Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Entering the Political Elite in Canada: The Case of Minority Women as Parliamentary Candidates and MPs [*]

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Entering the Political Elite in Canada: The Case of Minority Women as Parliamentary Candidates and MPs [*]

Article excerpt

Cette recherche analyse les femmes des minorit[acute{e}]s ethniques comme nouveau groupe social visant [grave{a}] acc[acute{e}]der [grave{a}] l'[acute{e}]lite politique. Elle est ax[acute{e}]e sur les cons[acute{e}]quences li[acute{e}]es [grave{a}] leur appartenance [grave{a}] une "double minorit[acute{e}][gg]. L'analyse examine deux mod[acute{e}]les de cheminement de carri[acute{e}]re qui offrent des caract[acute{e}]risations alternatives quant aux obstacles de recrutement auxquels se heurtent les nouveaux groupes sociaux et qui cr[acute{e}]ent des attentes diff[acute{e}]rentes quant aux ressources d[acute{e}]tenues par les femmes des minorit[acute{e}]s, comparativement [grave{a}] celles des groupes plus [acute{e}]tablis. Les r[acute{e}]sultats principaux, fondes sur un sondage canadien de 1993 sur les candidats parlementaires et compl[acute{e}]t[acute{e}]s par de l'information sur les d[acute{e}]put[acute{e}]s, appuient davantage le mod[acute{e}]le de [ll]compensation[gg] et, en g[acute{e}]n[acute{e}]ral, s emblent indiquer que lin[acute{e}]galit[acute{e}] continue de caract[acute{e}]riser le processus d'acc[acute{e}]s [grave{a}] l'[acute{e}]lite politique.

This study examines minority women as a new social group seeking access to the political elite, emphasizing the consequences of their "double minority" status. The analysis considers two career path models that make alternative characterizations about the recruitment barriers faced by new social groups and that yield different expectations about the resources held by minority women compared with more established groups. The main results, based on a 1993 Canadian survey of parliamentary candidates, supplemented by information on MPs, indicate more support for the "compensation" model and, generally, suggest that inequity continues to characterize the process of political elite access.

THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND OF THE POLITICAL ELITE has always figured prominently as a major focal point of both normative and descriptive debates in the "elites and who rules" political sociology literature, a vast body of work with deep roots in Marx, Mosca, Pareto, and Michels (e.g., Putnam, 1976). Questions about the "sociology" of the political elite have also been at the forefront of debates, in Canada and elsewhere, about the ideals and practices of specific democratic processes. This is evident, for instance, with regard to representation (e.g., Pitkin, 1967; Kymlicka, 1998: 104-20; Redekop, 1998; Schouls, 1998). One long-standing argument maintains that the social characteristics of those who govern are less relevant than the procedures that allow diverse populations both to participate in the selection of their political leaders and to hold them accountable. A contrasting perspective argues that effective representation can only be assured if those selected exhibit the same degree of social diversity evid ent in the population at large. Subsumed within this view is the conviction that particular social groups, the historically excluded above all, must be represented by legislators from their own communities who are uniquely placed to empathize with the groups' experiences and aspirations.

The social composition of the political elite is also a prominent consideration in debates about the equally significant and related area of controversy that is the focus of this study, namely, the ease or difficulty with which the ranks of the democratic political elite can be penetrated by new social groups. The fact that a narrow stratum of individuals--typically white, affluent males--has long held a monopoly on legislative seats while other social groups have remained underrepresented has been accounted for by a variety of explanations (see, for example, Norris, 1996). Several important perspectives, however, offer competing conclusions as to what this imbalance says, about fairness and opportunity in the underlying recruitment process. A more traditional perspective explains the ongoing dominance of some social groups by virtue of their possession of the resources and qualifications (e. …

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