Thursday, 30 April 2020

Black Canadians Seek Leadership of Political Parties

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed        Annamie Paul is running for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada

Black representation at the helm of political parties in Canada matters.

Forty-five years after Rosemary Brown sought the leadership of the New Democratic Party of Canada, two Black women of Caribbean heritage are following in her footsteps in their pursuit of leading a federal political party.

Annamie Paul and Leslyn Lewis are candidates in the leadership race of the Green Party of Canada and Conservative Party of Canada, respectively.

Since the start of this year, they and three other Black Canadians – Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau of the Ontario Liberal Party and Dominique Anglade of the Quebec Liberal Party – have been among contestants in leadership campaigns for national and provincial parties.

Hunter and Coteau lost to Steven Del Duca in the Ontario Liberal Party leadership election on March 7, while the elections for the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party and Conservative Party of Canada were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, on April 29, the Conservative Party announced the resumption of the leadership election which will be done by mail-in ballot in August.

Paul is among eight candidates who will know if their bid to lead the Green Party of Canada is successful at its convention this October in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

In 1975, when Brown, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Vancouver-Burrard and Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature, ran for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) she came a close second to Ed Broadbent. It took four ballots for him to defeat her. 

Fourteen years later, Howard McCurdy, former NDP Member of Parliament for Windsor, sought the national party leadership in 1989 but Audrey McLaughlin won the selection.

The participation of five Black Canadians in elections for the leadership of political parties this year has been welcomed by Operation Black Vote Canada, a nonprofit and multi-partisan organization that supports the election of Black people to public office. 

It does so by educating, motivating and advocating for Black Canadians to participate in Canada’s government, agencies, boards, commissions, civil service and in Canada’s political process at all levels.

“Canada’s politics should be a reflection of the people our institutions seek to serve and represent. This should be seen not just in a diversity of membership and ideas, but at the leadership level as well,” says Velma Morgan, Chair of Operation Black Vote Canada.

“If Canadians of African descent are to break every glass ceiling across our political landscape, we must continue to aspire to leadership positions beyond the Cabinet table. And it begins with preparing, organizing, and running to lead Canada’s federal and provincial parties.”

In November 2019, Elizabeth May stepped down as the leader of the Green Party of Canada after 13 years in the position, which triggered a leadership contest. 

Annamie Paul, a lawyer, international affairs expert and social entrepreneur from Toronto, says she is very proud to be running for the leadership of the party.

“Thanks to the example of my mother and grandmother, I learned from an early age that positive change only happens when people commit to making it happen. I am running to lead the Green Party of Canada for the same reasons that I became a member: to offer Canadians leadership that puts people ahead of profit, power and party and offers Canada a real shot at achieving a just, sustainable and democratic society,” says Paul on her campaign website.

She holds a Master of Public Affairs from Princeton University, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Ottawa and speaks four languages.

Paul is an inaugural Action Canada Fellow, an Echoing Green Fellow, a member of the Recruitment of Policy Leaders Program, member of the University of Ottawa Common Law Honour Society and a recipient of the Harry Jerome Award.

She has worked in diverse roles, in global conflict prevention, the International Criminal Court and Canada’s Mission to the EU.

Paul has founded two social non-profits and has launched and supported non-partisan organizations that have helped women and minorities to enter Canadian politics.

She is a first generation Canadian of Caribbean heritage (Nevis and Dominica) and is married with two sons.

The convention will be held from October 2-4, 2020 and online voting for the leadership contest will open September 26.

Paul said Canada is at the dawn of major economic and social transformation and that “it is an uncertain time, but also one that holds so much promise.”

“Who can Canadians trust to lead us towards this future? The old parties, which concentrate their decision-making in the hands of a small elite; or a young party that understands we are all in it together and actively seeks out the very best ideas and solutions, wherever they may come from?”

She said the Green Party of Canada is a political party of diversity, democratic renewal and daring. 

During the 2019 federal election, Paul ran for the Greens as a candidate for the Toronto Centre riding but was defeated by Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Photo contributed      Dominique Anglade, Liberal Party of Quebec MNA for Saint-Henri-Saint-Anne

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) has suspended its leadership contest until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The party said this decision was made by mutual agreement with the two candidates in the running, Dominique Anglade and Alexandre Cusson.

 Anglade said her parents instilled in her the fundamental values of social involvement and personal achievement. 

“I now try to pass these same values on to my three children,” says Anglade who is the vice-chair of the Committee on Institutions, and official opposition critic for the economy and for immigration.

Anglade began her career in 1996 as an engineer for Procter & Gamble. Two years later, she was promoted to head of a business unit where she managed over 100 employees. 

