New Brunswick

Diversity candidates will be hard to find on New Brunswick election ballots

When New Brunswick voters go to the polls Sept. 14, they won't see many candidates of colour or members of First Nations or people who identify as LGBTQ.

Greens, NDP and People’s Alliance come up short of a full slate of candidates

Alice McKim, one of three diversity candidates on the Liberal slate, says it means a lot to be asked to run for the party in Saint John Harbour. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

When New Brunswick voters go to the polls Sept. 14, they won't see many candidates of colour or members of First Nations or people who identify as LGBTQ.

For example, Alice McKim is one of only three diversity candidates on the Liberal slate.

She says she's proud of her 20-year teaching career and also proud to be a transgender woman seeking the seat for Saint John Harbour, which went Liberal in 2018 by the narrowest of margins — just 10 votes.

"Representation matters," said McKim, who taught law, world issues and family dynamics at Saint John High School before taking leave to campaign.

"What we see on stage at a political rally, it communicates something to everyone in the audience who themselves are searching within and wondering, 'Am I OK? Will I be loved? Will I ever stand on a stage if I live as my true self?'"

McKim said she "got green lit" after being interviewed by Liberal party recruiters.

"To be asked by a major political party to carry their banner, it means a lot," she said while attending a rally in Rothesay to support Clinic 554, the Fredericton-based family medical practice that provides abortion services and transgender care.

Friday was the final day to submit nominations to Elections New Brunswick. Out of the 227 candidates, 74 are women. 

Diverse candidates run for Liberals, Greens

The Liberals had to invoke special rules to expedite their selection process in response to the snap election.  

Liberal Rene Ephestion is a candidate in Moncton Southwest. (Submitted/Rene Ephestion)

Leader Kevin Vickers said the party wanted to promote diversity as much as possible but there wasn't much time to tap new candidates, and women in particular were challenged by the prospect of having to "drop everything" to run.

Vickers said 10 women will be running for the Liberals in this election.

The party's only visible minority candidate is running in Moncton Southwest. 

René Ephestion, who immigrated to Canada from France, had considered running for the party leadership in 2019 but didn't get his Canadian citizenship in time.  

Now he says he has it and is thrilled at the prospect of being elected as a Black MLA.  

"It's so important to show it's possible," said Ephestion. "I do it for my kids and for all youth. If they see change, they'll feel confident that they can do it, too."

Theresa Blackburn, who is running for the Liberals in Carleton, is the party's only self-identified Indigenous candidate, although she wasn't raised in an Indigenous community.

In 1996, she connected with her Métis birth mother and also learned her father was Cree from Alberta.

Theresa Blackburn is running for the Liberals in Carleton. (Theresa Blackburn/Facebook)

"But what has shaped me more was my work [as a journalist] in Indigenous communities — six years in Iqaluit and seven in Labrador," said Blackburn.

The only two Indigenous candidates from First Nations in New Brunswick are running for the Green Party.

Curtis Bartibogue is running for the Green Party in the riding of Miramichi Bay-Neguac. (Curtis Bartibogue/Facebook)

Curtis Bartibogue of Esgenoôpetit is running in the riding of Miramichi Bay-Neguac.

He said Indigenous people are not inspired by the "same old, same old" of the two traditional parties.

"The Greens actually have stuff in their platform that addresses First Nations issues," said Bartibogue. "They make the connection to the environment and climate change. That means something."

Robert Kryzsko of the Pabineau First Nation is the other Indigenous candidate, running for the Greens in Bathurst-East Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore.

Greens deliver on gender-balance promise

The Greens were the only party to promise a gender-balanced slate and on Thursday, incumbent Megan Mitton said the party had delivered, with 26 female candidates, some of whom she introduced at a news conference in Moncton.

However, one of those women, Kimberly-Mai Therrien, who was supposed to be the Green Party candidate for Shediac Bay-Dieppe, was told she missed her filing deadline by one minute.

"We're devastated," said Therrien's fiancé and campaign manager Mario Gaudreau. "We feel like we let the party down." 

Kimberly-Mai Therrien, who was supposed to be the Green Party candidate for Shediac Bay-Dieppe was told she missed her filing deadline by one minute. (CBC)

Gaudreau described a frantic day of gathering more than the required 25 signatures and then going to the Shediac Service New Brunswick office to have their papers authorized by a commissioner of oaths.

Gaudreau said he could see that time was running out. People in front of them in the lineup agreed to let them skip ahead. 

Gaudreau said what followed was a very stressful drive to the returning office in Grand-Digue with their nine-year old son. 

When they walked in the door, Gaudreau said, it was 2 o'clock by his watch but they were told it was 2:01.

