What do we know about Calgarians - but more specifically, what do we know about how Calgarians vote?
Calgary collects both its own data about citizens and uses the federal census to provide community profiles.
In the fall of 2020 I embarked on a project with the Tech Skills Initiative program from Bow Valley College. I have supported the program through the last two years in my role with Rainforest Alberta. In the fall I had the opportunity to design an industry project for the students which used multiple data sets around election data and community demographics to support candidates in the upcoming election. That project has come to life through the website Calgary Election Candidates, with the help of friend and political enthusiast Sarah Elder-Chamanara of Madame Premier.
Working on this project I have become passionate about two changes I would like to see going forward for Calgary. The first is data around voter demographics. The second is the language we use to identify individuals.
A bit of a background. I started learning more about diversity and inclusion, the language used, and the tools of measurement in the last few years. Specifically, I worked on another project when I was with Rainforest Alberta around attendance at events (real live ones if you remember those) and the diversity of persons attending.
In working on those projects, in reviewing the community demographics posted by the City of Calgary, I noticed a trend. The terminology used to capture identities is outdated.
When I dug into the issue, I was alerted that the terminology used in the City of Calgary documents is language which is consistent with the Government of Canada. Yikes! With Census 2021 launching in a few days, I hope the terminology has shifted, in particular for Indigenous Canadians and populations who do not identify themselves as White.
The current terms are Aboriginal (losing favour as the preferred term) and Visible Minority. Visible Minority could be replaced with terms such as Racialized Populations, Ethnicity, or other non-dominant coded language. Even if Census Canada doesn’t change their language, I would like to see the City of Calgary update demographic reporting with appropriate, sensitive, and modern terminology regardless of Stats Canada use. It is appropriate to then use notations to describe terminology and links when necessary for contextual information.
Further to understanding our population, what we lack knowledge about is our voter demographics. It is important to note that not all Calgarians over 18 are eligible to vote. (Another topic for another day.)
Calgary has no data on the demographics of voter turnout, not even notes on a gender split. This is problematic because how can we (Elections Calgary/The City of Calgary) appropriately target messaging about an election if we don’t know which voter groups are missing? This could be age, income, gender, or ethnicity. It could be home owner vs renter. We have data on voter turnout by area - but knowing if it’s low (or high) is not necessarily well understood.
At this point you might be wondering, why am I so passionate about demographics? Its not the demographics per se - but the data, or the lack of data, which interests me. Data is one part of the story but it paints a picture for us to start asking questions towards exploring solutions.
How do we improve democratic participation if we don’t understand who is and isn’t participating?
In the case of voters - I do think we need to be talking openly about who feels equipped to cast a vote. What means allow them access to information to make a decision? Which means allow them the ability to show up on election day? Do we need to (re)think where we have mobile polling stations? Do we need to (re)think where we place regular voting stations? Do we need to have better translation services?
I believe there needs to be a commitment to capturing voter demographics. This will likely not be realized for 2021 but it is certainly an initiative I would push for in future elections if elected.