Nova Scotia

Premier, new African Nova Scotian Affairs minister meet with Black community group

A coalition of prominent African Nova Scotian leaders has addressed the premier over concerns of Black representation in provincial government leadership. 

Black Family Meeting says premier claimed not to have heard widespread objections

Pat Dunn is the minister responsible for the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives. (CBC)

A coalition of prominent African Nova Scotian leaders have addressed the premier over concerns of Black representation in provincial government leadership. 

"I reserve feelings about meetings, particularly first meetings such as this until there is some response or result," said Carolann Wright, spokesperson for the Black Family Meeting.

"I was happy with the delegation and the ability for that group to bring forth the concerns of the community in a really authentic way," she said. 

The meeting took place Wednesday at One Government Place in Halifax, and was attended by Premier Tim Houston and African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Pat Dunn, who also heads the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives.

Among those representing the Black community were former Lt. Gov. Mayann Francis, the moderator of the African United Baptist Association David Provo, Danielle Hodges of the Association of Black Social Workers, Sharon Davis-Murdoch of the Health Association of African Canadians, and Robert Wright of the Decade for People of African Descent.

"You bring out your best in these situations... Making sure that we stay in the pocket with what the community wants us to bring. And we did that," said Carolann Wright. 

Wright said Houston and Dunn seemed nervous at first. 

"I think they were a little bit nervous," she said. "I think they were a little bit concerned about ... What this would mean. Because there's a lot of things at stake here in terms of the decision that was made, versus what can we do to mitigate this," she said.

Issue of representation

The Black Family Meeting is a group of over 300 Black Nova Scotians who met online twice last month to focus their concerns. 

They were upset that the new Progressive Conservative government appointed white people as both minister and deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs. 

They also object to the loss of Black representation on the board of Nova Scotia Health, which administers healthcare in the province.

Wright said the meeting was important because the premier had claimed not to have heard widespread objections from the African Nova Scotian community. 

"We needed to make sure that it was heard that over 300 people on virtual calls, both times, were really clear that this is an issue that needs to be addressed," she said.

In an open letter to the premier and Minister Dunn last month, Black Family Meeting said this loss of Black representation was reflective of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, language that Wright said was repeated in the meeting. 

"Nobody's shy to use that terminology because it clearly depicts how the community feels. It clearly frames how the community wants to move forward and why," Wright said. 

'Troubling for our youth'

Wright said it's upsetting for her community to be fighting this issue in 2021. 

"That we're back to that instead of, you know, an evolved process, it scares me a little ... It's troubling for our youth to see that nothing changes, and how easily things roll back if you're not constantly on the ground on these issues," she said. 

"And does it end? We don't know yet. There's many other things that the community wants to see happen in terms of our self-determination." 

Premier Tim Houston says he was happy with the Black Family Meeting of various African Nova Scotian leaders, where he and Minister Dunn went to listen, learn and 'open the lines of communication.' (Robert Short/CBC)

Wright said the premier promised to have a response in two weeks. 

"There will be another conversation, I think, with the premier on some things that they think they can do, or what they are going to offer in terms of resolution. So we'll wait to hear from them," Wright said. 

In an emailed statement, Premier Tim Houston said he was pleased to meet with the representatives. 

"We don't feel it is our place to share the substance of the meeting. We met to listen, to learn, to open the lines of communication, and to reiterate this government's commitment to working with community members on a go forward basis," Houston wrote. 

"We understand that building trust and relationships will be an ongoing process," he said. 

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.