A new initiative aimed at supporting Black candidates running for municipal office in Alberta is taking place virtually on Saturday.
The municipal candidate workshop will be hosted by BlackCAN, formerly known as Black Voters Matter Canada, an organization focused on engaging, encouraging and empowering more Black people across Canada to be involved in government and politics.
“It’s important for Black Canadians looking to their leaders to see themselves,” said Mustafa Ali, one of the founders of BlackCAN.
“Having people who understand the Black experience in Canada really helps elevate the conversation around decision-making tables.”
Black people continue to be underrepresented in electoral politics. There are currently only a handful of Black federal members of parliament, two Black members of the Alberta legislative assembly, and no representation on Edmonton city council.
Ali said this underrepresentation is due to systemic racism and a perceived hostility of the political environment which can discourage Black people from choosing to run.
Petros Kusmu, a BlackCAN co-founder said he hopes the event Saturday will connect participants with the resources to run a successful campaign. It will feature panelists from across Alberta, including Black elected officials, and campaign strategists who have worked in Alberta politics.
“We’re ensuring that folks feel like they have the networks that they need to succeed,” Kusmu said.
“They can hear from other Black elected officials who’ve walked in their same footsteps to get any kind of lessons learned or insights. So that knowledge sharing, I think, is important right now as we start to see and get more Black folks engaged politically.”
The initiative comes at a time when there is a substantial number of Black candidates running for municipal office in Edmonton and Calgary, which Kusmu said is an encouraging sign. Of the 12 declared Black candidates across Alberta, nine will be participating in BlackCAN’s workshop.
“This is a really historic moment and we need to make sure that we don’t lose this opportunity to start to give Canadians a more diverse slate of candidates to pick from,” Kusmu said.
“At the end of the day, they benefit, too, from having a more diverse slate of candidates to choose from and getting the best of the best from all communities across the country.”
Zain Velji, a campaign strategist who worked on Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s 2017 campaign, will be one of the panelists on Saturday. He said multi-racial representation in politics is crucial to ensure a thriving democracy.
“The tides are changing where we need candidates that have a diversity of lived experience, a diversity of socio-economic background, education, cultural context and connectivity, minority group association,” said Velji.
“We need folks to share that lived experience, to not just cover off blind spots in our politics that others may not see, but to champion things that others may not feel like are priorities.”