For the first time, Blacks are in the Manitoba legislature
October 5, 2019
Manitoba’s legislative assembly has a darker shade for the first time in its 149-year history.
Just 11 months after Markus Chambers became the first African-Canadian elected to Winnipeg’s city council, a trio of Black politicians, who were elected in the September 10 elections in which the Progressive Conservative (PC) party captured 36 of the 57 seats, took their places when the legislature reconvened on October 2.
Jamaican-born PC candidate Audrey Gordon won in Southdale while New Democratic Party (NDP) members Jamie Moses and Uzoma Asagwara were successful in St. Vital and Union Station respectively.
“This is very significant because a government that is for the people by the people and of the people should naturally reflect the population that it serves,” said Gordon who migrated at age five. “When we have a diverse government, we have a diversity of voices, opinions, perspectives and values. And so it leads to, I think, the development of better public policy. That is why what has taken place is vital for the Black community as a whole. Our voices, needs and concerns are going to be taken to the legislature in a more meaningful way.”
Gordon is one of six Black candidates that ran in the last election three years ago.
“What I picked up that I think helped me this time around to get over the hump is a deep understanding of how to carry out the community engagement part of the campaign,” the University of Manitoba graduate said. “Half of the riding is blue collar and working class and there’s a fairly big make-up of newcomers and single parent families. It is very similar to Fort Rouge (she lost to the NDP candidate there in 2016) in that way. The NDP competition, I thought, was their base of support. What I think I did really well in Fort Rouge that I brought to the race this time was my ability to engage at the grassroots with individuals of various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds on a very real life way.”
Choosing the PC party was easy for Gordon who entered the political arena nearly 15 years ago when retired Deputy Minister Tom Farrell asked her to be his assistant.
“I think that it is important that we are financially responsible, that we spend taxpayers money wisely, that we are not just living for today, but looking to the future and that we protect jobs and opportunities in this province for future generations,” said Gordon who was the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Director of Strategic Initiatives since January 2017. “I really felt that the NDP is doing generational theft which is stealing from future generations to pay for over-spending now. In my view, The Tories are more fiscally responsible and we are trying to ensure that this is a province that welcomes investment and realizes that small business is the backbone of the province and the engine that drives employment.
“I do believe we are doing the right thing in terms of transforming the various systems. I work in health care and I can see from on the inside that the transformation that’s occurring in health is making a difference and will be better for patient care in the long run. I have worked in the backroom of the Progressive Conservatives for years and my decision to run in 2016 was based on what I saw was happening with health care. I am a true blue PC in every shape and form because I do believe they are the party that can lead Manitoba to be the best province in Canada to live, work and raise a family.”
This was also the second election for Moses who turned the table on incumbent PC cabinet minister Colleen Mayer.
“What I brought away from the defeat in 2016 was how to be more effective in connecting with individual voters,” he said. “I learnt that you have to listen to constituents concerns and make sure that they grasp that you are the best candidate to represent them.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Moses spent time in North Kildonan before moving to St. Vital after tying the nuptial knot about a decade ago.
“The diversity of this neighbhourhood appealed to me and my wife,” said the father of two young children. “Having a young family and looking at what the future holds for them, I wanted to ensure I will be there for not only them but all families in this community.”
Moses, whose parents Garnet and Merle left Jamaica in the early 1970s, graduated from the University of Manitoba with an Agribusiness degree and worked with the Canadian Wheat Board for four years, the Investors Group for seven years and a software company.
He started volunteering with the NDP in 2011.
“The party’s plan for putting people first is what resonates with me,” said Moses who was a public representative on the Council for Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists in Manitoba and the president of the Open Access Resource Centre.
Having black representation in the Manitoba legislature, said Asagwara, is a huge step forward.
“It is long overdue and I am grateful to be part of this historic moment,” said the registered psychiatric nurse who was a finalist for the 2018 CBC Manitoba Future 40 Campaign.
Asagwara attended All Saints Anglican Church in Union Station and her parents – they are community organizers in the Nigerian and West African communities – held most of their events in the constituency.
“I have been very familiar with this area my entire life and it just so happened that I have studied, worked and did most of my community work in this community,” the first generation Canadian added.
Turning down a request to run in 2016 because she felt it wasn’t the right time, Asagwara jumped at the opportunity this year.
“Issues surrounding health care and access to resources and services for our community was at the top of my agenda,” she said. “I think I have a really unique understanding of specific issues that are amplified in Union Station. I felt it was the appropriate time for me to take this step. It is critically important for targetted and marginalized demographics to see themselves represented and reflected in all spaces and arenas.”
The NDP, which held political power for 17 years until 2016, won 18 seats which is four more than they had in the elections three years ago.
“The party aligns with my values,” said Asagwara who completed the joint Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing program offered by the University of Winnipeg and Brandon University. “It advocates and fights for families and it made sense for me, given that the NDP does actively work to include all voices at the decision-making table where communities are really affected. It’s a party I have always supported and it’s a party for someone like myself who is a Black nurse and a member of the LBGTQ community.”
Jamaica Canadian Association President Adaoma Patterson, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, is ecstatic that three African-Canadians representing diverse voices were elected to the legislature.
“Growing up, I didn’t see many people like me in positions of power,” said the Region of Peel Poverty Reduction & Community Engagement manager who was the Brampton West NDP candidate in the 2015 federal elections. “I hope that they will encourage young people to pursue policy positions and elected office and ensure that the voice of the Black community is included in decision-making.”