Last Monday, Ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and former Ward 1 candidate for councillor Idil Burale discussed the inadequate representation of ethnic minorities at City Hall in a panel discussion hosted by the Arts & Science Student Union (ASSU).

Although about half of the city is born outside the country, the city fails to reflect its diversity, the panellists argued.

“Over the years, there is an increase in the number of councillors of non-Anglo-Saxon origin… but there are still few women [and] few people of colour in city council,” said former Ward 20 councillor Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, who moderated the panel.

According to former Ward 1 candidate for councillor Idil Burale, the barriers that prevent these members of the community from participating in the municipal electoral process are multifaceted. “There are many disconnects at each level. Within my community there is the gender issue. Externally, there are the differences between Tamil and Canadian culture,” Burale said.

Burale added that often, the political “issues did not matter, but the identity politics.”

However, the panellists acknowledged that the solution is not simple. Burale said that diversity is often cited as the solution to an ill-defined problem. “There’s an assumption that adding more people of colour would [somehow] make politics better. Unless we can demonstrate [this]… nothing will happen… Diversity is an easy scapegoat,” Burale said.

For Wong-Tam, the changes in the political landscape that happened over the last few decades “did not [occur] in isolation, without someone in the LGTBQ community saying ‘we want in.’ Without [Ramkhalawansingh] whispering sweet nothings in their ears,” Wong-Tam said. 

The panel’s general consensus was that the solution is not merely diversity; it is people demanding representation in city council.

The audience appreciated the candor of the speakers. Audience member Lexy Martineau praised the event for being “very informative. My questions were heard… and answered. The panelist selection was great.”

According to ASSU president Abdullah Shihipar, the purpose of the panel was to provide tentative answers to “relevant questions brought up by the recent municipal elections.”

“I am glad so many people turned up to the event and expressed an interest in municipal politics,” Shihipar said.