The Political Impact of Increased Diversity: What the Census Shows

The 2021 census highlights the growth in immigrants, visible and religious minorities. The political impact will continue to play out at the riding level, further reinforcing political party efforts to attract voters from these groups. This article provides a detailed analysis of diversity at the riding level, with the percentage of visible minorities and key demographic and socio-economic characteristics of these ridings.

Figure 1 contrasts immigrants, non-founding ethnic ancestry or origin, visible and religious minorities by their percentage in ridings, highlighting the large number of ridings with significant population shares of each group.

Figure 2 highlights the growth of ridings where visible minorities form a significant share of the population. The number of ridings in which visible minorities form a majority of the population has increased from one in ten (33) in 2011 to close to one in six (51), reflecting high and increasing levels of immigration. Moreover, the number of ridings with significant numbers of visible minorities (20 to 50 percent) has also increased significantly, reflecting ongoing immigration to smaller urban and suburban centres.

While the number of ridings with between five and 20 percent visible minorities has stayed relatively constant, the percentage of visible minorities has increased by five percent or more in about half of these ridings.

In contrast, there are only four ridings in which religious minorities form the majority, an increase of two compared to 2011, with 54 ridings in which religious minorities are between 20 and 50 percent, an increase of 12 compared to 2011.

Figure 3 shows ridings with a majority of visible minorities by province, with Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta having the greatest share and increase compared to the 2016 census. These are all ridings where one can expect all parties to run visible minority candidates, most likely from the largest visible minority group in the riding.

However, virtually all provinces have an increased number of ridings with between 20 and 50 percent visible minorities, and thus ridings where visible minorities are a significant constituency.

Figure 4 provides the breakdown by visible minority group, with only South Asians and Chinese being a majority of the population (five ridings out of 51 – Brampton East and West, Surrey-Newton for South Asians, Markham-Unionville and Richmond Centre for Chinese), highlighting that most visible minority majority ridings have a mix of visible minority groups. All visible minority groups are present in ridings with between 5 and 20 percent, save Japanese.

Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics vary by percentage of visible minorities as shown in Figure 5.

Visible minority majority ridings are characterized by larger populations, moderate growth, high densities, a younger population, a higher percentage of religious minorities and a low percentage of Indigenous peoples, with the reverse generally being the case for ridings with less than 20 percent visible minorities, highlighting the differences between rural and urban Canada. The highest growth occurs in ridings with 20 to 50 percent visible minorities, ridings that are increasingly diverse. The percentage of religious minorities correlates with the percentage of visible minorities. There is no overall pattern with respect to official language (OL) minorities.

As one would expect, the higher the percentage of visible minorities, the higher the percentage of immigrants and conversely, the lower the percentage of citizens given residency and other requirements as shown in Figure 6. The period of immigration highlights the contrast between earlier waves of immigration, largely European in origin and in low visible minority ridings, and later waves, largely visible minority, with an impact across all ridings, particularly in the last five years and in ridings with lower overall percentage of visible minorities.

Figure 7 highlights educational attainment (trades and university degree, the percentage of married or common-law couples, household size, and whether residents form part of  multigenerational households, are in single-detached housing and the percentage of renters. Trades are more prevalent in ridings with fewer visible minorities and university diplomas more prevalent in ridings with more visible minorities. Women have higher rates of university degrees across all ridings.

Variations on marriage or common law between ridings are small. Household size directly relates to the percentage of visible minorities whereas the prevalence of single detached homes is inversely proportional. Renting is more prevalent in ridings with between 20 and 70 percent visible minorities.

Figure 8 highlights median total after tax income, the percentage of government transfers and income along with participation and unemployment rates. In general, ridings with between 20 and 50 percent have the strongest economic outcomes save for unemployment rates which are lowest in ridings with fewer visible minorities. Outcomes for women are worse overall except with respect to unemployment in ridings with less than 20 percent visible minorities.

Turning to the political aspect and voter targeting, Figure 9 highlights the number of ridings where a visible minority group forms more than 10 percent of the population, broken down by province, again demonstrating the extent to which political parties need to address specific group concerns. Only Latin American, Korean and Japanese have no ridings with ten percent or more of the population; however, with a threshold of five percent, only Japanese have no ridings of significant concentration. Regionally, there are no ridings in Atlantic Canada and the North with one visible minority group forming 10 percent of the population but six ridings where one group forms more than five percent: three South Asian, two Black and one Chinese.

Figure 10 highlights the 190 ridings where a religious minority forms more than five percent of the population as a threshold of ten percent would exclude Buddhist and Indigenous spirituality. Most groups are concentrated in a number of ridings, with Muslims dispersed across the greatest number of ridings.

Figure 11 breaks down the 2021 election results, highlighting the relative strength of the Liberals and NDP in visible minority majority urban ridings and the relative strength of the Conservatives in ridings with between five and twenty percent visible minorities. Compared to the 2015 election, the biggest change was the increase in the relative share of NDP MPs in visible minority majority ridings and the Conservative and Bloc relative share increase in ridings with between 20 to 50 percent visible minorities. These ridings can flip; in 2011, the Conservatives won a majority of ridings with more than 50 percent visible minorities.

Concluding observations

All parties have candidate selection, policy and other electoral strategies to engage these communities and the ongoing increase in the number of visible minority candidates and MPs reflects these strategies. Substantively, there are no major differences in attitudes between immigrants and non-immigrants across a range of immigration-related issues.

While some visible minority groups have a tendency to vote for a particular political party, there is political diversity in all groups resulting in no party ignoring any group. Earlier waves of immigrants, mainly European origin, tend to lean Conservative compared to more recent waves, mainly visible minority, tend to lean Liberal.

Visible minority and immigrant groups are affected by perceived singling out or dog whistles, as the Conservatives learned to their cost in 2015, with the “barbaric cultural practices” tip line and the strength of the Liberal language “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” in response to the Conservative government’s citizenship revocation provision of C-24. Immigration-specific issues such as the ease of family reunification also play a role.

But in general, visible minority voters are more affected by overall campaign themes and issues, whether these be with respect to campaign tone, general concerns regarding the economy, housing, and healthcare, and largely follow the overall electoral trend at national and regional levels.

Riding characteristics impact upon voting patterns. Visible minority majority ridings have lower incomes and higher unemployment which generally play to left and left-of-centre parties. Similarly, larger family size and more multigenerational households in these ridings suggest that political parties target their messaging accordingly.

No major party is arguing against increased immigration, nor is any province except for Quebec. Public support is strong. Apart from administrative issues like backlogs and poor Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada service, debates and discussion focus more on the practicalities and impact of immigration on housing affordability, healthcare stresses and infrastructure gaps. More recent commentaries are focussing on these negative impacts but in a non-xenophobic manner. After all, these issues affect immigrants and non-immigrants alike, helping to reduce polarization.

Methodology:

All data is from the Census profile given that it provides riding-level data. Indicators were chosen based on their pertinence. Non-founding ethnic ancestry includes all groups save for English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Canadian, French and Indigenous (Census allows for multiple responses). Electoral results data is from Elections Canada.

Andrew Griffith is the author of “Because it’s 2015…” Implementing Diversity and InclusionMulticulturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad and is a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute. 

Source: The Political Impact of Increased Diversity: What the Census Shows

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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