EDITORIAL  JULY 4, 2018 Hill Times

The Senate has come a long way since the early 2000s. Back then, Conservative Senator Donald Oliver charged that the Senate’s administration-and the public service, in general-was rife with systemic racism.

“The Senate’s lack of diversity is so glaring and so problematic to the future of our institution that it heightens the desire of many Canadians to have our Upper Chamber abolished because it is irrelevant and unrepresentative of Canada’s cultural mosaic,” the Tory Senator told The Hill Times back in 2005, after a report that there were zero visible minorities appointed to senior- and middle-management positions between 2000 and 2004.

Today, the numbers are better, and work is continuing to improve them even further, thanks to a joint effort that includes a subcommittee led by Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer.

But there’s still so much to be done, and it’s nice to see that the Senate is openly making strides.

Because, as Mr. Oliver noted, and Sen. Jaffer emphasized: what’s the use of such an august institution as the Senate, or any Chamber of Parliament, if it does not reflect the country it’s supposed to serve?

There is an ongoing-and well-needed-push to get more women into politics, but our political institutions should also be pushed to be more welcoming of visible minorities, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities.

In today’s Hill Times, Sen. Jaffer tells reporter Charelle Evelyn that she’s had experiences that are “soul destroying” on the Hill, as a result of being a person of colour in what’s still a predominantly white environment.

Independent Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard has also spoken out about the need for education and improvement on the Hill when it comes to issues of race, particularly anti-Black racism.

In the Chamber, on May 1, Sen. Bernard spoke of her own “isolating and degrading” experience on the Hill, being the only one stopped when getting on a parliamentary shuttle and asked for ID.

“He treated me differently than my colleagues, and he did not give me the benefit of the doubt like he did for the rest of the people who are also rushing out of the cold,” she said of the driver.

No one is under any illusion that the halls of Parliament are some sort of moral high ground, especially these days now that the #MeToo movement has brought bad behaviour out of the shadows and into the light, but stories like these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Among the recommendations made by the Senate’s Subcommittee on Diversity-which is a subgroup of the powerful Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration Committee-is for the Senate to seriously boost its recruitment efforts for Aboriginal people and veterans, specifically, and people who live outside of the National Capital Region, in general.

Having more voices, more perspectives that reflect more of Canada both in the Chambers and behind the scenes can only make our democracy stronger.