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DiverseCity Counts 4: The Electoral Under-Representation of Visible Minorities (2012)

Posted on:
October 24, 2020

This paper examines visible minority representation among federal, provincial and municipal politicians in Ontario, with particular focus on the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). It explores whether visible minorities stood as candidates, and were elected to office, in proportion to their share of overall population. The timing of three elections for Ontario voters –municipal, federal and provincial within less than a year from October 2010 to October 2011 –affords an opportunity to assess our progress towards diversity and inclusion in the political arena.

The focus of this paper is on the electoral participation of visible minorities as both candidates for public office and winners of such positions. As the title of this paper suggests, visible minorities continue to be under-represented in elected office and at this rate, it will take many more elections until visible minorities occupy seats in municipal councils, the provincial legislature and federal parliament equal to their share of population.


Visible minorities are under-represented in the GTA –Visible minorities are under-represented as political candidates and elected officials at all three levels of government relative to their share of the population. Visible minorities comprise 40% of the population across the GTA, but only 11% of elected officials. The region would need to elect almost four times as many visible minorities, across all levels of government, for visible minorities to hold elected office in proportion to their share of population.

The highest visible minority representation rate can be found in provincial government – Visible minorities account for 26% of the GTA’s 47 members of the provincial legislature and just 17% of GTA’s 47 members of the federal House of Commons. The better rate of visible minority representation provincially than federally reflects the far greater number of visible minorities who were candidates provincially. It also is the result of three newly elected visible minority MPPs inheriting the candidacy of retired incumbents in safe seats for their party.

There is not a fixed ethnic vote favouring a single political party – At both the provincial and federal level, visible minorities were elected in constituencies with high concentrations of visible minorities. However, these constituencies elected politicians of differing political parties provincially and federally. This suggests that there is not a fixed ‘ethnic vote’ loyal to a single political party in the GTA.

Visible minorities are woefully under-represented in municipal government – Only 7% of all 253 municipal council members in the GTA are visible minorities.

All sub-groups of visible minorities are under-represented, but some have no representation at any level of government – While all are under-represented among the GTA’s 347 combined elected officials relative to their population share, some fare relatively better than others. Four visible minority sub-groups, despite large populations, have no member of their community elected at any of these three levels of government in the GTA. These are Arabs, Filipinos, non-white Latin Americans and Southeast Asians.

South Asians and Chinese are the most elected sub-groups - At the other end of the continuum are South Asians and Chinese, each holding 15 of the 38 (39%) total visible minority-held elected positions across the GTA. Interestingly South Asian elected officials predominate federally and provincially, while their Chinese counterparts predominate municipally. But even these ‘best case’ sub-groups have considerable ground to make up before achieving elected representation on par with population share. For this to occur, South Asians would need to elect three times their current number of politicians, and the Chinese community two times its current share.

Electoral success varies by region withinthe GTA - Geographically, the paper also reveals disparities in visible minority electoral representation. Their numbers as both candidates and elected members are better in the 905 suburbs than in the 416 City of Toronto. And within Toronto, they fare far better in the three older suburbs of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough than in the central city.

Additionally, the paper questions whether there is a pattern of ‘colour coded’ constituencies in place. The large majority of provincial constituencie sacross Ontario have no visible minority candidates, while several in the GTA with exceptionally high proportions of visible minority residents, feature visible minority candidates for all three major parties.

Electoral is success improving only modestly - By drawing on earlier research on the subject, the paper demonstrates that visible minority under-representation in electoral politics is not a new phenomenon. While the recent round of elections yielded somewhat better numbers than previously, progress has been modest at best.


The recommendations include:

  • election reform such as addressing the under-representation of the GTA in federal parliament;
  • increased institutional commitment by government and other formal institutions;
  • interventions by political parties such as targets for nomination and mentoring visible minority aspiring politicians; andincreased community commitment to the importance of this issue.


The focus of this paper is on the electoral participation of visible minorities as both candidates for public office and winners of such positions.

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