A seat at the table: inside efforts to boost diversity, Black representation in federal candidate nominations

We will likely see the extent to which these efforts improve representation in the expected election later this year:

Achieving a representative House of Commons requires diversity among the candidates nominated for election, and since 2019, new efforts are being made both within political parties and beyond to increase diversity, including Black representation, in federal politics.

But new rules only go as far as a party has the will to take them, and Samara Centre for Democracy research manager Adelina Petit-Vouriot notes that between 2004 and 2015, only 17 per cent of all candidates were nominated through “clear contests.”

“I’m skeptical of whatever rules and procedures parties put in place for themselves, because, at the end of the day, they’re often not followed and it’s up to parties themselves to regulate their nomination rules,” said Ms. Petit-Vouriot. “There’s often many loopholes or rationales that they can use to appoint many candidates and to reduce the competitiveness and openness of their nomination contests.”

In 2019, based on a dataset compiled by Samara, The Hill Times, and McGill University’s Jerome Black, roughly 15.7 per cent of all candidates who ran for the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, the Bloc Québécois, and the People’s Party were from a visible minority group, compared to 12.9 per cent in 2015.

Looking specifically to Black representation, 49 candidates in 2019 identified as Black: 21 ran for the NDP, 11 for the Greens, seven for the Liberals, six for the People’s Party, and two each for the Conservatives and Bloc. In the end, five Black MPs were re-elected (all were incumbents), making up just 1.5 per cent of the House. (Liberal MP Marci Ien’s byelection win last year brings that to six MPs, or 1.7 per cent.) Based on the 2016 Census, Black Canadians make up 3.5 per cent of the population. 

Velma Morgan, chair of Operation Black Vote (OBV), noted many Black candidates in 2019 were incumbents, meaning parties largely “didn’t bring in new people,” and the number ultimately elected dropped. Overall, she gave parties a “C” grade for their efforts.

“It’s extremely important for the government to have different people, different voices—in particular Black Canadian voices—at decision-making tables, so when policies come out, it doesn’t adversely affect Black communities,” said Ms. Morgan, and for the opposition, diverse voices are key to holding the government accountable for issues affecting the Black community.

“We could do a lot better in ensuring that we have more Black candidates. There’s a lot of Black Canadians who are willing and able to run, and they just need to feel as if they’re welcomed and will be supported when they run.”

Diversity was a key plank in Green Party Leader Annamie Paul’s recent leadership campaign. When she took her party’s helm on Oct. 3, she became the first Black woman to lead a federal party in Canada.

“It was and remains a big commitment of mine to make sure that our party is truly diverse,” she told The Hill Times. While the party’s record on diversity historically has been “not great,” she said one of the reasons she believes she was elected leader was her background in working to increase diversity in politics.

After the 2019 election, the Greens launched an internal review of all party processes, including those related to candidate recruitment—an effort Ms. Paul brought her weight of experience to last October. Ms. Paul previously founded the Canadian Centre for Political Leadership, aimed at helping equity-seeking groups pursue public office, and in 2019 became a co-architect of OBV’s 1834 Fellowship Program, aimed at preparing Black youth for civic leadership. 

With its review, the party wanted to set the “gold standard in terms of best practices for diversity and inclusion,” said Ms. Paul, and that meant filtering “every single” party policy and process through a “diversity and inclusion lens,” to understand the “minutia” of the different barriers to inclusion. 

“You really have to look at it holistically. How are you reaching out to potential candidates? Which communities are you reaching out to? It’s even the small things: what is the wording of your nomination package?”

The process led to the creation of a Candidate Support Form requiring riding associations to provide detailed information on available resources to nomination candidates; longer nomination periods; a riding association guide on recruiting and retaining candidates and volunteers from equity-seeking groups, which associations must confirm they have received and reviewed; and a rule that nomination contests with only one candidate can only be closed if that candidate is from an equity-seeking group or unless the riding association is determined to have made all reasonable efforts, among other things. There is no application fee to run for nomination.

“You might look at something and not see on the face of it what it has to do with that, but, for instance, having a particular spending limit for pre-campaigning, that’s something that’s going to make a difference,” said Ms. Paul.

