Black Canadian groups call on feds to address economic inequities facing community

Will be interesting to see what, if any, concrete initiatives emerge from this meeting. The Federation of Black Canadians was successful in securing funding for anti-racism programming:

A collective of Black Canadian groups is appealing to the prime minister to address the barriers that prevent the community from achieving economic parity with the rest of the country.

The Black Political Action Committee’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), Diversity Minister Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.), and Liberal MPs Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.) and Emmanuel Dubourg (Bourassa, Que.), on Feb. 3 is part of a long-running lobbying effort during Black History Month to engage the government and other Parliamentarians in its efforts to tackle anti-Black racism.

With this year’s effort focused on the theme of economic inclusion, the collective brought together several groups and individuals—including Arielle Kayabaga, the first Black city councillor in London, Ont., Dahabo Ahmed Omer of the Federation of Black Canadians, and Michael Forrest of the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce—engaged in this field.

Economic inclusion is “the basis for all other aspects of what inclusion might mean,” said Tiffany Gooch, a Liberal strategist and principal consultant at Aurora Strategy Group, who spearheaded the effort for Black organizations to meet with Parliamentarians in Ottawa, which is in its fourth year. This year marked the effort’s first sit-down as a group with the prime minister, according to Ms. Gooch.

Among their asks was a call to increase Black representation across government and other arm’s-length institutions and to level the playing field in competing for federal procurement contracts. “We want it to be closer to the representation of Black Canadians in population,” Ms. Gooch said. “There’s often a lot of stages involved and red tape, and not a very large understanding of the processes.”

One proposal floated by the collective was to change the points system for awarding tenders, giving firms with a diverse workforce more points.

Black Canadians account for more than 3.5 per cent of the population and 15.6 per cent of visible minorities, according to Statistics Canada. The agency projects that, by 2036, the community might represent between five and 5.6 per cent of Canada’s population.

Public Services and Procurement Canada does not currently have disaggregated data that breaks down the contracts “awarded to specific groups, outside of Indigenous companies,” according to a departmental spokesperson. But the spokesperson noted its Office of Small and Medium Enterprises “is increasing activities across the country to diversify the Canadian bidders and suppliers represented,” and will be on hand at the National Black Canadians Summit in Halifax in March, organized by the Michäelle Jean Foundation, to offer workshops on the procurement process.

Anecdotally, Ms. Ahmed Omer said her organization has observed that Black businesses tend to employ two to three people. “If we’re able to increase that, from two to three, to four to five, that micro change would allow for a macro impact,” she said.

“We got a lot of time with the prime minister. We asked for a response on some of the metrics we’re looking to track the success in the work they’re doing,” Ms. Kayabaga said. “It was more than a photo-op.”

In 2019, the government committed to spend $25-million over five years “for projects and capital assistance to celebrate, share knowledge, and build capacity” in Canada’s Black Canadian communities. The previous year it also recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, which wraps up in 2024.

Mr. Fergus pointed to the funding, and the creation of an anti-racism secretariat to oversee the culture in the federal public service, as an outgrowth of the Black Canadian community’s efforts to press the government to respond.

In explaining why he helped facilitate the meeting, Mr. Fergus said, he did not set out to become a standard bearer for the Black Canadian community in its push for equity when he was first elected in 2015. “But when you see this lack of representation, and you hear from communities, ‘Thank God you’ve made it,’ you feel a responsibility to try to open doors.”

Ms. Ahmed Omer said the task before the government now is to ensure programs and services established to help Black Canadians’ businesses scale up have adequate resources, noting that the UN decade, which Canada adopted, outlines a commitment to advancing economic equality.

‘Elephant in the room’ 

The meeting took place several months after news broke in the middle of the federal election campaign that Mr. Trudeau had worn blackface on more occasions than he could recall. While some members of the community believe Mr. Trudeau’s actions reflected a lack of education on racial issues, others argue that the prime minister should have resigned.

Though Mr. Trudeau’s history did not affect the tenor of the meeting, Ms. Gooch said, “it’s always going to be the elephant in the room.”

“The work they’re [Liberals] doing is going to need to speak for itself,” Ms. Gooch said. “Education is likely coming from all the conversations he’s going to be having across communities. The measure of him as a leader is how he grows from that.”

Though the committee does not purport to be fully representative of the Black community, the Federation of Black Canadians faced scrutiny a few years ago from other prominent Black activists, including journalist Desmond Cole, for being seen as cozy with the Liberals after news surfaced that the group was founded by a sitting judge, Ontario justice Donald McLeod, and counted the wife of then-immigration minister, Mr. Hussen, as its member. Both eventually left the group amid criticism.

“You can find a few well-connected Black people and get into a private meeting with them, where we don’t see what you talk about, where we don’t understand which Black people even informed the agenda,” said Desmond Cole in an interview with The Hill Times on the release of his book, The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, in which he dug into the history of the Federation of Black Canadians. “The Liberal Party is completely capable of finding their handpicked, elite class to meet behind closed doors.”

Asked whether such criticism that their ties posed conflicts of interest, Ms. Ahmed Omer said she wasn’t a member of the federation at the time, but that one’s political connections should not bar him or her from participating in “civic duties.”

“We are Black Canadians; we all have a stake in this,” Ms. Ahmed Omer said, adding that the committee’s engagement extended to opposition parties. “I would not agree with the idea that we were too cozy with the Liberals.”

Mr. Fergus dismissed the notion that an individual’s political affiliation bears weight in deciding who he meets with. “I don’t see the relevance of that,” he said. “I have no idea who has ties to the Liberals. This is ridiculous.”

But Ms. Gooch acknowledged that her connections to the Liberal Party didn’t hurt in helping arrange meetings with Parliamentarians.

“All of our communities, political operatives have some sort of political partisan ties. … I try as much as possible to encourage all of these groups to have partisan ties,” she said. “My longtime volunteer and work with the party’s apparatus definitely means I have few numbers to follow up on the logistical side. But across parties, we’ve had a very wide interest in engaging [with us].”

Source: Black Canadian groups call on feds to address economic inequities facing community

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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