Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

Black candidates hope their time at city hall has finally arrived

Four candidates in Ottawa's municipal election hope to open the door to greater representation at city hall by becoming the capital's first black city councillors.

4 candidates are campaigning to be Ottawa's first black city councillors

Fabien Kalala Cimankinda is running for city council in River ward. If elected, he would be the first black person to sit at Ottawa's council table. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Four candidates in Ottawa's municipal election hope to open the door to greater representation at city hall by becoming the capital's first black city councillors.

As of 2016, black people — Ottawa's largest visible minority group — made up six per cent of the city's population.

But voters have never elected a black councillor to represent them.

"People of colour are an integral part of the fabric of this society. To not recognize that there are people of colour is dismissing people of colour," said Erica Ifill, an intersectional feminist and one of the people behind the "Now What" campaign to highlight gender issues this election.

This election, four people of colour have put their names on the ballot:

The only woman of colour to add her name to the ballot, Lily Obina, withdrew from the race in Gloucester-Southgate on the final day of nominations. 

'We cannot just stay on the sidelines'

CBC has asked every municipal ward candidate to fill out surveys about their background and platforms.

Several candidates identified in those surveys that they were part of minority groups, be it Franco-Ontarians, people with disabilities, LGBTQ candidates or people of other ethnicities.

But unlike many of those candidates, people who identified as black pointed out they have no representation in council chambers.

"We cannot just stay on the sidelines and watch other people make decisions for us, affecting us," said Cimankinda.

"I believe I do have something to bring to the table."

Cimankinda said his skin colour is far from the most important element of his campaign, but he wants to make sure others like him have capable role models at city hall.

"By doing this I hope that I will attract more people [to municipal politics]," he said.

1 councillor not enough

Part of the challenge facing black candidates, Ifill said, is that without prior representation it's hard to get connected with the resources they need to run.

For instance, it can be difficult to find an experienced campaign manager or adequate funds, Ifill said, if a candidate doesn't know anyone who's ever run before.

She said while she hopes one of this year's black candidates takes a seat around the council table, that alone won't be enough to make a major difference for Ottawa's black communities.

"I don't think one black councillor is going to do it," Ifill said.

What it might do, she added, is open the minds of people who don't see city council as a welcome space for them.

City pledge

The city has also pledged to curb racism at the bureaucratic level.

City officials attended a forum last March dedicated to that cause, and committed to creating its first-ever diverse career fair.

Officials have also promised to work with community organizations to address barriers that might prevent people from applying and getting those jobs.

Afolabi, who is running in Capital ward, told CBC he would like the city to establish a youth internship program, draw from a pool of candidates reflective of the city's diversity, and institute clear options for converting those positions into full-time jobs.