How the 3 main parties say they will address African-Nova Scotian concerns

Leaders for Nova Scotia's three main political parties say they will work with African-Nova Scotian communities to address environmental racism, land claims and problems for black students in the classroom.

'These issues aren't always discussed especially during campaign time,' says lawyer Jalana Lewis

Jalana Lewis, a member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, said the concerns of African-Nova Scotians are not always heard during election campaigns. (Jalana Lewis)

Leaders for Nova Scotia's three main political parties say they will work with African-Nova Scotian communities to address environmental racism, land claims and problems for black students in the classroom.

Those pledges are part of the results of a survey done by the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers that covers a series of issues, including child welfare, immigration and reparations.

The survey was sent to candidates across the province and in almost all cases the parties responded on their behalfs.

Jalana Lewis is a member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. Lewis works as a lawyer in Toronto but is originally from Halifax.

"We asked if candidates supported the collection of disaggregate data to prevent and reduce the overrepresentation of African-Nova Scotian children and youth in the child welfare system," Lewis said Friday.

School suspensions

Candidates were also asked if they would advocate for a provincewide response to address the disproportionately high number of school suspensions and low literacy and math scores for black students.

Last year, CBC News reported that data from five of the eight school boards found that black students receive out-of-school suspensions at a rate of 1.2 to three times higher than the overall population of African-Nova Scotians in the student population.

Party responses to the education question were generally broad but each said they would take steps to help all children in the education system succeed in the classroom.

"I think it's important because these issues aren't always discussed, or typically discussed, especially during campaign time," Lewis said. "And often interactions between politicians or the province or even the media and the African-Nova Scotian community come up in a reactive way."

Environmental racism still exists

In its response to the environmental racism question, the Nova Scotia Liberal Party acknowledged that in the past a disproportionate number of hazardous waste facilities have been built near African-Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq communities.

"The most important piece of our province's legislation is the commitment to hold extensive public consultations with the communities that could be affected by the proposed development," the party wrote.

If elected government, the NDP said it would pass the Environmental Racism Prevention Act and the Environmental Bill of Rights, two pieces of legislation it previously introduced in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

If it forms the next government, the Progressive Conservative Party said it will make any decisions on land-use project proposals based on science and solid research and "race will not enter into the decision-making process."

"And, when certain communities are being considered for projects, we want the citizens of those communities to feel empowered to voice their opinions and for those opinions to be considered," the party wrote.

Lewis said environmental racism is still affecting black communities today.

Unresolved land claims

Angela Simmonds is a member of a coalition of black community groups that lobbied Nova Scotia's three main political parties on issues that are important to African-Nova Scotian communities. (Rachael Kelly)

All three parties said they supported the North Preston land titles initiative and will do what they can to move the issue along.

"The NDP recognizes that historic title problems in North Preston create challenges for African-Nova Scotians that go far beyond land claims," the party wrote. "Property ownership provides many benefits that the people of North Preston rightfully deserve."

Angela Simmonds is a member of the coalition behind the survey. Three years ago, she did a study on land claim concerns in the Preston areas for the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society. The society is working with government and residents to resolve some of these land title issues.

"The point of the survey is to make sure that everyone's informed and that they have the proper information to vote to make that change and to essentially have us be part of a conversation, not from just when African-Nova Scotians are in the media or there's all of a sudden an issue and it's heightened and then we go away," Simmonds told CBC's Information Morning Friday.

"Essentially, it needs to be every day when decisions are made by politicians or candidates running that we're included in the conversation and we're thought about, not an afterthought."

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley

Reporter

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts.