Black Conservatives seek to mobilize more support in wake of Leslyn Lewis’ success

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Black Conservatives energized by the rising star of Leslyn Lewis hope to use her unexpectedly robust leadership bid to bolster Black representation in the party’s ranks.

The relaunch of one formal group of Black Conservatives and the ramped-up efforts of another come as the Conservative Party of Canada faces pressure to more firmly denounce those within its ranks who display, or even appear to display, extreme right-wing positions similar to those on full and deadly view during the riots in Washington, D.C.

Party leader Erin O’Toole’s promise to get more “Canadians to see a Conservative when they look in the mirror” requires acknowledging the party falters when talking about race, said Akolisa Ufodike, the national chair of the Association of Black Conservatives, a group that formed last year.

“High level, he’s saying that we need to be seen as a more inclusive party so how does he get there without confronting the issue?” he said.

Ufodike said one reason his group formed is to highlight what he sees as a long and proud history of inclusivity by the movement, which he said is a message some within the Black community might be more open to hearing when it comes from Black Conservatives themselves.

The group ignited a firestorm during the leadership race last year, when Lewis was making history by becoming the first Black woman to run for leadership of the party.

Despite entering as a relative unknown, she saw her campaign steadily increase in support thanks in no small part to the throngs of social conservatives attracted to her positions on topics they hold dear.

But her candidacy also suggested to many the party wasn’t entirely the bastion of what former prime minister Stephen Harper once infamously referred to as “old stock Canadians.”

The association, however, endorsed O’Toole instead of Lewis. That led to Lewis publicly slamming the group, a heated conversation between her campaign and O’Toole’s campaign and a decision by his team to decline the endorsement.

Ufodike said to have endorsed Lewis solely because she was Black would be reducing the issue to identity politics.

“We look more at how their policies, their readiness and ability to lead can best serve Canadians, including marginalized communities such as the Black community,” he said.

Lewis ultimately finished third in the race, though in certain regions of the country she had more support at one point than either O’Toole or party stalwart Peter MacKay.

Among her efforts to remain in political life, which includes running in the next election in a safe Ontario seat, was work to revive a group she helped form in 2009: the Conservative Black Congress.

Its chair, Tunde Obasan, denied the group was set up solely in response to leadership race politics.

“Our main focus is to support candidates, even if they are not front-runners,” he said.

” … The more we do that, and the more we get candidates who are from the Black community, the more people who are not currently fine with the party, the more they begin to see the party as for everyone.”

At its formal relaunch Jan. 24, the group plans to unveil a parliamentary internship program named after retired senator Donald Oliver, the first Black Canadian man appointed to the Senate.

The Association of Black Conservatives, meanwhile, has been busy setting up provincial chapters to also support community and civic participation at the local levels.

It is not uncommon, both groups said, to find themselves forced to answer for the Conservatives’ past perceived sins and its more contemporary ones.

Among them, the “barbaric cultural practices” tip line the Harper Conservatives proposed in the 2015 election campaign, O’Toole’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism during the leadership race, and those who leap at any chance to infer the same vein of intolerance running through the U.S. Republicans also runs through Canadian conservatives.

Recently, O’Toole’s office engaged with right-wing organization Rebel Media, sending answers via email in O’Toole’s name. Many Conservatives cut ties with the organization several years ago after inflammatory and derogatory comments by its staff.

Among its more recent reporting has been the repetition of the discredited claims the U.S. election was stolen from the Republicans, claims that led to the deadly riots in D.C.

O’Toole’s office said this week he won’t speak to Rebel Media in the future.

The strength of the party’s right wing is likely to become evident at the upcoming March policy convention. Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who finished the leadership race in fourth place, was actively encouraging his own social conservative supporters to turn out in large force to have a role in the debate.

For now, neither Black organization has committed to getting formally involved at the convention, despite it being a potential avenue to influence policy decisions or the nuts and bolts of the party’s operations.

Both groups said they are looking for direct and clear leadership from O’Toole on putting his promise of making the party more inclusive into practice.

“What I would like to see him do is to be deliberate about it, on how to support more participation from the racialized community, not only in the Black community, from the entire racialized community,” said Obasan.

“That will go a long way.”

Source: Black Conservatives seek to mobilize more support in wake of Leslyn Lewis’ success

Conservative Party can lead on anti-racism policy—a blueprint

Apart from some of the usual partisan sniping regarding other parties (undermines their arguments), some useful and practical policy suggestions:

It can be argued that two topics leading discussions in 2020 are COVID-19 and racism, particularly anti-Black racism. While these discussions around anti-Black racism have been loudest in the U.S, Canada has not escaped the calls to address the systemic issues that exist here.

In a recent interview with the Globe and Mail, former prime minister Brian Mulroney discussed the need for Canadian political leaders to rethink current practices to address the economic damage of COVID-19 and the prevalence of systemic racism, especially Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people. His recommendations prioritize strong economic and social policies including a dramatic increase in immigration.

It is unfortunate conservative values do not first come to mind when reflecting upon best practices to address systemic racism.

The Association of Black Conservatives believe that a Conservative Party anti-racism framework which includes bold economic and social policies is achievable. In order to address systemic racism, we must discuss the Conservative Party’s policies on immigration, the economy, education, cultural outreach and data collection.

