at that table- Source

For many, in addition to financial limitations required to run a successful campaign, the heavy reliance on informal social networks to find funding and mentoring coupled with the loss of a social network and language barriers only exacerbate the impediments to a long, winding political path.

Inherent and systemic biases and prejudice make this journey more arduous and cumbersome, eventually, influencing who occupies a seat in the House of Assembly.

Specifically, for immigrants, the transition to citizenship is a time-consuming and mentally and economically stressful process. Without citizenship, an individual cannot run for any elected office (and hence, cannot constructively effect change).

Easing ways to transition from a worker/student/refugee to a citizen – not only by time, but also through cost – would, possibly, catalyze the engagement of these new voices.

Immigrants are eager to share their wealth of knowledge and diverse perspectives in the political sphere.

Unsure who'd fit the bill? Just start by asking – ask an immigrant, a melanin-rich individual you know if they'd run for office. You'd be surprised to find how much they're willing to contribute and serve the place they lovingly call home.

The political DNA of Newfoundland and Labrador needs altering, and it is only possible if we pay heed to the voices that are, perhaps, seldom heard or seen.

What would make Prajwala Dixit smile? A more diverse set of politicians on the other side of the wall at Confederation Building: that is, the House of Assembly. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

About the Author

Prajwala Dixit

Contributor

Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian writer. An engineer, wife and mother, she resides in St. John's.