Is Every Ballot Equal? Visible Minority Vote Dilution in Canada

“Is Every Ballot Equal? Visible Minority Vote Dilution in Canada” (2007) 13 IRPP Choices 1-30 (with M. Pal).

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Canada’s visible minority population is increasing in absolute terms and as a proportion of the national population, and this increase is fueled by immigration. Moreover, Canada’s visible minority population is growing where Canada’s population growth is increasingly concentrated—in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia and in its urban areas. The question is whether the underrepresentation of these provinces and urban areas in the House of Commons also translates into the dilution of the votes of citizens from visible minority communities. The authors conclude that visible minority vote dilution exists in Canada. The worth of an average vote in Canada is 1. In 1996, the weight of a rural vote was 1.15, while urban visible minority voters had a voting power of 0.95. In 2001, while the weight of a rural vote increased to 1.22, the weight of an urban visible minority vote declined to 0.91. While the trend for urban visible minority voters is downward, the voting strength of urban voters remained largely unchanged, standing at 0.97 in 1996 and 0.96 in 2001. This suggests that urban visible minority voters are concentrated in certain urban ridings. Visible minority vote dilution arises from the way seats in the House of Commons are distributed interprovincially and intraprovincially. Visible minority vote dilution must be addressed for three reasons: some of the rules and practices giving rise to minority vote dilution may violate the Charter; visible minority communities are increasingly disadvantaged economically in comparison to the population as a whole, so the way that those interests are represented in the legislative process counts; and to successfully integrate visible minority immigrants, Canada’s political institutions must be scrupulously fair in how they represent the interests of the newest members of the Canadian political community. The paper concludes dilution, Pal and Choudhry by considering three reform options: amending federal and provincial legislation to minimize variances in riding size; pressuring the electoral boundary commissions to limit deviations from voter equality; and increasing the size of the House of Commons to 327 members to accommodate population growth in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.