Atlantic region Black politicians to build trust in politics among racialized groups

HALIFAX — A small group of Black politicians from Atlantic Canada promised Wednesday to do more to encourage racialized communities to overcome their distrust of the political system.

Five members of the Canadian Congress of Black Parliamentarians met in Halifax following a national meeting earlier this month in Ottawa involving 45 politicians of colour from all levels of government.

Congress co-founder Tony Ince, a Nova Scotia Liberal member of the legislature, told reporters on Wednesday the biggest challenge for politicians of colour is engaging with communities that don’t have trust in the political system.

“Most of our communities are disengaged,” said Ince, a former provincial cabinet minister.

“Most of our communities don’t have faith in the political system ... so I think we need to lead by example.”

Ince said the national meeting, which was held Aug. 9-11, left him feeling positive because participants were tasked with the mission of returning home to “inform and educate” constituents about their roles as political representatives.

“Not just the Black population but all (people),” he said. “Until we do better and get out there and engage with people and show them that they have a voice, we are going to continue to see this disengagement.”

The group also said it's committed to ensuring that legislation at all levels of government reflects the issues of concern in racialized communities. Those issues include access to housing, equity in health care and education, and opportunities for economic development, the politicians said.

Liberal Gord McNeilly, the first Black person elected to the P.E.I. legislature, said it is important to work to address policy gaps in areas such as health care, where doctors need more education and support to address diseases like sickle cell anemia, which predominantly affects people of colour.

A similar focus is needed to address housing shortages, which are "massive" in his province and which “disproportionately affect people of colour,” he said.

“We can’t talk about diversity and not do the things around supporting the growth of a diverse community,” said McNeilly. “It takes planning at a government level and to this point the planning has been poor, at least in my province.”

The politicians also noted the importance of diverse representation in government and said they are conscious of their own status as role models.

Suzy Hansen, an NDP member of the Nova Scotia legislature, said she hopes to inspire other people of colour to run for political office.

“It is not an easy job, it is quite challenging, but the reward is that you are helping folks,” Hansen said.

The two other members at the Halifax meeting were Nova Scotia Liberal legislature member Ali Duale, who fled Somalia’s civil war in 1991, and Iona Stoddard, who is the first Black woman elected to Halifax Regional Council.

Stoddard said she’s aware of the significance of her position.

“The rewarding aspect of being the first is that I’m able to give a hand up to the next person of colour, or Black, that would choose to run for municipal, provincial or federal positions,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2023.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press