From 2000 to 2003, she worked for Nortel Networks and, in 2004 she was named the company’s director of external and governmental affairs for Quebec. From 2005 to 2012, she worked at McKinsey & Company.

Until her election as the Member of National Assembly (MNA) for Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, she was president and CEO of Montréal International. 

“I have always sought to combine my professional life with my social involvement, sitting on the boards of directors of around fifteen organizations and chairing several of them. I also co-founded the KANPE Foundation, which supports the most vulnerable Haitian families in their quest for financial independence,” said Anglade who has been a MNA since 2015.

Born in Montreal to Haitian parents, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from l’École polytechnique de Montréal and an MBA from HEC Montréal.

The vote to elect the new leader of the PLQ was to be held on May 31 but the party has cancelled all of its public activities in compliance with public health directives.

In a statement, the Conservative Party of Canada’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) said it met on April 29 to discuss the resumption of the 2020 Leadership Election.

On March 26, the LEOC suspended the race due to the impact COVID-19 related health guidelines and government mandated closures were having on key processes needed to complete the race.

“The LEOC took the time over the course of that suspension to re-evaluate the timeline needed to complete the race, and has concluded the Leadership Election can resume with adjustments to accommodate current circumstances, effective immediately,” read the statement.

The membership deadline of May 15 will remain unchanged. The process will proceed with mail ballots, as required by the Party Constitution, and all ballots will need to be completed and received by August 21.  The result will be announced as soon as those ballots can be properly processed and examined by scrutineers while respecting any health guidelines in place at that time.

“The safety and health of volunteers has been top of mind for the LEOC, and while the date to announce a new leader will be largely dependent on what health guidelines and government orders are in place in August, the LEOC has committed to monitoring the situation closely, and will look to confirm the announcement details in the coming weeks,” said the committee.

Photo contributed    Leslyn Lewis is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada

Leslyn Lewis is one of four contestants vying for the leadership of the party. The others are Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan.

“I am running to be the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada because Canadians can and should expect much more from their leaders,” says Lewis on her campaign website.

She says her parents immigrated to Canada from Jamaica leaving everything behind so their six children could have a better life.

Lewis said she arrived in East York a wide-eyed five year old with no idea what to expect. “But the values of Canada and Canadians that I discovered - generosity, equal opportunity, and hard work - were everything that my parents hoped for their children.”

The lawyer said she watched her mother work 80 hours a week to give her children a better life, and by following her example she was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, Trinity College graduating Magna Cum Laude.

She also has a Master’s in Environmental Studies from York University, an MBA Concentration in Business and Environment from the Schulich School of Business and a Juris Doctorate from Osgoode Hall Law School and a PhD in Law from Osgoode Hall Law School.

“Following the example of everyone who sacrificed for me is why I have had success as a mother, lawyer, teacher and community advocate. And I believe that to whom much is given much is required.”

Lewis said she wants to serve the country as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada because “I see the opportunities that I had as a young woman being undermined - even within our own party.”

“Canada must remain a country where we can earn a fair wage, pay our bills without worry, and leave our children better off tomorrow than they are today. Canadians want to see competence from their leaders in their approach to the economy, the environment, and our resource and farming sectors,” said Lewis, who was the CPC candidate for Scarborough-Rouge Park in the 2015 federal election but was defeated by Liberal Gary Anandasangaree.

In 2019, Lewis was the recipient of the professional excellence award at the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) 37th annual Harry Jerome Awards ceremony.

Photo contributed    Mitzie Hunter, Ontario Liberal MPP, Scarborough--Guildwood

Mitzie Hunter, the Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Scarborough-Guildwood in Ontario, has described her experience running for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party as great.

She was one of six candidates seeking to lead the party that was decimated in the June 2018 provincial election.

At the end of the party’s two-day convention on March 7 and 8, Steven Del Duca emerged the winner with 1258 votes, with Michael Coteau gaining 363 votes, Kate Graham 299 votes, Mitzie Hunter 122 votes, Alvin Tedjo 74 and Brenda Hollingsworth 24 votes.

“It was an incredible experience and one that I hope will continue to be open to men and women of the Black community,” says the Jamaica-born politician who was first elected in a by-election in August 2013.

Her advice to those interested in political leadership is to be ready and prepared, to be politically active in the party of their choice, and to take on leadership roles all the way through.

As someone who was a former Cabinet minister and who won three consecutive elections of her own, Hunter says leadership requires all of that and more.

She said the leadership race was a province-wide experience and she got a chance to connect with people in northern parts, rural, small towns and big cities of Ontario.

Hunter is proud of the high number of delegate counts she received in northern Ontario. She spent a lot of time in the north connecting with the people and their issues.

The former education minister said the relationships and connections within the party are also important.

