Anita Khakh

Intersectional Analysis of Women in Politics: Edmonton, Alberta

Intersectionality can be defined as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The intersection of gender and race will be highlighted here to better understand the historic representation of women who are Aboriginal or of a visible minority in municipal politics.

For the purposes of this article, the term “Aboriginal” is used to encompass those who identify as First Nations, Metis and Inuit and the term “visible minority” is defined as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour” (Statistics Canada).

In the province of Alberta, 329,985 people identified themselves as a female visible minority according to 2011 census data. Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario are the only provinces that ranked higher in terms of their female visible minority population. Of the 13 provinces and territories, Alberta maintained the third highest female Aboriginal population. To elaborate, 112,400 females have identified themselves as First Nations, Metis or Inuit in the province of Alberta in 2011 census surveys. To bring this into perspective, 10% of Canada’s female visible minority population and 16% of Canada’s female Aboriginal population live in the province of Alberta.

In the city of Edmonton, 183,380 people identified themselves as a female visible minority and 40,035 identified themselves as a female Aboriginal person according to 2016 census data. The total female population in Edmonton has been documented as 647,635.

Although candidate profiles from municipal elections are not publicly available, there has been no evidence to indicate that a woman who is Aboriginal or of a visible minority has ever been elected into Edmonton’s municipal elections.

In Edmonton, there has yet to be a mayor who identifies as an Aboriginal woman or of a woman of a visible minority. The first and only mayor who identified as a woman was Jan Reimer, who was elected in 1989 and stayed in the position for one term.

In general federal elections, Aboriginal women and women of visible minorities were unrepresented until 1988. To be specific, 1988 was the first year in which a First Nations woman (Ethel Blondin-Andrew) was elected into the House of Commons. The following parliament in 1993 was marked by the presence of minority women, with the first black woman (Jean Augustine), woman of Hellenic origin (Eleni Bakopanos), Trinidadian woman (Hedy Fry) and Acadian woman (Pierrette Ringuette) elected into the House of Commons. The percentage of minority women has increased from 0.3% in 1988 to 5% in 2015. Simply stated, this is a 4.7%, or 15 number, increase over 22 years. The progress has been much slower in comparison to the rate at which women, as a general demographic, are elected into federal positions. The following bar graph may be useful in terms of illustrating this:

Of the elected women who are Aboriginal or of a visible minority in general federal elections, none are from the province of Alberta. Therefore, in comparison to other provinces, Alberta is lagging behind in terms of increasing the number of Aboriginal and minority women in elected positions.

Alberta’s limited progress in areas of diversity among elected women is evident among Canada’s Members of Parliament (MP) as well. For instance, although women currently hold 27% of MP seats, Aboriginal women and women of visible minorities only represent 6% of this percentage. When examining MPs from the province of Alberta, women account for 15% of seats and do not represent Aboriginal or visible minorities.

The number of women in Alberta who are Aboriginal or of a visible minority and are Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) is few. The first woman who identified as so was a Metis woman, by the name of Pearl Calahasen, elected to public office in 1989. Notably, after the legislature election in 2012, she was Alberta’s longest currently-serving MLA. Since 1989, not much has improved. Candidate profiles from the 2015-2018 legislature indicate that 32% of MLAs are women and that just 2% of MLAs are Aboriginal women or women of a visible minority. This becomes problematic when analyzing 2011 census data that specifies 6.3% of Alberta’s female population is Aboriginal and 18.6% are females of a visible minority.

Although progress is beginning to be made in terms of achieving gender parity for women in municipal, provincial and federal politics, there is still much to be done. An intersectional analysis of the women who are elected into political positions is indicative that even more efforts must be directed towards getting Aboriginal and minority women into these roles.

Note: limitations of this research include restrictions to online information and candidate profiles. Consequently, assumptions regarding identifiers of indigeneity and visible minorities were made based on the available data.

Anita Khakh -

Anita is a graduate student at the University of Alberta studying Educational Policy Studies and specializing in Social Justice and International Studies. She was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, is a part-time teacher and is interested in topics pertaining to intersectional feminism, body image and curriculum construction.