A New Brunswick university professor is calling attention to the need to overcome barriers people with disabilities face in politics after discovering an “extremely low” number of them enter public life.
Mario Levesque, a political science professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., said his research, which dealt with people with physical, mental and intellectual disabilities, is in its early stages but he is hoping to spark a national conversation on the issue.
“There’s very few overall that do seek political office,” said Levesque in an interview. “People need to see themselves in our elected officials, and if we don’t, then they don’t see them as legitimate governing bodies.
“We want people to be part of the system.”
His research was prompted by a request from the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission, which was mulling the idea of opening a school for people with disabilities seeking public office, Levesque said.
He said he found very little study on the topic and decided to start filling the gap, so he reviewed party constitutions and sent out a voluntary survey to the presidents and in some cases the leaders of 42 provincial political parties across Canada asking them how many of their members and candidates had a disability. Twenty-four per cent of them responded, he said.
Out of a possible 2,084 candidates over the last three elections in each province, 20 of them had a disability according to the survey respondents — roughly 0.01 per cent, he said.
“That’s extremely low when you consider that 15 to 21 per cent of the Canadian population is disabled, depending on how disability is defined,” he said. “There’s a big disconnect there.”