Ethnicity, Merit, and the State
28 January 2007, 01h30 EST (GMT-5)
Last week, in response to the rise of Obama Barack as a serious contender for the US Democratic Party's presidential nomination, CBC television's The Hour interviewed Bob Rae, John Tory, Olivia Chow, and me on the question of why Canada has yet to see a visible minority party leader.
I have videocasted the segment at my Television page.
Rae and Tory offered studiously anodyne remarks about their hopes for broader representation in parliament, but Olivia Chow, in her inimitable fashion, casually called for "affirmative action" in the selection of parliamentary candidates. The public reaction has been predictable, and in my view, appropriate to such a shallow position.
A yawning asymmetry between government and the governed erodes public confidence in the state not because it is aesthetically displeasing, but because it demonstrates that politics have become divorced from merit.
Canadians recognise that a truly meritocratic system would necessarily produce representatives who reflect the people they represent. An ethnically unbalanced parliament can only mean that we are being denied the full range of talents of the nation.
Affirmative action is not the solution, because it merely removes the visible symptoms of an unmeritocratic candidate nomination process, while doing nothing to create a genuinely meritocratic replacement.
From my perspective, the ethnicity and gender of my prime minister is meaningless; his or her intelligence, character, political philosophy, and effectiveness eclipse all other considerations. Any candidate nomination process that is not first, last, and always about merit is a calamitous disservice to our country, whether the results are ethnically diverse or ethnically homogenous.