CBC Digital Archives

1993: Nova Scotia elects its first black MLA

February is Black History Month. In Canada, it's a time to celebrate the achievements of black Canadians and reflect on their experiences throughout our past. CBC Digital Archives has pulled together a selection of radio and TV clips that honour black history — some of which exemplify the racism blacks have had to endure and overcome, both in Canada and around the world, while others highlight the remarkable accomplishments of extraordinary people.

media clip
"We had people who told me that there was no place in politics for a black person," says Wayne Adams in this 2004 radio clip. He's recalling his 1993 campaign for the Nova Scotia legislature. The province had never had a black member of the legislative assembly (MLA) before. But a few "outright racist" responses didn't discourage him: "That kind of negative reaction just exhilarated my efforts to go on and run and win." And on May 25, 1993, Adams became Nova Scotia's first black MLA.
• Wayne Adams was born in Halifax in 1943. Prior to entering politics, he had a variety of diverse occupations. He worked as a car salesman, owned a Shell Canada service station, and was a radio broadcaster and journalist.

• Adams first entered politics when he was elected as a Halifax County councillor in 1979. Before becoming an MLA in 1993, he had served 14 years in municipal politics.

• Running as a Liberal, Adams's 1993 campaign centred on environmental issues. He wanted to stop the growth and future development of municipal dumps near low-income communities.

• Shortly after his win, he also became the first black cabinet minister in Nova Scotia. He was initially minister of supply and services and later became the province's environment minister.

• There was some controversy about the circumstances surrounding Adams's win. Prior to the 1993 election, Nova Scotia's electoral map was changed to create the new riding of Preston, made up of an area that was predominately black. Critics complained that this was an artificial way to ensure a black MLA would be elected. A May 27, 1993, Globe and Mail editorial called the idea of the new riding "troubling," saying it was unfortunate that political leaders assumed a black MLA could only be elected by black voters.

• A week later, Nova Scotia MLA and provincial NDP leader Alexa McDonough wrote to the Globe disputing the editorial. She called it "an editorial of breathtaking ignorance and prejudice," explaining that it was racism that originally led to the largest black communities being split up among several electoral districts in the first place.

• Nova Scotia's black community has deep roots and a complicated history. "There is, unhappily, a long legacy of racial intolerance in Nova Scotia," wrote Brian Bergman in a 1998 MacLean's article. "It stretches back over 200 years to the exploitation of former slaves who arrived in the region in the late 1700s, through more recent episodes such as the 1960s bulldozing of Africville... and repeated outbursts of racially motivated violence at the Halifax area Cole Harbour District High School in the 1990s." (See the topic Africville: Expropriating Nova Scotia's Blacks.)

• Blacks are the largest group of all the visible minorities in Nova Scotia. According to Statistics Canada, a total of 19,670 Nova Scotians identified themselves as black in 2001, which was 57 per cent of the province's total 34,525 visible minorities and 2.19 per cent of Nova Scotia's entire population (897,565).

• The first black person ever to be elected to a provincial legislature in Canada was Leonard Braithwaite, elected as an MPP in Ontario in 1963.

• In 1972, B.C. elected two black MLAs, Rosemary Brown and Emery Barnes, and in 1976 Quebec elected a black National Assembly member, Jean Alfred. The remaining provinces have yet to elect a black member to their legislatures.

• Canada's first black federal MP was Lincoln Alexander, elected in 1968.

• Wayne Adams served as an MLA from 1993 to 1998. He was defeated in his Preston riding in 1998 by NDP candidate Yvonne Atwell, who became the first black female MLA in Nova Scotia.

• Adams was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004.

Also on May 25:
1882: The Royal Society of Canada is founded to promote the development of the country's arts and sciences.
1944: Canadian Army Major J.K. Mahony wins a Victoria Cross for holding a bridgehead over the Melfa River in Italy during the Second World War.
1990: Canada's first war crimes trial ends in Toronto. Imre Finta, a retired Toronto restaurateur, is acquitted on all charges in the 1944 deportation of more than 8,600 Hungarian Jews.

Medium: Radio
Program: Sounds Like Canada
Broadcast Date: May 4, 2004
Guest(s): Wayne Adams
Host: Shelagh Rogers
Duration: 10:44

Last updated: November 3, 2014

Page consulted on November 3, 2014

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