On election night, in May 1993, Wayne Adams made history. He became the first Black member of the Nova Scotia legislature.
“I’d like to think that I was a match that lit a fire.”
But, almost three decades later, the number of Black MLAs in the province is stuck at one.
“I had envisaged there would be a floodgate opening after my election,” Adams told Global News, “with many African-Nova Scotians applying for a career in public life.”
The sting of stalled progress hurts most in communities like North Preston, where most residents are Black, and which bears the brunt of systemic racism.
Velma Morgan, chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, says progress has been slow.
“I think especially for Nova Scotia, having only one Black MLA is definitely not enough.”
There are new efforts underway. For the first time, Elections Nova Scotia has hired an outreach officer to increase political participation in African-Nova Scotian communities like North Preston.
The officer, Miranda Cain, helped coordinate the successful “Peace Basketball Tournament,” which was created in response to a series of shootings in 2016 that left seven African-Nova Scotian men dead, in the Halifax area.
Cain says she’s intent on helping boost participation.
“Voting is very important, and the African-Nova Scotian community, particularly, we don’t really pay much attention to that, because we don’t see much representation from ourselves in the election process.”
Operation Black Vote says there are 11 Black candidates in the Nova Scotia election, from an expected overall total of almost 200 candidates. The deadline for nominations is July 28.
In the provincial riding that includes North Preston, all three parties have nominated Black candidates.
But, efforts to promote participation are still undermined, by racial controversy. An advocacy group called the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition says provincial Liberal candidate Angela Simmonds, who’s a lawyer, is filing an official complaint against the RCMP.
Simmonds and her husband, Dean, a police officer, say they feared for their lives this month after they were pulled over at gunpoint by RCMP.
Adams says such incidents, commonly referred to as “driving while Black,” make it more difficult for white-run institutions, like policing and politics, to earn trust in black communities.
“It’s a major setback. You know, you victimize the victim before you identify the victim. I’m sure if there was any identification done, they would have known who they were stopping.”
Morgan says the incident could also provide an opportunity.
“This is why it’s important to have somebody like her at the decision-making table, because she can talk about her lived experience of driving in Nova Scotia and being pulled over by the police and the experience that she had.”
The RCMP defends its officers, saying the couple’s car matched the description of a suspect in a shooting incident.
Federally, progress is also sluggish. More than a half-century after Lincoln Alexander became the first Black member of Parliament, in 1968, Operation Black Vote says there are seven black MPs in the 338-seat House of Commons.
“We seem to not be building, but replacing Black and Black-elected officials. And that’s something that we want to change.”
In Nova Scotia, and across Canada, advocates say that change is happening more slowly, than surely.