She said she had a strong campaign regarding changes that the party needed to make and how that would impact Ontarians, and had put out strong ideas and a vision for the party and for the future of the province.

Hunter noted that this resonated with many people and gained her their support.

Between her announcement to run in August 2019 and the leadership convention in March, she said her campaign has been about ideas and connecting with people.

“It was about shaping good policy. I was very involved in my team and helping to shape that policy and it was about listening. It was about really listening to what it is that the people in this province need and I leave the contest very hopeful.”

Hunter believes the Ontario Liberal Party is stronger than ever and reinvigorated as a result of the leadership race.

In debates leading up to the convention, Hunter called for unity by insisting that, “we must leave the convention as one united Liberal team and I will be a member of that team and I am a member of that team.”

She said the campaign was a learning environment for her as she connected with people and that the leadership at the local level – the grassroots – is really the most important part of any political party.

Hunter said the strength of rebuilding the party will be dependent on people getting engaged in their local riding associations and feeling that they can have a political impact through the Ontario Liberal Party.

They should also feel that the things that are important to them and to their families and their communities are represented in the party, she said.

Hunter said the priority for the party is to make sure that in 2022 there is a change of government from Doug Ford to bringing back the Liberals under Steven Del Duca “who will really truly speak for all Ontarians.”

Photo contributed  Michael Coteau, Ontario Liberal MPP, Don Valley East

 Michael Coteau, Member of Provincial Parliament for Don Valley East, was encouraged by former Ontario Liberal MPP and Cabinet minister Mary Anne Chambers and others to enter politics.

The former youth worker, executive director of a literacy organization and school board trustee was elected to the Toronto District School Board three times and served as its vice-chair.

First elected to Queen’s Park in 2011, Coteau is in his third term as MPP and ran for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party.

Born in Huddersfield, England on June 21, 1972, he immigrated to Canada with his family in 1975. They settled in Flemingdon Park where he and his two brothers grew up while their mother cleaned buildings and father fixed washing machines.

While pursuing postsecondary studies he became the president of the Carleton Young Liberals, and graduated with degrees in history and political science.

After graduation, Coteau worked as an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher. He started his own small business in web development and became executive director of a national literacy nonprofit. He also worked as a community organizer with a United Way affiliate. 
Coteau, who is of Grenadian heritage, and his wife, Lori, have two daughters.

The Ontario Liberal Party lost official party status in the results of the 2018 provincial election when only seven of its candidates were elected.

He described the fact that three of the four candidates who ran for the party leadership – Hunter, Alvin Tedjo and himself -- were visible minorities as “a massive shift in Ontario politics.”

Photo of Rosemary Brown in the book Jamaicans in Canada: When Ackee Meets Codfish published in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence

Rosemary Brown died in Vancouver of a heart attack on April 26, 2003 at the age of 72.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, on June 17, 1930, she came to Canada in 1951 to study at McGill University in Montreal, where she completed her BA in 1955.

She went on to the University of British Columbia, where she completed a Bachelor of Social Work degree in 1962, followed by a Master's degree in 1965.

She was a member of the British Columbia legislature from 1972 until her retirement in 1986.

Photo contributed    Howard McCurdy, first Black NDP Member of Parliament

Howard McCurdy, a pioneer in science, civil rights activism, politics, and education in Canada, was born on December 10, 1932, in London, Ontario.

The former New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament for Windsor, Ontario, and first Black MP for the party died from cancer on February 20, 2018, at the age of 85.

After lawyer, former Conservative MP, federal Labour Minister and Ontario Lieutenant Governor, the late Lincoln Alexander, Dr. McCurdy was the second African Canadian elected to the Canadian Parliament.

Before entering federal politics, where he was elected to represent Windsor for the NDP from 1984 to 1993 (Windsor-Walkerville 1984-1988, Windsor-Lake St. Clair 1988-1993), he started his political career at the municipal level by being elected to city council in November 1979.

Having studied at the University of Western Ontario, Assumption University, and Michigan State University, where he earned a doctorate degree in microbiology and chemistry, he joined the University of Windsor’s science department in 1959.

Eventually, he became the country’s first African-Canadian tenured university faculty member and rose to head the department from 1974 to 1979.

On its website, Operation Black Vote Canada notes that Vivian Barbot, a former Canadian teacher, activist and politician, became the first Black person to lead a Canadian federal political party with parliamentary representation.

The former Member of Parliament and vice-president of the Bloc Québécois was the party’s interim leader and president following the resignation of Gilles Duceppe in May 2011. She became the first person of a visible minority group to lead a Canadian federal political party with parliamentary representation.

She remained in the position until Duceppe’s successor, Daniel Paillé, was elected on December 11, 2011.

Barbot was born in Saint-Marc, Haiti and was the MP of Papineau, Quebec.

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