The Black and Immigrant Women Network, Ashanti Leadership & PDS, in partnership with Halifax Central Library, hosted and event to hear and learn from the Women Who Ran for Public Office, in October 2016. For many of us as Black, Brown, Women of Colour, and Native Women, it has been a long time coming. At least for Women of African Descent, there has never been a woman councillor on the Halifax Regional Municipality who speaks to our issues or represent our points of view. Daurene Lewis, deceased in 2013, was the first black female to run for public office in Nova Scotia. She was also the first Black female mayor in Canada, and mayor of Annapolis Royal in 1984, Nova Scotia.
Yvonne Atwell, former Member of the Municipal Legislative Assembly (MLA), in 1996 ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party. She won a seat in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 1998, for the riding of Preston, becoming the first black woman MLA in the province. She lost her seat in the 1999 provincial election.
It took another 17 years before three women of African descent ran for councillor, Iona Stoddard, Shelley Fashan and Virginia Hinch. Melinda Daye, Suzie Hanson, Tamara Powell and Glenda Talbot-Richards, ran for the seats on the various School Board Districts. Susie Hanson and Glenda Talbot-Richards were voted in to represent their School Boards. These women who participation in the election is most definitely historic, unprecedented and must be recorded as such.
Also, present at our meeting was Rana Zaman, the first Pakistani Muslim women to be nominated to the NDP Clayton Park West Riding to run in the coming elections. The meeting offered the opportunity for our women to debrief together. Sharing their individual and collective experiences. They each spoke passionately about why they ran.
Melinda Daye told us this was the second time she had ran for the African Nova Scotian Seat on the School Board. As well as the first time she ran for the MLA seat in the Needham riding in Halifax. Melinda share with us how she was well received by the diverse groups of people of all races who were cheering her on including her family. Melinda also mentioned that the experiences gained from working with all levels of government at the Halifax Regional School Board cannot be understated. She spoke of her determination and enthusiasm to see improvements in her community, wanting to represent the children and be a voice at various levels for marginalised people, especially children. Melinda did not win but she spoke candidly about healing, getting passed those feelings and moving forward.
Iona Stoddard is Canadian by birth and has lived in Nova Scotia for 39 years. She joked about when she returns to her family in Toronto that she is an outsider. Iona lives in District 12. She initially did not think of herself but instead had encouraged her husband, John, to seek election after seeing five white males has put themselves forward. She felt John was experienced because he has narrowly lost in 2008, their District. However, he then said to Iona, "Why don't you run, if I put myself in that be would be six white guys." And the rest is history. Iona said, she came to the table a little late but the platform on which she ran was changed. She wanted to see a real representation of all the communities in their riding. Iona is proud of her small team, no money, and very little local funding from the community.
Iona said she has no regrets. Starting late was a big lesson, coming third, taught her about her strengths, and confidence. She held her own in the debates and stuck to her platform of wanting those who live in the riding to be the leaders and not outsiders. They were many challenges and some skulduggery but people welcomed her on their doorsteps, even those who would not to vote for her.
Rana Zaman, lives in the Dartmouth area and came to Canada when she was aged six. She is a Pakistani Muslim. Rana is well known in her community. Since 2000, she has been a committed volunteer in various organizations such as the Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia, the Islamic community and associations and many other organizations in Halifax. She is a local hero to many in her community.
Rana's platform is about food safety and food security issues. This is a concern for her constituents. She wants to ensure that no one is left behind. Her passion and commitment caught the attention of others and her party members. Rana believes the core values which she was raised are similar to those of others she was raised with. She was shocked by how far the previous government had moved from those beliefs systems. Rana wants to see more open communication and connection with all levels of government, being accountable, create a sense of belonging to help each other. Rana is a proud Canadian, she said, "Canada gave me safety and opportunity."
Shelley Fashan is of African Nova Scotian descent. Shelley told us that she come from a long line of politically active family who fought for social justice and equality. Shelley is an activist in the feminist, human rights movement. Shelley's platform was based on the perspective that her community members are being held back, and as she looked around she could not see anyone who represented and spoke about their needs. In the past, the Black Vote has assured for some politicians but not anymore because we are putting ourselves forward. Many people thought that Shelley was running on the platform of African Nova Scotia but she had to make it clear that in her Riding in District 2, started at the community boundary between Westphal and Lawrencetown, the African Nova Scotian voters are very small in comparison because the district continues along the Eastern Shore to HRM's furthest and most easterly boundary with Guysborough County. Shelley said she went deep into those areas where there were no people of colour. However, she was amazed how she was received. Although there were some awkward moments, she was not deterred. Like others, Shelley said she learnt about her own capacity, self-confidence, and being empowered. She wants to build on her experience and will continue to build on her contacts. Finance wise, Shelley said people gave her money, and credits her son who designed her artwork. That was a major part of her success. Would she run again, absolutely!
Virginia Hinch would say she was born in the North End district of Halifax and her roots are deep. In 2014, in the Business Cohort for Women Leadership class, I was privileged to conduct when Virginia announced then that it was her intentions to run for office because she wanted to make a difference for the people in her community. At the time Virginia laid out the many challenges her community faced. She felt disheartened with what was happening in her community. Virginia took herself off to Campaign School for Women, she also credited the BCWL course which helped to build her confidence. The lack of diversity in council meetings, lack of affordable housing, issues of health and welfare in her community is quite unacceptable. On January 1st, 2016, Virginia was ready. She made her announcement, she was determined to be the first black women in her community to hold office and more!!
When Jennifer Watts stepped down, this was her opportunity but then Lindell Smith, a young black man, who had helped to raise, and he was like a son to her, decided to run for office. Virginia knew that she would not be the one to stand in his way. She in her own words said, "how could I deny this amazing young man, not to be limited by the colour of his skin?" She respected his values and therefore made "the mum decision not to run." Virginia had the conversation with herself first and then with Lindell. Although it was a difficult decision, there was no doubt in Virginia's mind that standing aside and putting her weight behind Lindell's campaign was immeasurable. She believes her turn will come.
Gabriel Enxuga (using gender neutral language), the first transgender candidate to run in HRM, joined us at the event and was part of the conversation. Gabriel spoke about their perspectives as are seen by the Transgender community and not recognized. The challenges faced by their community was for the first time acknowledged and represented. Gabriel believed that this was their first thrust at the political arena and youth is very much on their side. The campaign was an opportunity to get the issues across for transgender people. They are a collective resource.
During the open conversation, our women spoke openly about their greatest challenges such as funding, as women of colour, they were not being taken seriously. They had experienced intimidation and attempted bullying from some male candidates.
Asked about their vision for 2020, unequivocally, they will run again because they want to see improvements and better representation for their community. The voice of women of colour have been absent for too long.
We also wish to thank Dr Mayann Francis for her wisdom and guidance she graciously offered to us which was well received.
We thank Amanda Morris from the Halifax Central Library and the men who turned out to support us. It definitely cemented a strong bond between the women who ran. There will be more as we prepare for 2020.