Municipal candidate Kashmir Dhaliwal says at-large system discriminates

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      Vision Vancouver’s only unsuccessful election candidate is considering legal action against the City of Vancouver because, he says, the at-large voting system discriminates against candidates with South Asian names. All six candidates from this community came last on their respective slates in the November 15 election. Kashmir Dhaliwal, Vision’s sole South Asian council candidate, placed 11th in his bid for a city-council slot.

      “From the core of my heart, I want a ward system,” Dhaliwal told the Georgia Straight by phone. “I have to discuss with my friends what we should do, and those within my community, and if they all give me the green light, then I will take legal action.”

      Dhaliwal garnered 44,854 votes—1,023 votes behind COPE councillor-elect Ellen Woodsworth (45,877). Incoming park commissioner Raj Hundal, Vision’s only elected official of South Asian descent, came 7,904 votes behind the next-closest Vision candidate for park board.

      Dhaliwal, president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, has support from failed Non-Partisan Association park-board candidate Naresh Shukla, who placed 14th (with 27,350 votes) vying for a position on a board comprising seven commissioners. Shukla, the NPA’s only park-board candidate of South Asian descent, came last among NPA candidates—5,779 votes behind the next-lowest NPA park-board candidate, Sharon Urton.

      “Regarding a legal challenge, I don’t know, but I have always advocated a ward system,” Shukla told the Straight by phone. “There is something wrong there with the system. Last time in 1993, [original Punjabi Market Association president] Daljit Sidhu was a candidate with the NPA, and he was the only one who lost that time. Now with Kashmir, well, everybody else got 58,000 or 60,000 votes, except for Kashmir.”

      Dhaliwal was almost 5,000 votes behind Vision councillor-elect Geoff Meggs, who garnered 49,538 votes in ninth place. (Meggs placed ahead of Woodsworth but well behind Vision’s top six councillors, who were all within the vote bracket Shukla described.)

      Councillors are currently elected on a citywide basis from a large alphabetical list of candidates, rather than on a geographic basis, as would be the case with a ward system. Lawyer Jason Gratl told the Straight by phone that even in the event the “results of a vote are racist”, that does not warrant a challenge of the Vancouver Charter. However, he added: “If the entire election system is racist or sexist or homophobic, the system itself is subject to judicial review.”

      He said this extends “in theory” to Vancouver’s at-large system.

      “But in practice, a petitioner would have to demonstrate that the at-large system promotes racist results, either deliberately or accidentally,” said Gratl, former president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. “Is the candidate’s nonelection a consequence of nonracist voter preferences, racist voter preferences, or a system that empowers racial/racist preferences? Only in the latter case would a charter violation be found.”

      COPE’s only school-board candidate of South Asian descent, 24-year-old Alvin Singh, came 2,227 votes behind the next-lowest COPE school-board candidate, Bill Bargeman, well outside the ninth spot on the board. Speaking to the Straight by phone, Singh said he is an opponent of the at-large system for “many reasons”.

      However, he said, he is urging a nuanced and “careful” response when discussing a move to a ward system “if race is the motivation alone”.

      “The only danger I foresee is a ghettoization of the political process, where you have South Asian people running in South Asian areas, because it’s the only place they can be successful,” Singh said.

      In an earlier interview regarding Dhaliwal’s exclusion, Singh said: “I’m not going to be able to say whether or not there should be a legal challenge mounted.”¦I think there is a segment of the Punjabi community that is extraordinarily motivated. I think what we have also seen is some frustration about municipal politics, and a lot of the South Asian community has moved on to provincial and federal politics.”



      David Wong

      Nov 20, 2008 at 10:24am

      Glad to see Mr Kashmir Dhaliwal agreeing with my earlier observations about wards vs at-large.

      It's a sensitive topic, that pollyannas in Vancouver prefer not to talk about. But to be a truly progressive City, these difficult topics should be openly discussed... and not with a bunch of vested interested government, multi-cultural industry people, but with folks with open eyes and open minds.

      Having been involved with a number of ward implementation efforts in the past (with vcaTEAM, N2N and others)... I am now openly wondering if our new Vision Vancouver COPE coalition council would open up this can of worms.

      I seriously doubt they would.

      But here's something to ponder over:
      With a ward system in place, we may finally see another south Asian councillor in place (Setty Pendakur was our first).

      With an at-large system in place. Vancouver will more than likely see it's first Chinese Canadian Mayor in place.

      Hmmmm... maybe that should be the topic of my next Blog posting, eh?

      David Wong

      Matthew Burrows

      Nov 20, 2008 at 12:18pm

      I think under a ward system the mayor would still be elected at large, no? So we could have our cake and eat it too. A South Asian candidate would see less barriers to getting on council and we could still elect a Chinese-Canadian mayor.

      Dan Grice

      Nov 20, 2008 at 9:04pm

      Wards is the same system as we use provincially and federally, which ends up leaving just as many people frustrated with their governments and which the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform deemed to be unfair and resulted in voters feeling they had little choice.

      It is time Vancouver returns to a Single Transferable Vote. I say return, as it was used in South Vancouver until 1930 when Vancouver, Point Grey, and South Vancouver Merged.

      Across the globe, governments our moving to a Single Transferable Vote. Cities such as Cambridge, MA have used them for over 100 year. Ireland uses it for all of its elections, and Scotland recently moved a number of its local elections to use a transferable vote. It is a fair system that ensures a diverse council.

      STV was actually used across North American cities in the 1920s' and 1930s. In New York it was brought in to root out corruption in their council. The main reason that we don't see STV as much now, is that there was a backlash in the 1930s as minorities were getting elected under it.

      Most political scientist agree that STV is the best system. to see how it works.