Paul Edie: Elected bodies need to become more diverse

Justin Trudeau is changing the face of Canadian politics. Picture: Getty
Justin Trudeau is changing the face of Canadian politics. Picture: Getty
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THE lack of councillors from an ethnic minority background means that those voices are not being heard, says Paul Edie

Last week Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 29th prime minister. Trudeau is akin to Liberal royalty – his late father Pierre dragged Canada into the late 20th century with panache, leading radical liberal administrations.

Those of us who are political leaders need to do far more to ensure this council is the last to be lacking ethnic diversity”

Trudeau junior seems to be a chip of the old block. He hit the ground running, announcing a number of eye-catching initiatives – not least by appointing the most diverse cabinet Canada has ever seen. Not only is it gender balanced but there are also more Sikhs in his cabinet than in India’s, and he appointed Canada’s first Inuk justice minister. Trudeau is rightly proud that his cabinet reflects Canada.

Here in Edinburgh we have seen real progress on diversity in our elected offices. The last general election sent three women out of five Edinburgh MPs to Westminster. We have more MPs, MSPs and councillors who are openly gay or lesbian than ever before. I have also served with a number of councillors with disabilities over the years.

However, there is still much to do. Only one group on the council has as many women as men and my own group is all-male. Granted there are only three of us, and our previous group had six women including the council leader, but we have a lot of catching up to do. Liberal Democrats can no longer afford to leave increasing our numbers of women candidates to natural turnover. The time has come to use all-women shortlists.

Meanwhile, this picture of improved diversity has one glaring omission: Edinburgh has a lamentable record on ethnic diversity in our elected offices.

I have been a councillor for 21 years. In that time I have served with only one councillor from any minority ethnic group and he served only one term. In a city where at least eight per cent of our population are estimated to be from minority ethnic groups, we should expect to see four or five councillors from minority ethnic groups elected routinely – but at the last election, there was only one such candidate from any party.

This under-representation is replicated at the officer level in the council. While there may be many staff from ethnic minority groups in junior roles within the council, I am struggling to recall a single non-white senior officer.

Why is this important? Trudeau’s answer, that this is 2015, is a fair one. We are living in a modern age and we cannot afford to see any of our communities shut out of the political process. Government and politics are the stuff of life and that means all lives. That estimated eight per cent of the population being of an ethnic minority group amounts to 40,000 people – more than the Labour vote when they won the last council election.

Diverse voices make for better decision-making; many points of reference give added quality to a debate and discussion.

I was delighted to see my party put forward candidates from ethnic minority communities both at the general election and in the recent Leith Walk by-election. Those of us who are political leaders need to do far more to ensure this council is the last to be lacking ethnic diversity.

Paul Edie is a Lib Dem councillor in the Corstorphine/Murrayfield ward