New Democrats and Minority Bingo

16 Jun 2016

The NDP federal executive has voted to establish a series of quotas for the nomination papers of candidates seeking leadership: of the 500 signatures needed, 250+ must be female-identified members, 100 must be from “equity-seeking groups”, and there are an additional series of wholly arbitrary regional categorizations that must also be met. This seems to be an attempt to ensure that leadership candidates have diverse bases of supporter from across the country. On the surface, this is a noble and worthwhile gesture, but when thinking through the details there are a number of concerns that arise with these guidelines that undermines their very aim.

Is the central party going to check if a candidate has enough black or queer supporters to qualify for leadership? Imagine a debate over whether names seem sufficiently Indigenous enough and having the party call supporters to ask their minority status. If the party is not checking then it really is nothing more than cheap publicity and lip service to diversity. If it is simply an honour system, then it is still forcing the candidates to engage in an absurd game of minority bingo for the “right” mix of Canadians.

Which brings up another problem: is the executive also going to clearly define what counts as Indigenous? As disabled? As sufficiently visible for minority status? Or will it simply be up to the candidate’s best judgment whether and how a supporter fits into these categories? Perhaps they will have to clearly identify for the party which signatures belong to minorities, women, and particular regions. This would end up being one of the more essentializing forms of bureaucracy to come from progressives in decades. Would the NDP keep and maintain a permanent database of minority supporters or would this information simply go into a filing cabinet to be ignored after the election?

As a white male, I have already seen a great number of politicians who look like me and we are long overdue for leaders who break with that tradition. All parties should seek to better speak to and represent the diversity of Canada, but the approach here is ill conceived. Not only are the criteria arbitrarily selected and extremely limited in scope, but the end result is little more than a form of checklist diversity among a very small sample size of supporters. If the goal is to appear to be a more diverse party, then this approach might be successful if nobody looks too closely. If the goal is to actually be more diverse, then it is time to go back to the drawing board.