The Conservative Party can no longer afford to have its immigration policies defined by opponents who are able to paint an inaccurate picture of the party’s stance on immigration. While the Harper era increased the length of time required to become a Canadian citizen, Jason Kenney, Canada’s longest serving immigration minister, welcomed the highest number of permanent residents under any minister.

Increasingly, immigrants have come to Canada as skilled economic migrants. In developing an immigration policy, the Conservative Party should look at legislation which does away with employers’ ability to request “Canadian experience” as this discriminates against immigrants. We have heard first-hand stories from newcomers facing difficulties gaining professional employment due to the Canadian experience requirement, and would encourage collecting more formal data on this.

In addition, there must be a discussion on Foreign Credential Recognition (FCR) for newcomers. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that $17 billion could be generated in the Canadian economy if newcomers could work in their respective fields of interest and/or study. Easing these systemic barriers will have positive results for Canada. Various provinces have taken steps to address this.

Most recently, Alberta passed Bill 11, the Fair Registration Practices Act, which will not only speed up the process for getting credentials recognized, but also ensure registration practices are transparent, objective and fair. Policies like this should be replicated at the national level.

Left-leaning parties respond to what they perceive as the core concerns(immigration and social issues) of visible minority communities with symbolism.

This is illustrated by Alberta NDP MLA David Shepherd when he was asked about what initiatives the Alberta NDP undertook to address police carding. He responded by acknowledging they did not take the necessary steps to address carding however, they “worked to empower these communities and to lift them up, to include them in the $25-a-day daycare, to make sure they had the opportunity to access grants, to make sure that they had the opportunity to sit with us and tell us what they needed”.

In response to the anti-racism protests of 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bowed a knee but offered no substantive actions to address the issues. This is in contrast to Alberta, where Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer committed to speed up the review and modernization of the Police Act and address the lingering issues of systemic racism, such as carding.

In reality, racialized communities are just as concerned with economic issues as other Canadians. The backbone of the Black and other visible minority communities in Canada is small business especially in industries like professional, retail and food services. As such, the Conservative Party needs to contemplate small business funding programs that target visible minority communities.

Education is an important topic for all Canadians. About one-third of the population lives with children at home, this is the same for minority groups. A 2016 Statistics Canada survey on education and labour market integration of Black youth in Canada found that among Black youth aged 15 to 25, 94 per cent of them wanted to achieve higher education, but their optimism about what they were expected to achieve dropped to 60 per cent. Contributing factors include socioeconomic status (21 per cent of Black adults are low-income compared to 12 per cent of the rest of the population), lack of representation of Black teachers, and negative attitudes and perceptions of Black students.

For example, in Ontario, this has led to students being discouraged and streamed into “applied” fields when they could easily excel in the “academic” streams. This practice of streaming has heavily disadvantaged Black students. The Conservative government of Ontario recently announced it would end this systemic discriminatory practice. Decisions of this nature will go a long way in opening opportunities for minority communities. In addition, we should look at developing matching grants and scholarships to further reduce barriers and provide greater access to continued education for racialized students.

Representation matters. We can no longer hide under the guise of “identity politics” or the idea that “targets are quotas” and hence, bad. The Conservative Party needs a meaningful and deliberate policy on multiculturalism. The Association of Black Conservatives is one such effort towards encouraging multiculturalism and ethnic outreach; this is a model that should be welcomed and replicated within other minority communities by the party.

The party needs to actively commit to targets to achieve equity, diversity and inclusion starting with party membership, party staff, candidates, political staff and board appointees. There is an argument that doing this means quotas, but this argument falsely assumes that qualified or competent visible minorities candidates do not exist. Not only is this false, but multiple studies, such as a 2020 study by Zuhra Abawi and Ardavan Eizadaridad of Niagara University and Wilfred Laurier University, respectively, have shown that there is a range of biases in hiring practices for racialized candidates, including being far less likely to be called for an interview, compared to their non-visible minority counterparts who have equivalent qualifications and experience. The party needs to adopt policies that are intentional about diversity.

Lastly, Conservatives value evidence-based decision making. Therefore, let’s advocate for better data to inform our policies. Data collection is an important step in being able to identify and address an issue.

Take COVID-19 for example. The Centers for Disease Control  noted “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19“. Currently, Canada has not collected race-based data for COVID-19, regardless of repeated calls to do so. We’ve recently learned, thanks to the data from the City of Toronto, that 83 per cent of COVID cases in the city are racialized people.

Most Canadians may know that Canadian immigration laws prior to 1962 included racial and other discriminatory provisions. However, most may not know that  it was John Diefenbaker, a Conservative prime minister, who introduced the Bill of Rights in 1960 and thereafter Order-in-Council PC 1962-86, which eliminated all racial discrimination from Canadian immigration laws and instead replaced it with the skilled-based points system which continues until this day.

Conservatives can continue to lead on the issue of anti-racism over the symbolism of left-leaning parties by instituting meaningful policies that empower communities.

Akolisa Ufodike is the chair of the National Council of the Association of Black Conservatives, and Susanna Ally is a board member. Louis Butt is a recent University of Toronto graduate in history and political science. 

Source: Conservative Party can lead on anti-racism policy—a blueprint