Politicking while Black has its pains and rewards


By Lincoln DePradine

Suzy Hansen

Suzy Hansen, an African-Canadian Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Nova Scotia, has faced her share of racism as a Black person and politician. However, she emphasizes that anti-Black racism will not deter her in remaining actively involved in politics.

“I will definitely run again,’’ said Hansen, who was a part of a three-member panel that discussed “Politicking While Black: Increasing Representation in Canada’s Democracy’’.

The virtual event, jointly organized by Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC) and the Samara Centre for Democracy, was moderated by Denise Siele, a former Canadian Club of Ottawa president, who is a public affairs professional with experience in political affairs, public policy, media, tactical outreach and engagement.

Hansen was joined on the panel by former federal Member of Parliament Frank Baylis and by Stephen Wright, a former Peterborough City Councillor.

All three related the positives of serving as elected officials but also outlined some of the negatives, such as being on the receiving end of bigotry and racism, misogyny and micro-aggression. Sometimes, they said they were confronted with it in person and, at other times, they were the victims of attacks on social media.

Frank Baylis

Although someone may be upset about something, they ought not to “cross the line’’ into abusing a politician, said Baylis, who was elected in 2015 as MP for Pierrefonds—Dollard in Québec.

“You don’t take any abuse and that helped me a lot in the way I conducted business,’’ said Baylis, a businessman and son of a Barbadian mother.

Wright, who contested the Peterborough mayoral race in last year’s Ontario municipal elections, agreed with his colleagues on the panel on the need for Black involvement in the political process.

Potential candidates must “build a network’’, understand why they’re running and have “a real reason’’ why they’re in the race, said Wright, who was endorsed in the mayoral race by Diane Therrien.

Therrien served one term as Peterborough mayor but did not seek reelection last year. She was succeeded by Jeff Leal, who defeated Wright among other mayoral contenders.

“The role I can play is to ensure that the next generation is a force,’’ said Wright.

Stephen Wright

“Leg work’’ – such as knocking on doors – has a “huge impact’’ in an election campaign, said Baylis.

“You have to give up a lot of your time,’’ said Baylis, but he added that as an elected politician, it becomes “an honour to serve your country and community. Anybody who is thinking of running, I one hundred percent support you.’’

Hansen, first elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly for Halifax Needham in 2021, admitted that political campaigning involves “a lot of work’’ that becomes even more serious, once the election date is announced.

She advised that candidates must believe in themselves and ensure to have a “network of people’’ assisting and supporting them.

“Once we step up, a lot more change will happen,’’ said Hansen, who is the Nova Scotia NDP Caucus Chair.

The panel discussion was a “great way to end Black History Month 2023’’, remarked Velma Morgan, chair of OBVC whose objectives include “developing, promoting and supporting the participation of Black Canadians at all levels of the political system’’ and getting more Black Canadians “elected, appointed and connected to government’’.

The Samara Centre for Democracy, OBVC’s event-organizing partner, is a non-partisan charity that says it’s “committed to securing an accessible, responsive and inclusive democratic culture in Canada’’.