On. Feb. 5, the Greens launched a national candidate recruitment drive, “Time to Run,” which Ms. Paul described as the “marquee element” in its attempts to ensure candidate diversity, not just along racial and ethnic lines, but “socio-economic, regional, gender identity, work—we’re looking for a new kind of person to run.” 

“I’m really proud of the work that we did—I highly recommend it to every political party. We already feel the impact of that and definitely, we wanted to make sure it was reflected in our candidate recruitment for the next election,” said Ms. Paul.

Often, parties’ attempts to increase representation come in the form of diversity search committees for nomination races, said Ms. Petit-Vouriot, which “isn’t necessarily a solution in and of itself.” 

“There are larger issues at play than simply inviting candidates who are from underrepresented groups to involve themselves in politics,” she said. 

The probable circumstances of the next election are also likely to “reduce the possibility of newcomers getting involved,” said Ms. Petit-Vouriot, as snap elections often mean shorter nomination campaigns and more appointed candidates. COVID-19 has complicated fundraising efforts for political parties themselves and could “really hurt less established candidates, she said, “those who might not have those political connections, or the connections to finances.”

‘These things don’t happen by accident’: McGrath

The NDP—whose leader, Jagmeet Singh (Burnaby South, B.C.) became the first racialized federal leader in Canada in 2017—performed best among the federal parties in candidate diversity in 2019, with visible minority groups accounting for 22.8 per cent of its slate.

While NDP national director Anne McGrath touted the party’s record, she said as it works to nominate candidates, “we would like to do even better this time, and we’re working hard on it.” 

“It’s really a matter of being kind of dogged and persevering to make sure that equity and diversity are at the top of everybody’s agenda when we’re searching for candidates and organizing nominations,” she said.

Before a riding association can request a nomination meeting, NDP rules require at least one declared nomination candidate be from an equity-seeking group, and the party has an equity policy, with the stated goal of having at least 50 per cent of all federal candidates be women, trans, or non-binary individuals. The policy also sets a goal that women, trans, or non-binary individuals be candidates in at least 60 per cent of ridings deemed reasonably winnable, and a goal to have candidates who “reflect the diversity of Canada” in at least 30 per cent of reasonably winnable ridings, with “special attention” to be given to ensure “equity-seeking candidates” are nominated in ridings where an incumbent isn’t seeking re-election. 

A lot of the work to ensure diversity happens at the “grassroots level,” said Ms. McGrath, but “at the same time, we also at the leadership level do make approaches to candidates that we see kind of emerging, whether its in the African-Canadian community … in the BIPOC community.”

“These things don’t happen by accident. Unless you are really intentional and focused on making sure that you have a diverse slate that represents the makeup of the country, it’s not going to happen,” said Ms. McGrath.

A key ask in Operation Black Vote’s upcoming call to federal parties—a rehash of its 2019 asks, which Ms. Morgan noted weren’t achieved—is asking them to run Black candidates in winnable ridings.

“Just running a Black candidate isn’t enough for us, they need to run in ridings that the parties deem is winnable for them,” she said. Running Black candidates in ridings long held by another party is just “a check mark.” 

Among other calls related to ensuring Black representation among senior political staff and the public service, Ms. Morgan said OBV is asking parties to ensure Black candidates get support and mentorship, and “get nominated early enough so that they can actually engage in their riding.” 

Since 2019, the Liberal Party has expanded a rule in its nomination search criteria for unheld ridings that says no nomination meeting can be called until an electoral district association (EDA) demonstrates, with “documented evidence,” a “thorough search” for candidates who are underrepresented in the House, including candidates who are “women; Black, Indigenous, or people of colour; LGBTQ2; people with disabilities; and marginalized communities.” Previously, this rule only extended to women.

Braeden Caley, senior communications director for the Liberal Party, said the change is “absolutely” having an impact on current nomination efforts.

“That rule is one aspect of it, as well as a lot of work by field organizers, EDA chairs, local volunteers, to fulfill the recruitment of that search, to approach community leaders from all different backgrounds who reflect the demographics of their community, who reflect communities who are underrepresented in Parliament,” said Mr. Caley.

Of the 83 Liberal candidates nominated to run next election as of Feb. 5, Mr. Caley noted 43 are women and 22 do not identify as white; within that, three identify as Black (all incumbents) and three as Indigenous. 

