Race and Representation in Canada's Parliament, 2006-2019

Principal Investigator: Laura Kwak
Funder: SSHRC Insight Development Grant

The inclusion of racialized politicians has become a key feature of liberal democracies. For instance, the 2008 election of United States President Barack Obama was, for many people, a hopeful sign of the emergence of a “post-racial” society; that is, a society that has, through the inclusion of formerly excluded racialized populations, transformed into an exceptionally progressive one that is “past” racism. Similarly, in 2015, when newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked to Rideau Hall for his swearing-in ceremony with his gender-balanced, racially-diverse Cabinet behind him, this was presented as a transformation of the Canadian political scene. However, Trudeau’s attention to representation does not depart from earlier periods. In the post-Second World War period, there has been a trend towards amending historical injustices through the political incorporation of previously excluded populations. Nor does Trudeau’s attention to representation necessarily depart from the Harper government’s diversity practices (2006–15). For instance, leading up to the 2011 federal election, Conservative leaders insisted that “new Canadians,” specifically Chinese and South Asians, are “new Conservatives” who do not make demands on government and whose values align naturally with the CPC’s social conservatism. While a few scholars contested the CPC’s claim that racialized immigrants became Conservative in 2011, Canadians have widely assumed that CPC efforts to appeal to select racialized groups reflected a genuine commitment to race equity. That is, the inclusion of racialized MPs relies on a narrative of progress that defines our national identity and reshapes the parameters of how we understand and debate racialization and racism.  

This project investigates whether and how the inclusion of racialized MPs into Canada’s main political parties [Conservative Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, and New Democratic Party] matters. Based on an in-depth study of the parliamentary activities, speeches, and contributions to legislative debates of racialized MPs between 2006–2019, it examines how MPs from historically under-represented populations contribute to policies affecting these groups, focusing on the ways in which the racialized politicians alter and/or allow the intensification of existing policies and/or dominant political discourses or ideologies.  

This project is part of my larger research commitment to investigate evolving forms of racial governmentality and questions about racial justice in a world where post-racial discourses persist alongside explicit racial violence.