British Columbia

How drive for equality and diversity inspired these 3 candidates of colour to run in the B.C. election

As questions of systemic racism, white privilege and the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour make their way into the B.C. election campaign, Nazanin Moghadami, Toni Boot and Rishi Sharma explain why they decided to run.

Nazanin Moghadami, Toni Boot and Rishi Sharma explain their reasons for running

Nazanin Moghadami, B.C. Green candidate for Vancouver-Kensington, is pictured in Vancouver in early October. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As questions of systemic racism, white privilege and the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour make their way into the B.C. election campaign, three candidates of colour — two of them entering provincial politics for the first time — reflect on what motivated them to run in a snap election during a global pandemic. 

Nazanin Moghadami, B.C. Greens, Vancouver-Kensington

Three years ago, Nazanin Moghadami was at the event of a provincial candidate when something occurred to her. 

"I was in their rally and I was clapping for them, and then I just realized that I'm tired of standing up and cheering for middle aged, very privileged, white men," she said.

"And I was like, maybe I can run."

Moghadami moved to Canada from Iran in 2005. 'I want little girls who are second-generation or immigrants to look at me and say, 'Well, someone with an accent can run,'' she said. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Moghadami, who moved to Canada from Iran in 2005, says people of colour often face barriers to entering politics. Many are too busy trying to make a living, looking after families, and upgrading credentials to properly engage in politics, she said.

Moghadami has no experience in politics. She is also aware of how her racial background and being a woman could make her a target, given she has received hateful emails before. 

But Mogahdami says she is not afraid to speak up.

"I want little girls who are second-generation or immigrants to look at me and say, 'Well, someone with an accent can run,'" she said. 

"Someone who makes mistakes with their grammar and their English can run. Someone who isn't born here can run. Someone who's a Muslim can run." 

Given her experience as a trauma counsellor working with survivors of gender-based violence and domestic abuse, Moghadami says her platform is about helping those who are marginalized. 

She also says she will advocate for policies, laws and bylaws that will address systemic racism in institutions such as health care and education.

LISTEN: B.C. Green candidate Nazanin Moghadami reflects on what it's like to run for provincial politics as a woman of colour.

Vivian Luk meets with Vancouver-Kensington Green Party candidate Nazanin Moghadami about her run for office. 7:45

Toni Boot, B.C. NDP, Penticton

Earlier in the summer, Summerland Mayor Toni Boot made headlines when she spoke out in support of an Indo-Canadian family whose home was vandalized and painted with a swastika and vulgar graffiti.

Boot also made national news later, when she confronted the owner of a local shop that sold Confederate flag bandanas. With reporters present, she ripped the bandanas into pieces.

Toni Boot is running for the B.C. NDP in Penticton. (CBC/Brady Strachan)

Months later, as the NDP candidate for Penticton, Boot finds she is still being asked questions about that incident while on the campaign trail.

"Overwhelmingly, there has been support, but there has been some backlash," she said.

"Although it hasn't been enjoyable by any stretch, I think it's really important for leaders to lead and even if that puts them in a place of criticism or it makes them feel vulnerable — and certainly that's how I have experienced some of the feedback — I think it's really important to stand by your values and your principles."

Growing up as a Black child in Summerland — a predominantly white town — Boot says she encountered small-minded views and racism. 

Even when she ran for Summerland council six years ago, someone painted a racist slur on one of her election signs.

Now that she's running for a provincial seat, Boot says she will continue to speak out against racism, especially because she's received dozens of emails in the past few months from people sharing their stories of racial discrimination. 

"There's a lot of fear out there and so I think it's really important to do that work," she said. 

"I think things are changing. I'm hopeful that they will continue changing for the better. I know that more people are understanding how much more enriched their lives and their communities are when you have diversity — whether it's ... spiritual diversity or if it's diversity from heritage or from cultural backgrounds that differ from the white background."

LISTEN: Toni Boot, mayor of Summerland, on how her personal experiences shaped her campaign.

Emily Vance speaks with Rishi Sharma about his experience with racism in this campaign and how he would like to turn that around by being the MLA for his riding. 8:40

Rishi Sharma, B.C. Liberals, Saanich-South 

Growing up in Saanich-South, Rishi Sharma said he avoided recognizing himself as a person of colour. Instead, he tried to assimilate to move ahead. 

He started working as a legislative assistant when he was 18, and he has been a public servant for the past 20 years.

Having run in the same riding in the 2013 provincial election — when he lost out to incumbent Lana Popham of the NDP — he decided to run again in 2020 after a friend approached him to get involved. 

Rishi Sharma is running for the B.C. Liberal Party in Saanich-South. (BC Liberal Party)

"I've never wanted to go out and say, 'Hey, let's talk about equity, let's talk about diversity,' because ... I just felt people wouldn't want to hear it," he said.

But now that conversations about systemic racism are at the forefront, Sharma says issues around race and diversity have come up during the campaign.

"Like one of the candidates said when they were asked about racial discrimination in society, they talked about how they don't see colour," he said.

"I know that's not an appropriate saying now, because of the work that I've done in equity and diversity. So I quickly responded and said, 'Well, please do see my colour, acknowledge my colour, respect my colour, and love my colour.'"

Though the B.C. Legislature — a predominantly white institution — has become more inclusive in recent years, Sharma says there is still room for improvement.

"I think it's the unconscious bias you need to really deal with, from stories about not putting Indian food in the microwave because people can't stand it and they want you to leave. It's hurtful," he said. 

If elected, Sharma says he would become the first person of colour to represent Saanich-South. 

As an MLA, Sharma says he would want "an equity, diversity and inclusion lens on every piece of legislation and policy that goes through," and that he would prioritize hiring more Indigenous and people of colour, as well as equity pay for women.

LISTEN: B.C. Liberal candidate Rishi Sharma reflects on the changes he would make if he becomes the first person of colour to represent Saanich-South.

Toni Boot is mayor of Summerland and a Black Canadian. Brady Strachan brings her story from the campaign trail. 7:31

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)

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said Rishi Sharma was running in a provincial election for the first time. In fact, he previously ran as a candidate in 2013.
    Oct 23, 2020 8:55 AM PT

With files from Emily Vance and Brady Strachan

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