British Columbia

New organization aims to boost number of Black British Columbians in politics

Black Voters Matter Canada is hosting virtual workshops to encourage more Black candidates from the western and northern regions of Canada to run for elected office.

Black Voters Matter Canada is hosting virtual workshops to encourage more diversity in Canadian elections

Quebec Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg, left, shakes hands with B.C. Liberal MP Hedy Fry on Parliament Hill. Black Voters Matter Canada is trying to get more Black politicians to run for office, especially with the possibility of a federal election in the near future. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

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.

Vancouver-based Petros Kusmu, co-founder and organizer of Black Voters Matter Canada, says Canadians are "missing out on amazing folks who would do a fantastic job." (Photo by Darren Brown)

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."

Former Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis makes her opening statement at the start of the French Leadership Debate in Toronto on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

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.

 

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.

(CBC)

With files from The Early Edition, Julie Peterson

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