Nova Scotia

N.S. party leaders urged to run Black candidates in 'winnable seats'

A national organization is urging party leaders in Nova Scotia to run more Black candidates and in ridings their party can win. So far, Operation Black Vote Canada has not heard back from the governing Liberals.

Liberal Premier Iain Rankin only leader not to respond to national organization's letter

Velma Morgan is chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, a national group urging party leaders in Nova Scotia to run more Black candidates in ridings they can win. (David Chang Photography)

A national organization that is urging Nova Scotia political parties to run more Black candidates in the looming provincial election has heard back from three of the four main parties, but not from the governing Liberals.

Velma Morgan, chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, told CBC News she sent letters to the leaders of Nova Scotia's Liberal, PC, NDP and Green parties two months ago.

"We asked them to run more Black candidates in winnable ridings and to provide supports and resources for those Black candidates," Morgan said in an interview from Toronto. "We received letters back from three out of the four supporting that idea, and explaining to us what things they have in place to do that."

In the letter, sent May 10, Morgan told the leaders simply having Black candidates wasn't enough. It's widely believed an election will be called some time this summer.

"Black candidates must be run in winnable ridings if they are to have a serious chance of joining your caucus as elected Members," she wrote.

Asked why he had not yet responded to Morgan's letter, Liberal Premier Iain Rankin wasn't sure.

"I'll have to go back and check my correspondence, I don't know," he said Monday morning after an event at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook. During that event he said one of his goals in seeking his party's top job was to fight racism.

"I ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party and for premier to tackle inequities in our province straight on," he said during an announcement of $4.8 million to help create an African Nova Scotian Justice Institute.

Premier Iain Rankin, shown here last month, said he wants his party to field a Black candidate in the riding of Preston. (Robert Short/CBC)

The premier's office later said by email that it had seen the letter, which it said had been sent to the Liberal Party office.

"The Liberal Party has considered her proposals as it has undergone the process of recruiting candidates," said Matt Hefler, Rankin's press secretary. "The party has been pleased to welcome the nomination of candidates of diverse backgrounds, including those of African descent."

There is currently only one Black Nova Scotian in the House, cabinet minister Tony Ince. He's one of only five Black people to have ever been elected to Nova Scotia's House of Assembly.

Morgan said having a single Black MLA isn't good enough.

"The Black community in Nova Scotia is not monolithic," she said. "Having only one Black person to represent the entire population isn't good enough.

"People have different lived experiences, including people in the Black community. And so we would expect to have more than one representative."

Preston seat

It is why her organization is urging all parties to field as many Black candidates as possible, particularly in the "protected seat" of Preston. Preston's electoral boundary lines were redrawn in 2019 in order to give the traditional Black communities in the riding a better chance of electing one of their own.

Morgan said the best way to ensure that would be for all parties contesting the seat to put forward Black candidates.

"If you want to have diversity in this protected seat in Preston, we would expect that they would only run Black candidates in that seat," said Morgan. "So no matter which party wins, there'll be a Black person elected in that riding." 

The Liberal who has held that seat 23 of the past 28 years, Keith Colwell, has announced he will not be running again. He did so after Rankin told reporters his party was looking for a Black candidate to run in Preston.

Morgan said it is time for political leaders to put money where their mouths are and to support Black candidates.

"They all say they want diversity, they all say they want inclusion and different voices at this decision-making table," she said. "But when it boils down to it, many do not actually run Black people in ridings that are winnable."

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.