Black candidates in Manitoba election

Uzoma Asagwara, Donovan Martin, Audrey Gordon among black candidates seeking to be the first

by Ian Froese 

Aug 25, 2019

NDP Union Station candidate Uzoma Asagwara, right, canvasses along Furby Street in Winnipeg on a recent afternoon. She says it’s worth recognizing that a black MLA may finally be elected this year, but not worth celebrating. (Ian Froese/CBC)

It has taken nearly 150 years but it appears Manitoba voters are about to make history by finally electing a black Member of the Legislative Assembly.

And there are numerous candidates who could share the honour after voters go to the polls on Sept. 10. 

The Progressive Conservatives are running a longtime civil servant in Audrey Gordon, this time in a suburban riding she has a better shot at winning.

While the Manitoba New Democrats, which historically win core Winnipeg seats, have psychiatric nurse and activist Uzoma Asagwara carrying their banner in the new riding of Union Station. Jamie Moses will again face a tough fight to reclaim St. Vital for his party. 

Trail-blazers

Meanwhile, the Liberals have a hard-working candidate in Donovan Martin, who says he’s running on a few hours of sleep each night as he strives to win Notre Dame. 

Political scientists, and the parties themselves, are not aware of Manitoba ever having a black MLA, CBC News was told.

Whoever earns the right, Asagwara says it’s invaluable to have a legislature resemble the demographic makeup of society. 

“As somebody who grew up never seeing not a single politician involved with Manitoba politics look like me, it’s even more important to get involved and take this leap,” said the NDP candidate, a first-generation Canadian whose parents are Nigerian. 

When she was seeking her party’s nomination earlier this year, Asagwara, 34, drew attention to the breakthrough potential of her candidacy with the social media hashtag, #LetsMakeHistoryMB.

She emphasized it because many people didn’t realize that a black Manitoban has never been a MLA, and those who know about it, she says, weren’t talking about it. 

Not celebrate, but recognize

“It’s sad to me that in 2019 this is the conversation that we’re having,” Asagwara said.

“It’s not something I think to necessarily celebrate right now — that this could finally be happening. It’s just something to recognize that we need to move past.”

Liberal candidate Donovan Martin said there’s a groundswell of support for black candidates this election, with the Afro-Caribbean Association of Manitoba planning a fundraiser to raise money for candidates of any political stripe.

“They’re aware of the significance,” he said.

Manitoba Liberal candidate Donovan Martin said the black community is increasingly becoming engaged in politics, which will serve the community well in getting their issues addressed. (Ian Froese/CBC)

He explained many of the people who immigrated decades ago from Caribbean or African nations left political systems ripe with corruption and weren’t anxious to get involved politically in their new home.

Martin, who is running in Notre Dame, says newcomer communities were ultimately left out.

“Let’s be honest, if you’re a community and you’re very engaged in the voting, in the elections process, you’re more likely to have politicians come out and support your community.”

But he sees that changing in the number of candidates of diverse backgrounds running for office. Last year, he noted, Markus Chambers would become the first black person elected to Winnipeg city council. 

“I think if we start to see more people elected, people of colour at all levels, then I believe you’re going to have more engagement from the community.”

In southeast Winnipeg, Progressive Conservative candidate Audrey Gordon is on her second pair of shoes, hurriedly shifting from one door to the next as she makes her rounds knocking on doors in Southdale.

Gordon, who was born in Jamaica but mainly lived in Winnipeg, said she only found out this year that Manitoba’s never had a black MLA.

Progressive Conservative Southdale candidate Audrey Gordon sees the possibility of herself becoming the first black MLA in Manitoba’s history as a chance to inspire her sons and other young people to believe in their dreams. (Ian Froese/CBC)

“It took me a little aback because I said, ‘Oh well, I haven’t thought about that,'” said Gordon, director of the home care program at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and someone who previously ran for the Tories in 2016 in Fort Rouge.

When asked what she’d think of becoming the province’s first MLA of black origin, Gordon said the question would be better posed to her sons, who would have seen their mother accomplish what no other has.

“It’s about the little engine that could, right?” she said. “I think about it not just in terms of myself, but what it means for the community as a whole and for young people who have ambitions to enter politics.”

In addition to Gordon running for the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP and Liberals each have five black candidates seeking election.

The Green Party is not tracking the diversity of its candidates.

Source: CBC News

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