He said it was a huge disappointment and the whole experience of going through the vetting process and preparing to run was challenging under the time constraints. 

"She really cared about health and mental health care," he said. "She wanted to make a difference."

CBC has asked Elections NB for more information on what happened Friday afternoon, but has yet to hear more details. 

In an interview Thursday, Kim Poffenroth, chief electoral officer at Elections New Brunswick, said returning offices were very strict about the nomination deadline.

Josephine Watson is running for the Green Party in Moncton South. (CBC)

Josephine Watson is running for the Greens in Moncton South and identifies as bilingual and biracial.

"A diverse representation in our legislature means that leaders will have a lived experience that our voters can relate to," Watson said to applause.

Joanna Killen is running for the Green Party in Saint John Lancaster. (Joanna Killen/Facebook)

Carole Chan, the Green Party candidate for Moncton Centre told the CBC she's a first-generation Canadian and that her parents immigrated from Taiwan in the 1960s and '70s.

Another self-identified diversity candidate is Joanna Killen, who is running for the Green Party in Saint John Lancaster.

"I'm queer and polyamorous," she said. "And the party has accepted my relationship status."

17 women running for PCs

The Progressive Conservatives said on Thursday they had every one in place. 

Their complete list of 49 candidates included 17 women, a record for the party, according to campaign leader Louis Léger.

"We're ecstatic," he said.  

However, there are no Indigenous PC candidates and none of colour.  

Neville Gosman had been seeking the PC nomination in Fredericton South but lost the bid when more party members in the riding voted for Dr. Brian McKinnon.

Mathieu Caissie is the Progressive Conservative candidate for Shediac Bay-Dieppe. (Mathieu Caissie/Twitter)

Léger said the party's constitution doesn't allow for candidates to bypass local nomination conventions.  

"That's something the ridings protect dearly because they don't want candidates appointed by Fredericton," he said.

"We can encourage [diversity] but at the end of the day it's really a reflection of the ridings."  

Only two PC candidates have publicly identified as gay, including Kevin Haché, the candidate in Caraquet, who is a  lawyer and the current mayor of Caraquet, and Mathieu Caissie, the candidate for Shediac Bay-Dieppe.

"I feel I'm more progressive," said Caissie, who is also Acadian and a passionate defender of Acadian culture. 

"If the party didn't have Progressive in its name, I wouldn't be here."

8 women running for People's Alliance 

The People's Alliance registered 36 candidates, including eight women.

Campaign chair Sterling Wright said all candidates were vetted by a committee. They were interviewed in person, he said. They also agreed to criminal background checks and their social media accounts were checked to make sure that "nothing raised any alarms."

Diversity targets were not part of the equation, he said.

"Gender, sexual orientation, age, race or religion, those are not things we consider to be of most importance," said Wright.

"What we're interested in, is people of good character, who have a sincere interest in serving the people of their constituency, and who have a good work ethic. That's far more important to us than the colour of somebody's skin or their gender."

Young candidates on the rise

The NDP registered 33 candidates, including one of colour. Cyprien Okana, who ran for the party in Moncton Northwest in 2018 and is trying again.

NDP candidate Cyprien Okana is running in the riding of Moncton Northwest. He describes himself as an advocate for diversity and social justice. (Cyprien Okana/Facebook)

One of the party's earliest confirmed candidates, Courtney Pyrke, identifies as non-binary.

"For me, I believe there are more than two genders," said Pyrke, who goes by the pronouns they and them and was disappointed to find that Elections NB requires registered candidates to check either F or M. 

"The only option that I was given was male or female, and I had to select one and I wasn't allowed to leave it blank," said Pyrke. 

"I didn't run because I'm non-binary, I ran because I care about my community and the people in my community and at the end of the day that's what it's about to me."

Pyrke, who used to work with youth in the public library system, where they ran the gender-sexuality alliance, is competing against Liberal candidate Alice McKim in Saint John Harbour. Both transgender candidates have a warm regard for each other. 

Courtney Pyrke is the NDP candidate for Saint John Harbour. (Submitted by Courtney Pyrke)

"It's great that people are noticing there are two LGBTQ+ people ... or two transgender/non-binary people running in Saint John Harbour," said Pyrke.

"I really hope we're setting that foundation for people to run after us who are trans or non-binary or LGBTQ or Indigenous or people of colour, you can run too,"

Pyrke is also a relatively youthful candidate at 29 years old.

NDP Leader Mackenzie Thomason, who only just turned 23, said youth is one of the strengths of his party and in that way, his candidates also bring diversity to the ballot. 

The party said it had at least a dozen candidates under the age of 30.

About the Author

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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