The American midterm elections this week sparked memories of the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries and the presidential election. That year, both had fierce competition between candidates, with future president Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, and Obama against John McCain in the presidential race. Although there were other candidates involved in the process, these three clearly took the stage: an African-American, a woman and a white man.
Now turn to the recent mayoral race in Calgary which also had many candidates. Three stood out: a white man, a woman and the new mayor, an Ismaili Muslim. Just as America was commended for electing an African-American, Calgary, the red-neck central of Canada, has been applauded for electing a Muslim. What these races have in common, over-and-above the continuities in physical attributes, is that political analysts have attributed both wins to groups of previously apathetic individuals, or, the "vote."
In the United States, President Obama had the "black vote," Clinton had the "women's vote" and McCain was the white guy. Contrast Calgary, where Nenshi didn't count on the "brown vote," Barb Higgins didn't count on the "women's vote" and Ric McIver's campaign wasn't based on his whiteness.
In fact many of the Canadian analysts have argued that Nenshi won because of the "youth vote," the thousands of post-secondary students who voted contrary to typical election trends. Unfortunately post-secondary students and people in their twenties have some of the lowest vote turnout rates at all levels of government. But Nenshi was able to earn the confidence of the "youth vote," not the "brown vote" or the "Muslim vote." During the mayoral race Higgins did not ask women to support her because she was a woman, nor did Nenshi rally the ethnic minorities or Muslims. In America, voter turnout of African-Americans and women was substantially higher than average in support of candidates who represented their race or gender.
When considering potential candidates there are important questions that should arise. Do I agree with their spending policies? Do I support their views on abortion, the penal system, same-sex marriage, university funding, etc? Does this candidate have long-term visions for my region? Questioning whether or not their gender or skin colour is the same as yours does not make the cut. These are arbitrary, physical qualities which should not matter but unfortunately did in 2008.
Some may argue that we should vote for women and ethnic minorities because they are under-represented in the private workforce and in all levels of government. But electing an individual based on an arbitrary physical quality will not lead to gender and racial equality. Supporting someone because of their race or gender is saying that these qualities matter. Such voting actually increases the divide. As a female, I do not applaud women who have risen to their positions because of their gender. To the contrary, I lose respect for anyone who emphasizes a physical trait instead of merit. Inequality will continue as long as we care about the arbitrary differences.
Considering this, I do not applaud Calgary for electing a Muslim mayor. Instead I thank the candidates for emphasizing policy and I congratulate Calgarians for demonstrating that arbitrary physical characteristics do not matter.