Why African Canadians Ought To Be Politically Active

African canadiansAfrican Canadians and politics. As far as politics is concerned, blacks are one of the least participants as both an electorate and candidates.  As candidates, we are the most visible yet fringe candidates. The most recent Ontario elections in 2011 produced healthy black candidates all over the province, yet produced minimal election results at the end.

For instance, in the riding of Ottawa South, where Premier Dalton McGuinty was the local MPP and his brother, David McGuinty, the current MP, the Ontario NDP fielded a Somali candidate. This was the first time ever that a Somali was put as a candidate of a major political party in Canada. The candidate was well versed, rounded and had lots of borrowed NDP volunteers from the House of Commons.

The fact was that he was not expected to win since he was competing against a seating Premier. At the end – he won just under 6000 votes over more than 20,000 for the Premier. There was hope that he would even come second yet the Conservatives stole that jewel. For Ottawa’s improvised and emerging Somali communities, seeing a Somali Canadian even win a nomination of the NDP was a win. Yet in politics, winning is everything more so when an African American is the President of the most powerful nation in the country. It seems the standard for political achievements have been a bit higher ever since.

In an Ontario Provincial election where only 49.2 % of us bothered to vote according to Elections Ontario, the results of Mr Farah and many other African Canadian candidates in the 2011 Ontario provincial elections is disappointing to say the very least. Dionne Coley was the other promising NDP black candidate then at only 29 years old with a law degree. In a riding that was once held by an NDP Cabinet Minister during the Bob Rae era, she only received 7000 votes compared to the over 20,000 votes the eventual winner received. It seems a promise was broken.

Atinuke Bankole, a teacher, small business owner and a very eloquent speaker, was also an NDP candidate in Cambridge. Even though she went down to defeat, she had an impressive result with 10,414 votes compared to the 15,941 votes that the eventual Progressive Conservative party candidate. In the posh riding of St Paul’s in down town Toronto, Judith Van Veldhuysen, since elected the Deputy Leader of the Ontario Greens, was the Green candidate. The Guyanese native run against an aspiring future Premier and senior Ontario Cabinet Minister, Dr Eric Hoskins and she came up way short of her lofty dream. Considered Liberal heaven by most pundits, she only received just over 1000 votes compared to the 25,052 votes that the Liberal candidate received to hold on to his seat.

In a bloody battle that was expected between the local Liberal and NDP candidate was a little known Green candidate in Scarborough – Rouge River, George Singh made a passionate run but he came out last at the end. Only 37 then, he comes from a part Bermudian and Guyanese background and has lived in the riding since he was a teenager. With titles that are rich and diverse and running for a party that is virtually unknown, the Ontario Greens, he joined a list of black candidates who fared poorly at the end of the night. These candidates included Karlene Nation in York West, Carole Williams in Scarborough Center, Fred Sherman, in Ottawa Vanier and Kathleen Mathurin in Scarborough Center.

Magarett Best, since retired from being an MPP for Scarborough – Guildwood was able to retain her seat as one of the only two blacks to be elected. In Don Valley West, one time School Board Trustee, Michaeal Coteau, who is part British and black, retained the seat for the Liberals, that was once held by a one time a senior Liberal Cabinet Minister.

In an Ontario that is diverse and modern, the visibility of visible minorities in elected office, especially that of black Canadians should concern us all. In Nova Scotia, a Progressive Conservative Premier, Dr John Hamm, once enacted an affirmative action like policy to ensure that Nova Scotia’s black population will be included in the educational determination of their school system through their selection of school board Trustees. One might have disagreed with his approach to arrive to a determination destination; however, no one doubts the need to come to an equitable government that is a reflection of all the residents. But how will we get there?

Looking to Alberta for a rare inspiration, one cannot help but take notice of the political landscape that is beginning to change. They have a woman Premier, a Liberal opposition leader who is Indian born and yes, the Mayor of Calgary, who is of Indian decent and African born. If Ontario has any chance of reflecting its residents through its elected officials, we all have all of the candidates of Ontario Elections 2011, the winners and the defeated, to be thankful for. But we must step up, step up at the voting booths and speak.

In Canada, there should be no reason why blacks should be reluctant to participate in electoral politics. Imagine if black Canadians participated the way other more established communities participate in large numbers and if these community understood the privilege and rights that comes with voting.  Our issues and communities would have been more mainstream and respected instead of being neglected as farfetched. As a community that suffers on a slew of public issues such as racism, police brutality and access to citizenship rights – the less than favorable participation of blacks in politics is creating a second class black citizenry for us all. I challenge our new generation to step up to the challenge and reverse the bus.

Article By Samwel Getachew

Samuel Getachew is an Ethiopian Canadian based in Toronto.