In August 2014, I was invited to deliver prepared remarks at the Black Canadian Mayoral Forum at the Novotel Toronto North York. Several candidates for mayor came to be seen and heard by members of the Black community, and I was prepared to share my observations about community participation and representation in the political process. Unfortunately, the event was poorly run and heinously off-schedule. So, I was unceremoniously cut from the program by the frazzled organizers as I sat in the front row just minutes from delivering my speech.
The Black representation on the forum’s panel of guests had all the good intentions in the world but no realistic chance of being elected. I knew this when I wrote my speech beforehand, which caused me to wonder when this country would produce truly viable candidates that can be elected to the highest offices in the land at all three levels of government.
On September 20, 2021, there will be a Black leader of a national party in a federal election for the first time. However, the Black representation on offer for parliamentary leadership has all the good intentions in the world but no realistic chance of being elected – either as a member of parliament or as the prime minister.
It is for this reason that I have chosen to share the text of that undelivered speech, with a few minor modifications, to apply it to the current federal election campaign. They are just as applicable today as they were seven years ago. I am hopeful that we can eventually progress to the point that Black voices are not just heard at the highest levels but are mandated with setting the tone and direction at the heart of our political life. I ask you to reflect on the following comments and ask yourself:
How far have we as a community progressed as an electoral force, and how much further do we still have to go?
When we speak of politics, we often hear them described using war or sports analogies. Politics is a blood sport. Participants battle with no holds barred. They get down in the political trenches and attempt to blitz each other during the war of attrition we call campaigns.
There is one undeniable truth in all this talk of battle, fighting and war – In order for any of those analogies to make sense one must be participating directly. It’s impossible to be blitzed by an effective ad campaign, for example, if your name is not on the ballot.
The United States in 2008 did what no one thought would happen in this lifetime – elect a Black president. When does anyone believe we will elect a Black prime minister? Premier? Party politics may not produce an electorally viable Black leader for decades provincially or federally.
The politicians you will see here tonight are doing something critical to our future – they are personal participants as political candidates. They are seeking support by not just pointing out what is wrong but by advancing ideas they feel offer the best solutions for the future. One can agree or disagree, and part of why we’re here is to be witness to the clash of ideas so we can see which perspective best aligns with our own. It’s our system at its best.
Politics is much more like war than it is like sports.
Sports fans may care passionately about the successes or failures of their favourite teams, but championships or first-round exits do not determine the price of milk. They are pastimes – important for the soul but not foundational to the shape of society.
War creates winners who earn the right to shape policy and political structures while the losers are forced to live with the decisions others make on their behalf. War is, like sports, rooted in conflict. But who wins a war DOES have an impact on the price of milk. Or the rate of taxation on development. Or the cost of riding on public transit.
I say to the Black community that we do not have the luxury of allowing others to shape policy and political structures on our behalf without diligently working to improve our community’s lot and forcefully declaring our intentions at every point of access to the process. The current state of affairs is biased against us in many cases, flat out racist in others, and beyond our scope to directly influence and shape in all cases where we do not directly participate.
We do not inherit our world from our ancestors. No – we borrow it from our children.
Disengagement is not an option for anyone who believes in this principle. I believe in it. That is why I am here today, and I hope that is what has drawn you here as well.
It’s not as though we do not have a strong history of Black political leadership at the municipal level. An example: In February 2014, when Toronto city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong floated the idea of renaming Union Station in honour of Sir John A. Macdonald, I responded poetically on my weekly CBC Radio One segment that perhaps we should consider naming it Hubbard Station instead, in honour of the father, William, a former city alderman and the son, Frederick, a former chair of the TTC. We have been part of the political shaping of this city and others like it across the country. It is now when we must press forward once again to assert our collective voice with mature and assured confidence.
We must work to elect more diverse voices, but electoral politics is but one access point to democracy. We have another lever, the franchise, which we can and must exercise on September 20 and every trip back to the polls thereafter. Let us seize the opportunity to hold current leadership accountable for the choices of the past and demand candidates for future leadership to convince us of the best ways forward for all citizens at all levels of government.
For the sake of our children, we must make decisions today that result in the Canada we want to leave for them. Let’s do what we can in the weeks, months, and years to come to ensure not just our voices but also our ideas and passions are planted firmly in the political processes of our country. Pay close attention to see who can carry our views forward from the group we witness on the campaign trail and identify those among us who will loudly and passionately fight for what we believe to be right once new people are elected this fall.
It’s our country. It’s time we lead it.