In 2019, racialized people made up 18.9 per cent of the Liberal slate; overall, 2.1 per cent were Black and 5.3 per cent were Indigenous. So far, 26.5 per cent of candidates nominated are not white, and Black and Indigenous candidates each make up 3.6 per cent.

“There have been some incredibly important conversations about that [how to reduce barriers to increase diversity], not just since the last election, but over the last year in particular. A lot of it has to do with meeting the standard of this rule, but it’s not only this rule that will make that possible, it’s about a concerted effort by volunteers,” including bringing more diversity to the political process overall, from campaign managers to riding association boards, said Mr. Caley. 

Two years ago, he noted, the party launched a “Safe Campaigns” initiative, involving training for candidates and campaign teams “to ensure that everyone, regardless of their background … is able to participate in campaigns and the party in a way that feels safe to them and inclusive and welcoming at all times.” 

Asked about efforts to run diverse candidates in winnable ridings, Mr. Caley pointed to recent federal byelections—like Liberal MP Marci Ien’s 2020 win in Toronto Centre, Ont., and Trade Minister Mary Ng’s 2017 win in Markham-Thornhill, Ont.—as evidence of such efforts. 

The Conservative Party’s nomination rules make no mention of diversity or considerations for equity-seeking groups. Requirements to run for the Conservatives include a $1,000 “good conduct bond,” which is generally returned, an interview process, and 25 local signatures. (The Liberals’ application fee is a non-refundable $1,500; the NDP doesn’t have one.) 

Like the Liberals, the Conservatives protect incumbent MPs by acclaiming them if they meet certain criteria.

Ms. Petit-Vouriot noted that, with incumbents often protected, it means “safer seats go to those who have already ‘made it,’ and that can help preserve inequalities in representation under gender, ethnicity, Indigeneity lines.”

As of Feb. 3, the Conservatives had 150 candidates nominated. Cory Hann, communications director for the party, said a breakdown of candidate demographics could be provided after the full list is released (as of Feb. 8, the party had announced 54), but noted “Conservative supporters and staff have been asked to work their networks and encourage people from all backgrounds to get involved in our local campaigns, whether that’s as a candidate or campaigner.” 

“The candidates we’ve nominated so far all have varying backgrounds both professionally and personally, and we’re proud of that,” he said. 

New Conservative groups aims to boost representation

Outside the party, new efforts are being made to bring Black Canadians into the fold with the recent launch of the Conservative Black Congress of Canada—a spin-off group from the Canada Black Congress founded by former CPC leadership contender Leslyn Lewis in 2009. (Ms. Lewis, a co-founder of the new group, has been nominated to run in the longtime Conservative riding of Haldimand-Norfolk, Ont.)

National chair Tunde Obasan said the congress aims to educate Black Canadians on Conservative values and encourage them to join “the Conservative family across the country.” 

Mr. Obasan said he was involved in former leader Andrew Scheer’s (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) 2017 leadership campaign and Ms. Lewis’ 2020 bid, and “each time,” when he reached out to Black Canadians, the feedback he got was “not encouraging.” People would question why he was supporting the party, and tell him “you don’t belong there,” he said. 

“I went back with those feedback and actually looked deep … ‘do I actually belong to the Conservative Party? Or [do] I belong somewhere else?’ And I found that, in reality, I actually belong to the Conservative Party, because that is the only party that supports who I am, that supports my values as a person, right. And I know that all these, my values represent, it’s very similar to most immigrants, particularly Black Canadians,” said Mr. Obasan, who immigrated to Canada from Nigeria in 2012. 

Mr. Obasan said he then wondered why Black Canadians he spoke with instead turned to other parties, and to his view, “the only thing I found is this: there is not enough representation of them within the Conservative family, and based on that, they just believe that they don’t belong there.”

It’s something Mr. Obasan said his organization aims to change, by reaching out to grassroots organizations and encouraging Black Canadians to become party members and to run (though he said currently, efforts are focused on the former). From what he’s seen of nomination contests for the next election so far, he thinks representation among CPC candidates will “definitely be better than 2019,” for a number of reasons, including Ms. Lewis’ leadership run. Mr. Obasan noted he’s seeking the party’s nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona, Alta., a currently NDP-held riding where former CPC leadership candidate Rick Peterson is also running.

