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Amy and Tafadzwa Matamba lead a song at a gathering near Duncan, called to confront racism in the Cowichan Valley. Jacqueline Ronson/The Discourse

Will candidates act to dismantle systemic racism in Canada?

We sent Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP candidates your election questions. Here’s what we heard.

What will federal candidates in Cowichan-Malahat-Langford do to lead a national conversation on systemic racism? That’s a question we at The Discourse Cowichan heard from you after we launched Set The Agenda. The project aims to put the people back in control of the election discourse. 

Each of the five days leading up to the election, we’re publishing answers to questions you sent. Today, the question is: Will you lead us through a national conversation on dismantling systemic racism, and what would be your first steps?

As of Oct. 16, The Discourse received answers from four of six candidates via email. Alana DeLong’s campaign manager, with the Conservative Party, referred us to Conservative.ca for all policy announcements. Rhonda Chen, with the People’s Party of Canada, has not responded to the requests. I’m rotating the candidates’ order in the responses each day. Here are the candidates responses. I’ve copied them directly from the emails they sent me.

Robin Stanbridge, Christian Heritage Party of Canada

Yes. I believe deeply that I may be uniquely gifted on this precise matter. Most of my friends have roots somewhere else, my children are ‘mixed’. As I am opposed to racism in principle, I am disgusted that aspersions of racism are being used to silence people’s opinions – even if they’re construed to be racist opinions – as you cannot correct a racist opinion unless it is voiced, and deliberately interpreting someone’s statement to be racist on account of their skin colour and that they don’t agree with you is itself, undeniably, racist. Our society can and will be torn apart if rational accommodation is not reintegrated into standards of discourse.

Lydia Hwitsum, Green Party of Canada

Yes, the Greens have a deep belief in social justice and ensuring the elimination of systemic racism is key to ensuring all Canadians are treated fairly and equitably. Among our commitments is the establishment of a model of collaborative federalism designed to promote a nation-wide conversation, leading to actions that protect all Canadian citizens. Canada’s constitutional division of powers between federal and provincial levels of government, together with the constitutional protection of Indigenous treaty rights and our adoption of the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both enable and constrain the federal government in setting national priorities. We need a mechanism that convenes all governments to discuss and decide upon issues of national importance.

In addition to spending eight years as Chief of Cowichan Tribes, Lydia has worked and advocated locally, nationally and internationally at the United Nations Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and at the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Lydia has in depth knowledge and experience strategically identifying and addressing social service and child and family service issues and solutions. Lydia is a citizen of the Cowichan Nation, which gives her a deep connection and understanding of the importance of indigenous nationhood.

Over Lydia’s career she has lead negotiations and been part of negotiating teams. Lydia has successfully leveraged partnerships and resources to meet strategic goals. Her methodology includes academic theory combined with First Nation knowledge and teachings. Lydia is a creative thinker and has a strong commitment to Indigenous rights.

A Green government will support the model of collaborative federalism, working with and ensuring fair treatment for provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous Peoples by establishing a Council of Canadian Governments to set higher order policy priorities, with the goal of policy coherence to optimize public spending. It would include the federal government, provincial/territorial governments, representatives of the local order of government with large city mayors and smaller and rural municipalities, and Indigenous (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) governments. This is similar to one in place in Australia.

Blair Herbert, Liberal Party of Canada

In response to this question, I believe actions speak louder than words.  Systemic racism can be reflected in disparities in employment, health care, education and housing, among others.  My goal, as MP, would be to view government investments in these files through the lens of equal and appropriate opportunity for all.  

Let’s take housing as an example.  In 2018, the Liberal government developed Canada’s first ever National Housing Strategy, moving forward with a 10-year, $40 billion plan aimed to:

  • Reduce chronic homelessness by 50%;
  • Remove more than 530,000 households out of housing need;
  • Create 100,000 new housing units; and 
  • Repair and renew more than 300,000 housing units.  

This Strategy doesn’t discriminate, it is designed by Canadians for Canadians in need of housing.  

Alistair MacGregor, New Democratic Party

As New Democrats, we recognize the inherent dignity of all people. We know that racism hurts deeply and diminishes the humanity of marginalized people. The impacts of hateful speech are real. In Canada today, racialized people are more likely to face systemic barriers to employment, while immigrants and racialized communities are the targets of divisive rhetoric that puts neighbours against each other.

We cannot stand by and allow racism to flourish in our communities. Anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate are too often allowed to flourish on the internet. A New Democrat government will convene a national working group to counter online hate and protect public safety, and make sure that social media platforms are responsible for removing hateful and extremist content before it can do harm.

A New Democrat government will also move immediately to ban carding by federal law enforcement, and work with local partners across Canada to end this practice in all jurisdictions across the country. This will include a review of the information obtained through carding that has been retained by police, and an examination of how that information has been shared between the RCMP and other police forces and government agencies.

To address the chronic overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians in the federal prison population, we will put in place a national task force to develop a roadmap to end this systemic injustice. 

Today, a university educated Canadian-born member of a racialized community earns, on average, only 87.4 cents for every dollar earned by their white peers, a gap that is even more pronounced for racialized women. 

A New Democrat government will conduct a comprehensive review of the existing employment equity regime to help close the racialized wage gap. New Democrats will strengthen labour laws and ensure diverse and equitable hiring within the federal public service, and in federally regulated industries. Jobs and training for underrepresented groups will be a core part of federal infrastructure plans.

Lastly, we will work with the provinces and territories to develop and enforce effective employment equity legislation, and to collect and analyze data on the racialization of poverty – because everyone should be able to build a good life with equal opportunity.

Together, we can have a future where racism, discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia have no place – and where your government treats people with the respect and dignity that we all deserve.

Further reading

  • Discussion of systemic racism is rare in party platforms and election discourse. However, leaders of the Green Party and NDP have both touched on the issue in response to reporter questions.
  • Earlier this year, the current Liberal government announced a federal anti-racism strategy. It has promised to double funding for that, if reelected. 
  • Platform comparisons by CBC News and Macleans may be useful tools to compare the parties’ promises on related issues, including Indigenous issues, immigration and refugees.

Set The Agenda is a collaborative journalism project between The Discourse, APTN and Hearken. A portion of the funding for this project comes from partners including Inspirit Foundation and the Facebook Journalism Project. Funding support of the project does not imply endorsement of or influence over the content produced.