Diversity in Toronto Government

by Ben

John Lornic had an interesting piece on Spacing.ca earlier this week looking at the relative paucity of diverse members of Toronto municipal government.  While highlighting notable exceptions (women are better represented at the municipal level than higher levels), Lornic points out that:

“the absence of mainstream women and/or visible minority candidates from the ballot is troubling, and underscores a trend identified by Dave Meslin at betterballots.to.”

Note: Check out betterballots.to for some nice breakdowns of the representativeness of Toronto government

While Mayoral candidates such as Sarah Thompson might debate their classification as not “mainstream,” I agree with Lornic and Meslin’s points: given the diverse composition of Toronto’s population, certain sub-populations are significantly underrepresented within government.  What is the reason for this? Lornic throws a couple of possibilities on the table,

“So what gives with the megacity? It is the fundraising demands? The media cauldron that is the lot of the mayor of the City of Toronto? Or the prospect of dealing with the dunderheads who’ve been clogging the arteries of council for years?

All possibilities, and I think a combination of these factors is likely.  There is, however, something deeper at play here.  During grad school I undertook a little research looking at employment equity in Ontario municipalities.  I was trying to see if any vestiges of the sort lived Employment Equity Act put in place under the Rae government had hung on over the years.

Following this, my father and I decided to expand the research to examine Alberta and British Columbia, as well.  We surveyed municipal CAOs, city managers and clerks where possible, and set our findings out in a cheekily titled paper, “Municipal Employment Equity in Three Provinces: What, Me Worry?”

And what did we find?  To our surprise, we found out that we couldn’t actually tell much about the make-up of municipal workforces

The original goal of the research was to compare how representative the municipal workforces were in these three provinces.  What became clear very quickly was that most municipalities surveyed did not have an accurate idea of this because there was no tracking at all.  Most relied on statements of equal opportunity employment as their sole measure to engage diverse populations (think the standard message you’ll see on any City of Toronto job applications encouraging diverse applicants).

If a municipality doesn’t have any idea of how representative it’s workforce is, then there is no baseline from which to being improving that representativesness.  And what does this mean for municipal government?  A diverse public service does two things.

First, over time a diverse and representative municipal workforce alters the organizational culture of a municipality, helping contribute to a municipal governments ability to recognize the diverse needs of a range of populations and be better able to meet those needs with culturally competent policy

Second, a diverse and representative municipal workforce creates a pool of diverse employees who are well versed in the inner workings of government, understand the decision making process and learn the soft skills one needs to navigate the political realm.

Over time, both these factors feed into a cycle of political maturation.  For example, a generation of South Asian municipal public servants can build up a store of organizational knowledge.  This knowledge is then shared through formal and informal networks (social, work-related, familial), and is dispersed.  Over time, a sub-population develops the skills necessary to mount a successful election bid, combining a number of experienced members (fundraisers, organizers, etc.) to achieve this.

While this is not the only method through with representativeness of municipal governments can be improved (Lornic mentions mentoring programs as one other option), I believe there is a lot to be said for a municipal workforce that reflects the population.  Addressing the systemic barriers to achieving this would be a major step in moving towards a Toronto government that better reflects the diversity of the population it serves.

Designated Groups as a Percentage of Total Labour Force in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario in 2001

Designated Group Province
Alberta British Columbia Ontario
Women 46.1% (46.4%)2 49.5% (47.3%)2 47.6% (47.6%)2
Visible Minorities 10.53 19.73 18.13
Aboriginal Peoples 3.9 (3.5) 3.8 (3.6) 1.4 (1.4)
Persons with Disabilities 7.04 7.54 6.74

1. The provincial labour force consists of the sum of those currently employed and those currently unemployed.It excludes those listed as “not in the labour force.”

2. The first percentage is the share of the entire labour force, aged 15-64, for a particular designated group. The figure in parentheses is a given group’s share of the total provincial labour force aged 20-64.

3. The data for visible minorities is not broken down by age categories but includes all those in the labour force ages 15 and older. In calculating this percentage, the denominator is the number of workers in the labour force across all ages 15 and older as well.

4. Data for persons with disabilities does not allow determination of the number aged 20-64 in the labour force.

Presence of Members of Various Designated Groups Employed by Municipalities that Actually Monitor the Diversity of Their Workforces

Number of Municipalities that Monitor Employment of Aboriginals Presence of Aboriginals in Workforces of Monitoring Municipalities Number of Municipalities that Monitor Employment of Visible Minorities Presence of Visible Minorities in Workforces of Monitoring Municipalities
Alberta 7 None in six, 10% in one. 7 None in any
British Columbia 1 1% 1 None in any
Ontario 0 NA 1 1-2%1
Number of Municipalities that Track Employment of Women Presence of Women in Workforces of Monitoring Municipalities Number of Municipalities that Monitor Employment of Persons with Disabilities Presence of Persons with Disabilities in Workforces of Monitoring Municipalities
Alberta 10 Mean of 36%, Range 20-55% 7 None in six,

2% in one.

British Columbia 3 Mean of 47%,

Range: 40-56%

3 Mean of 1.7%. Range 0-3%
Ontario 6 26% or more in 5 municipalities; no response from one.1 1 1-2%1

All data from Elling and Elling (2008), “Municipal Employment Equity in Three Canadian Provinces: What, Me Worry?”

If you would like a pdf of this research please contact me at ben dot elling at gmail dot com.


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One response to “Diversity in Toronto Government”

  1. jimsey says :

    And you thought you’d never have to dust off that paper again….

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