Asked if he’d like to see the Conservatives introduce nomination rules to try to ensure diversity, Mr. Obasan said it’s “not something we have considered at this time … we are not asking for special consideration.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) spoke at the congress’ Jan. 24 virtual launch, as did MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, among others. Roughly 300 people took part, said Mr. Obasan, and during the event, he raised the 2019 stats for Black candidates, and the fact the CPC only nominated two, “and I said that this is something that we want to change.”

“[Mr. O’Toole] was there from beginning to end … for him to stay the entire event, that means that he’s concerned about the community and he wants to hear our concerns,” said Mr. Obasan.

Ms. Morgan said since her organization launched in 2004, she thinks there’s “been some movement” in improving representation in federal politics, but that’s largely thanks to efforts by organizations like OBV and “a push from the community, than it is a push from political parties.” 

Source: A seat at the table: inside efforts to boost diversity, Black representation in federal candidate nominations

Rejection letter ESDC sent to Black organizations ‘completely unacceptable’: Hussen

Oops!

Several Black organizations were denied federal funding through a program designed to help such groups build capacity — after Employment and Social Development Canada told them their leadership was not sufficiently Black.

Velma Morgan, the chair of Operation Black Vote, said her group received an email from the department on Tuesday saying their application did not show “the organization is led and governed by people who self-identify as Black.”

The department sent a second email the next day, saying their applications were not approved because it did not receive “the information required to move forward,” she said.

“As if we’re incompetent or foolish and we’re going to believe the second email over the original email,” Morgan said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

She said Operation Black Vote, a not-for-profit, multi-partisan organization that aims to get more Black people elected at all levels of government, is one of at least five Black organizations that were not approved for funding.

The program, called the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, provides funding to Canadian Black-led non-profit and charitable organizations to help them build capacity. The applications guidelines say at least two-thirds of the leadership and the governance structure must be people who self-identify as Black. The mandate of the organization must also be focused on serving Black communities.

Morgan said everyone on her team is Black. She also said the other organizations she knows about should also not have been rejected for the reason outlined in the first letter.

“If you’re from the Black community, you know that they’re Black-run and Black-focused,” she said.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said the initial letter his department sent to unsuccessful applicants was “completely unacceptable” and that he demanded a retraction as soon as he saw it.

In a thread on Twitter Thursday night, Hussen said he discussed with his department’s officials how such a mistake could have happened and implemented measures to make sure it does not happen again.

“I will continue to work with Black Canadian organizations to improve our systems,” said Hussen, who also mentioned the systemic barriers he has faced as Black person.

The department has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Morgan said the Liberal government should hire more Black people to sit at every decision-making table.

“This is an example of what happens when we don’t have representation,” Morgan said.

The Ontario Black History Society, a registered charity dedicated to study, preservation and promotion of Black history and heritage, is one of the groups that received both letters and had its application rejected. In an emailed statement, the organization said ESDC did not provide any reasons for why they were declined outside the two letters.

Former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who left the Liberal caucus several months before the 2019 election to sit as an Independent, said many of the organizations she knows did not receive funding do not want to say anything publicly. She said they are worried speaking out will lead to the government denying them other funding chances.

“Why should these organizations be afraid of trying to speak up when something goes wrong?” said Caesar-Chavannes, who posted copies of the ESDC letters to Twitter after receiving them from the organizations that had received them.

“That’s the problem with how the government operates.”

Morgan said the letter also came after months of waiting, as her organization applied to get support to purchase equipment and retrofit its facilities in June. She said organizations were told they would get an answer in September but did not hear back until this week when they received the first letter.

“We hardly get any money from the government at all,” she said, while adding the rejection will not affect her group’s ability to operate.

“There are organizations that work with the most vulnerable in our community in terms of mental health or poverty, and those are the kinds of organizations that need the capacity funding.”

Caesar-Chavannes said that the number of organizations that contacted her has grown since she posted about the issue on Twitter.

“It’s dehumanizing that we have to keep proving (our Blackness.) How many different hurdles that we have to jump through?” she said.

Source: Rejection letter ESDC sent to Black organizations ‘completely unacceptable’: Hussen