Toronto teacher Velma Morgan has been busy leading up to election day, educating, encouraging and inspiring Black Canadians to participate in politics in an effort to ensure the issues her community is facing are addressed.
“We haven’t seen enough conversation or discussion about Black Canadians and how are we going to fare after the pandemic? What are they going to do to help us be better off than we were before the pandemic? she asked.
As chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, Morgan works with all political parties to increase the nominations of Black Canadian candidates in ridings.
“We truly believe that representation matters. We need to have our voices heard,” she said.
Morgan added there are a number of important issues for the Black community but the way policies are rolled out to address those issues is just as critical.
“No one is looking at public policy through an anti-Black racism lens to make sure that policies don’t inadvertently affect us when it’s rolled out,” she said.
“We need to have our lived experiences be brought into public policy just to make our lives better.”
Jean Augustine, Canada’s first Black female MP and the first Black woman in cabinet, said the need for proper representation in government is a message she shares.
“From 1993 with my election, there was an awareness that we need to be there, we cannot just be onlookers, we cannot just be people saying, ‘Well, let them do it, it’s for them,’ we have to see ourselves participating fully in all aspects of Canadian life,” she said.
This particular election, Augustine noted, is of critical importance.
“This time has shown us through COVID-19 who we are in Canadian society, the issues around diversity as brought up by the Black Lives Matter, the killing of George Floyd in the United States, the conversations around diversity and inclusion and the awareness that people have put up with a lot of nonsense over the years because we had not had the kind of representation that would bring our issues to the table,” she said.
Operation Black Vote Canada was established in 2004 as a nonprofit and multi-partisan organization supporting the election of Black Canadians to public office. It starts with youth and an initiative called, the 1834 Fellowship, named for the year that slavery was abolished in Canada.
Shemar Barnett said he had dreams of pursuing politics, but growing up in an underserved community made it difficult to know where to start. He was one of around 40 Black youth who completed the 1834 Fellowship last year.
“Growing up at Jane and Finch for two decades, you are probably positioned to think that politics is very far-fetched for you, so through undergoing the 1834 Fellowship … I had the opportunity to share space with political icons,” he said.
One such icon and mentor for Barnett was Shelburne, Ont. deputy mayor Steve Anderson.
“There’s a saying that representation matters and when you see it, you believe it,” said Anderson, adding “If you come together and you articulate a clear vision that Canadians could wrap their heads around and embrace, change will happen.”
Meanwhile, Morgan said she is already focused on the next election months away — the 43rd Ontario general election.
“We’re constantly in a different cycle. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Not only do we ramp up what we do in the election, but also in between elections we do training, we do workshops, we have resources, we have events just to keep our community engaged and keep our community informed,” she explained.
“We do really believe and I truly believe that representation matters, and that’s why I keep doing this work.”