On June 19, 2019, Multilingual International Research and Ethnic Media Services President Andrés Machalski and Vice President Silke Reichrath attended “Race and Politics,” a live event hosted by The Hill Times and CPAC at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
The discussion was chaired by Hill Times Managing Editor Charelle Evelyn and featured a panel with Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Indigenous Reconciliation Group CEO Rose LeMay and former Harper government senior adviser Alykhan Velshi. The event coincided with the US Emancipation Day on June 19 – an Act proclaiming Emancipation Day in Canada is still pending – and took place two days before Canada’s National Indigenous Day on June 21.
The event was sold out and packed with people from different cultural backgrounds who likely share an interest in the issue being discussed – as does the ethnic media we monitor.
Caesar-Chavannes and LeMay coincided in the view that Parliament should reflect the diversity of the people it represents so that the voices of all groups are heard and their interests represented. Currently, 15% of the House of Commons are visible minority, while 22% of the population are visible minority. 3% of the House of Commons are indigenous, while 5% of the population are indigenous. While LeMay considered this was not enough, Velshi pointed to a high degree of diversity overall in Parliament, including diversity of thought, and suggested that the political system can address the issue. Politicians win by representing the country as best they can, and all parties continuously renew themselves.
There was a clear demarcation between opinions that thought enough was enough when it came to diversity management in politics, and those who thought more was needed.
Caesar-Chavannes reported that she has been called the most racist MP because she calls out racism where she sees it. She advocates for all the disenfranchised, and people are fine with her speaking of mental health issues, but not of Black issues. There is no Black deputy minister or assistant deputy minister, and highly qualified Black applicants cannot get managerial jobs in the Canadian government.
Velshi disagreed that the political system is racist and said he had never had difficulties motivated by racism in his career with the Conservative party. As a whole the system was good, and better than in most countries. In contrast, LeMay pointed out that Canada is built on colonialism and an Indian Act that still treats indigenous people as minors. Caesar-Chavannes said talking about systemic racism is not an indictment of the entire system, but talking about it is a way to improve the system.
Barriers to more minority representation include difficulties breaking into the right circles to be considered at nomination meetings and networking to know the right people. Financial barriers to running in an election can be significant. Members of minorities are sometimes perceived as just representing their group. Many have internal barriers to running when they see MPs have a rough ride. Indigenous people in particular have different ways of decision-making than the adversarial style in Parliament.
Velshi argued that the British system is inherently adversarial – “politics is a blood sport” – and it is not possible to insulate individual MPs from that. The discussion suddenly became focused on political behaviour, irrespective of race. LeMay argued that politics should not be a “blood sport;” politicians should not be allowed to act in ways that children would not be allowed. They should work for the people they serve. Caesar-Chavannes agreed that they should work together. LeMay also suggested that indigenous people had concepts in their governance models that Parliament could draw on, including sanctions for leaders who did not meet their goals.
Among the conclusions were the need for representatives from visible minorities to be authentic and raise awkward issues and for all representatives to learn from perspectives not their own. There is no point in diversity if the diverse representatives do not reflect the voices of their constituencies.
Oh, we almost forgot to answer the headline question: Was the event covered by any of the close to forty Ottawa-based media – the print, web, radio and TV outlets in Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Somali and Ukrainian or serving Anglophone or Francophone communities like the Jewish, African, Caribbean, Haitian ones?
No, and if it was, it wasn’t picked up by our monitoring of these outlets. We hope the ethnic journalists were invited – the subject matter would have attracted them, and it would have been interesting to see what they had to say.
MIREMS is proud to contribute to the democratic process as a channel for voices from visible minority communities to allow for such learning and exchange to take place.