In light of the coming election here in Canada, it is worth revisiting a topic that has often been circulating the country regarding our government: government-enforced representation for the indigenous peoples of Canada. What this essentially means is that in government, there will be a quota set aside specifically and only for indigenous people to be elected in. Quota representation has always been a very controversial topic, but the reason that it has slowly been brought up more and more in public discourse is in part, because of the ongoing truth and reconciliation attempt to make up for past injustices and to improve living standards on First Nations reserves. There are, however, numerous counter-arguments as well, such as the lack of meritocratic value in such a plan. What this article aims to do is list out the five arguments in favour and against having specific quotas for indigenous people in parliament. As a conclusion, I will give my own opinion as to whether quotas in government are worth pursuing at all.
5 Arguments in Favour of Parliamentary Quotas for Indigenous Peoples
1. Diversity: One of the key arguments in favour of such quotas is the introduction of diversity. Diversity can be a very important thing in parliament, as it brings into play several different perspectives on several different issues. As it is, there are only 11 indigenous people in the House of Commons, which is only 3.25 per cent of the total members. This can lead to a serious lack of indigenous perspective on issues such as funding for the improvement of First Nations communities.
2. Compensation: Another argument in favour of parliamentary quotas is compensation for past injustices done by the Crown and the Canadian government against the indigenous peoples of Canada. By having more First Nations people in government, they can ensure that further discrimination will never be pursued again.
3. Building a Culture of Working Hard: Having more people of your brethren or culture in a high governmental procedure can provide a strong example to young indigenous people.
4. Canadians are Fine with It: The majority of Canadians are open to designating seats for the country’s indigenous people to boost their representation in Parliament and on the Supreme Court. A survey by the Environics Institute and the Institute of Government found that two-thirds of Canadians are open to improving the representation of indigenous people. Less than a fifth of Canadian citizens are opposed to this.
5. Constitutional Incentive: Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 could certainly be seen as supporting, even requiring, some form of representation for aboriginal peoples in federal, and perhaps, even provincial institutions. A federal system is composed of aspects of both self-rule and shared-rule and, to the extent that self-rule is limited (which it is in all but the most radical versions of aboriginal self-government), then shared-rule should be available. One way in which shared rule might be implemented is through guaranteed and effective participation in federal institutions such as Parliament.
5 Arguments Against Parliamentary Quotas for Indigenous Peoples
1. Introduction of Stereotypes: Resolutions such as introducing parliamentary quotas for indigenous peoples can create negative stereotypes against First Nations people, as it can make people pay more attention to their protected status. The fact of the matter is, the general population would have the rightful accusation that such quotas would be unfair to the vast majority of Canadians, who are being ignored in favour of a minority, who are being given free seats in parliament. This could create the stereotype that First Nations can only succeed through government help. Unfortunately, such a stereotype already exists in current society, but introducing quotas could only make it worse.
2. Fundamentally Un-Meritocratic: Canada is and was built as a meritocratic country, where people do well in society though their merits and talents. By introducing quotas, that fundamentally takes away the idea of merit-based elections. Instead, First Nations people would simply get a free seat without having to compete against potentially more merited people of other races, white or minority. This could potentially reduce the total talent in the House of Commons.
3. Hasn’t Worked Overseas: Connecting to the previous point, let’s take a quick look at South Africa where quotas are commonplace. There, the quotas do not represent the actual demographic spread of competent available workforce. This led to a major “brain drain” and significant decreases in workforce efficiency. Based on that, it does not make sense to pass an un-meritocratic idea like this.
4. Racial Politics: One of the key problems with race quotas is that it puts more of a focus on immutable characteristics such as race than the actual talents of a candidate for parliament. This introduces a dangerous precedent of giving credence to identity and racial politics in this country.
5. Simply Not Needed: The fact of the matter is, our current system works well enough. We have been doing our best, and as it is, enough, to improve conditions for First Nations people. Water advisories on First Nations reserves are a very good example of this. The following statistics are according to Statistics Canada. In 2016, there were 106 long-term water advisories on many First Nations reserves. But as of April 24th, 2018, there were only 76 long-term water advisories. At this rate, Stat Can suggests that all long-term water advisories will be gone by 2021. This is also the case for increasing graduation rates for First Nations people in Canada. Overall, why change a system that works?
In my personal opinion, I am against quotas in government, because of the affirmative action nature of it. The fact of the matter is, affirmative action, even if it is propping up a marginalized group, the government would be doing it by ignoring other races’ claim to a specific parliamentary seat. Giving one race preference over all other races is by definition, racism. Even if affirmative action policies such as this, is done in good faith, it is still at its root a racial policy. I am on principle, against any form of racism. The second reason I am against these kinds of quotas is that simply organic change is a much better option. The fact is, there is no point in forcing an issue when the issue is already being addressed. The Truth and Reconciliation movement in Canada has already made strides in improving First Nations communities across the country. And if having more indigenous people in parliament is the idea that we want to pursue, then affirmative action certainly is not needed. In the previous election, a record 54 indigenous people ran for office. And this is not just the case for indigenous people, this is also the case for other minorities such as Muslims. Canada is getting better every day, and adding unnecessary quotas are simply not going to change anything.