Minorities are on the ballot in Regina’s municipal election

candidates-pdCity | by Evan Radford

Over the last four years, Regina has been represented by an all-white city council. That’s something that could change after a civic election with a number of Aboriginal council candidates that are proportionate to the city’s Aboriginal population.

Of the 45 people vying for one of 10 council seats, six — 13.3% — identify as Indigenous, a figure proportionate to Regina’s demographics.

Ward 6 candidate Shelley Lavallee says that her First Nations identity is one of the factors behind her candidacy.

“It would be ideal to be representative in the city [of Regina’s demographics]. You have to start somewhere. If you’re not doing it in City Hall, then at least do it on city council, then maybe you’ll have the trickle-down effect with leadership,” she says.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey for Regina’s census metropolitan area, more that 9.5% — 19,000-plus people — are Aboriginal.

Fellow Ward 6 hopeful David Lerat identifies as First Nations. He stresses the importance of diversity on city council, and not just in ethnicity. Social and economic diversity, he says, is important too.

“I think it’s good, and not just being First Nations — any culture,” he says. “Our city council is essentially our voice, and you need a voice for all the people, not just white collars — the blue collars, the poor, the rich, the middle class — you need a voice for all.”

Women and visible minorities remain underrepresented, however. The 12 women vying for a council seat represent 26.7% of the candidates in a city that’s 51 per cent female, according to the 2011 data.

This year, six of 10 wards have at least one female candidate, while five wards have either an Indigenous or a visible minority candidate, or both.

Ward 6 is by far the most diverse in this regard: it’s comprised of four women, one visible minority, and five Indigenous candidates.

Of course, the problem with that is only one of them can win.

Like Aboriginals, visible minority candidates are proportionate to their demographics. Six (13.3%) identify as visible minorities.

The Stats Canada data shows that visible minorities make up 10.6% (21,955) of Regina.

“While I believe that it is important for the composition of city council to be reflective of the cultural diversity in Regina, I believe that every council member must present the whole of his or her constituency, regardless of ethnic or racial background,” says Ward 2 candidate Sam Khan. “We are one city and our vision for the city’s future must be all-encompassing.”

Mike Parisone is also running for Ward 2. He doesn’t identify as Indigenous or a visible minority, but his story offers a glimpse into Regina’s diversity.

Parisone says his experience as an Italian immigrant and non-native English speaker shaped his understanding of immigrants trying settle in Anglo-dominated Regina in the 1960s.

“I have the utmost respect for the courage people possess when they picked up their belongings and children to travel across the world to a new home, in a new city, in a new country, where they learned to navigate in a land with different rules, laws and ways that they were not accustomed to,” he said.

Asfaw Debia is an Ethiopian immigrant who came to Regina in 1993. He notes that Regina and Saskatoon are the only major cities in western Canada that don’t have a city councillor from a visible minority.

“Involving visible minorities in governance can help to strengthen our city,” he says.

Regina’s civic election is Oct. 26.