August 22, 2019

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Record MLA diversity forecast

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Brian Pallister, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, heads back to his office in the Legislative building after introducing five nominees for MLA (from left); Audrey Gordon (Southdale), Jasmine Brar (Burrows), Susan Boulter (River Heights), Aman Sandhu (The Maples), Nancy Cooke (Fort Garry) Friday afternoon on the south grounds of the Manitoba Legislature.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Brian Pallister, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, heads back to his office in the Legislative building after introducing five nominees for MLA (from left); Audrey Gordon (Southdale), Jasmine Brar (Burrows), Susan Boulter (River Heights), Aman Sandhu (The Maples), Nancy Cooke (Fort Garry) Friday afternoon on the south grounds of the Manitoba Legislature.

When Premier Brian Pallister walks across the lawn to Government House to request the dissolution of his government this week, it will be the start of fundamental change at the legislature.

Regardless of what transpires on the election campaign trail, voters are likely to usher in the most diverse legislative assembly in Manitoba’s history on Sept. 10.

Political parties appear to be fielding more women, minorities and Indigenous candidates than in the past.

On Friday, Pallister boasted the Progressive Conservatives will nominate a “record number of women” and 10 Indigenous candidates.

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When Premier Brian Pallister walks across the lawn to Government House to request the dissolution of his government this week, it will be the start of fundamental change at the legislature.

Regardless of what transpires on the election campaign trail, voters are likely to usher in the most diverse legislative assembly in Manitoba’s history on Sept. 10.

Political parties appear to be fielding more women, minorities and Indigenous candidates than in the past.

On Friday, Pallister boasted the Progressive Conservatives will nominate a "record number of women" and 10 Indigenous candidates.

"I’ve got the strongest team of candidates, I would submit, in the history of Manitoba," he said.

Political onlookers suggest that a more diverse legislature consistently produces better government policy because it better reflects the community’s needs.

The Free Press asked all 57 MLAs for information about their gender, race, age and education to get a sense of the legislature’s diversity before the election. Forty-six MLAs responded, though not everyone responded to every question.

Forty-three men and 14 women currently sit in the Manitoba legislative assembly, which breaks down to about 25 per cent female and 75 per cent male.

Forty-three men and 14 women currently sit in the Manitoba legislative assembly, which breaks down to about 25 per cent female and 75 per cent male.

The highest number of women elected in Manitoba was 18 in 2007. That represented 31.5 per cent of all MLAs.

Forty-five of the sitting MLAs are Caucasian (about 79 per cent), while five identify as Indigenous (about nine per cent) and three as Métis (about five per cent). At least four representatives are visible minorities (seven per cent).

When it comes to age and education, 46 MLAs provided responses to the survey questions. The majority of MLAs (29) said they were at or older than 50, though the biggest age bracket of MLAs (11 people) was between the ages of 45 and 49.

At least 32 MLAs went to university and 16 of them obtained multiple degrees. Six others listed high school as their highest form of education and eight had college and/or trade school diplomas. Some members listed extra certifications they obtained while at work as forms of education.

Paul E.J. Thomas, an Ottawa research associate with the Samara Centre for Democracy, stressed the importance of having "mirror representation" in the legislature to reflect society.

"But then there’s also the question of substantive representation. And this is the idea that lived experience can shape how people engage with policy," he said.

Wab Kinew, leader of Manitoba NDP, speaks during a nomination rally at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg Sunday. (John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

Wab Kinew, leader of Manitoba NDP, speaks during a nomination rally at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg Sunday. (John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

"And it is very telling that a lot of even the rules of legislatures themselves are geared to the fact that they mostly traditionally have been inhabited by males who were not responsible for bringing up children."

The Manitoba legislature has become more family-friendly in recent years, with fewer evening sittings and upgrades to the building itself. Late last year, staff installed baby changing tables in the washrooms and added a chair to the women’s washroom for breastfeeding moms.

"I am feeling hopeful. I think that there are with the boundary changes, there are some more ridings that will help represent Manitoba. And the people running in those areas will help bring more diversity and more representation into the legislature." — Meghan Chorney

Diversity of opinion and socio-economic background should also be considered among elected officials, Thomas said. One could also consider factors such as sexuality, faith and languages spoken.

"This gets back to the question of peoples’ confidence being higher when they see the decisions being made by people who are like them," Thomas said.

"(But) one can’t pretend that all demographic groups have the same points of view. There’s a large amount of intersectionality that goes on where the views of say, white, upper middle-class women or what have you, might be different from those who are from a racialized, working-class background."

The chair of Equal Voice Manitoba, a multi-partisan group focused on getting more women elected, is optimistic about the September provincial election.

Meghan Chorney pointed out the 2019 electoral boundary changes may help better reflect Manitoba’s population.

"I am feeling hopeful. I think that there are with the boundary changes, there are some more ridings that will help represent Manitoba," she said.

"And the people running in those areas will help bring more diversity and more representation into the legislature."

In the new constituency of Union Station, where Chorney lives, voters could elect Manitoba’s first Black MLA.

NDP candidate Uzoma Asagwara is the early front-runner in that race. Two other Black candidates — Progressive Conservative Audrey Gordon in Southdale and New Democrat Jamie Moses in St. Vital — are popular and could win seats.

In a few other ridings, such as Burrows and the Maples, only people of colour are nominated so far, signalling more visible minorities may be elected, too.

As of Friday evening, there were 156 prospective candidates listed on Elections Manitoba’s website.

On Sunday, the NDP was the first party to nominate a full slate of candidates after leader Wab Kinew was chosen to run again in Fort Rouge. The Progressive Conservatives had 50 candidates nominated, including leader Brian Pallister in Fort Whyte. The Liberals had 26 candidates nominated and the Greens had 18.

All four parties have said they plan to nominate full slates of 57 candidates.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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