New organization aims to boost number of Black British Columbians in politics
Black Voters Matter Canada is hosting virtual workshops to encourage more diversity in Canadian elections
A newly formed non-profit is encouraging Black people in Western and Northern Canada to run for office and get more involved in electoral politics.
Black Voters Matter Canada has partnered with Canadian federal political parties and Black-led organizations to host workshops during the month of March about running for federal office as a Black person.
Vancouver-based Petros Kusmu, a co-founder of the organization, says these conversations, which include current members of parliament who can offer insight into the job, are particularly important right now when there are murmurs of a possible snap federal election this spring.
"We know that Black candidates are underrepresented in politics, particularly in the west and the north, so we're seeking to resolve that now," said Kusmu, speaking on CBC's The Early Edition Thursday.
Kusmu believes all Canadians would benefit from having more diverse political representation, and that Western Canada is particularly ready to see more Black people run for office and win seats.
He told CBC this was apparent when Leslyn Lewis, a Black woman based in Eastern Canada, recently ran for the federal Conservative Party leadership.
"She was so popular out in the Prairies and in Western Canada, which was a surprise, because she's from Ontario," said Kusmu.
"And there are so many more Dr. Leslyn Lewises and future potential Barack Obamas that are hidden gems here in the West and North."
The workshops are an opportunity, he said, to try and break down some of the barriers that could be keeping Black people from politics.
Kusmu said Black British Columbians may be hesitant to run for office because they are worried about the toxicity of social media, don't think politics is a meaningful vehicle for change, or have few role models to look up to.
"It's hard to be what you can't see," he said.
Alright, folks. I need your collective brain power on this: Name a Black person you work w/ in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AB?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AB</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BC?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BC</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MB?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MB</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SK?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SK</a> & <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NWT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NWT</a> who you believe should run for federal office one day? <br><br>I'll start: <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkielSimpson?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MarkielSimpson</a>. I could legit list hundreds more but we'll see where this goes!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CDNpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CDNpoli</a>—@kusmu
To counteract this, Black Voters Matter Canada's event series offers opportunities for potential Black candidates to network, ask questions and learn about the process of running a campaign.
Only a handful of Black MPs currently sit in the House of Commons. Trinidadian-Canadian Hedy Fry is a Liberal MP from Vancouver and is the longest-serving female MP in Ottawa.
In October, the federal Green Party elected Toronto-based human rights lawyer Annamie Paul as their leader. Paul is the first Black permanent leader of a major federal political party.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from The Early Edition, Julie Peterson