Coming from Jamaica where most residents are politically active, community worker and trade unionist Herman Stewart couldn’t understand the disinterest shown by nationals from his country and other Blacks while campaigning for then New Democratic Party candidate Bob Rae in the York South by-election in November 1982.
“They were telling me they were not voting because this is White man politics and I had to keep reminding them that they pay White man taxes and they have a moral obligation to participate in the electoral process,” said Stewart, a former Jamaica Canadian Association (JCA) president.
Almost two decades later, Stewart is preaching the same message in an attempt to get Blacks to come out and vote in next week’s municipal elections.
“In my close to 40 years in this country, this is one of the most important elections,” he said. “Some of the mayoral candidates have been throwing out numbers that just don’t make any sense and making loose promises and pledges.
“Then there is one (Rob Ford) who is against bringing more immigrants to this country. If we want to show how important immigrants are, let’s ask all health care workers to stay away from their jobs for a day and I will bet that the system will come to a complete halt. We have made tremendous contributions in this city. We pay taxes like everybody and it’s vital that we ask the right questions, know where the candidates stand on issues that are of concern to us and then go out and vote on October 25.
“This election could mark a turning point in the city. We have to remember that we are at the bottom of the totem pole and if we vote for a candidate that seems bent on reduction and cutbacks, we should ask ourselves who are the people that will be most affected through job loss and social service cuts.”
Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC) president Delores Lawrence is also concerned about the absence of the Black vote at the polls.
The non-partisan organization was established six years ago to educate, motivate, promote and support Black Canadians to participate in, among other things, the political process.
The group has held several voter-information workshops leading up to the municipal elections.
“If you are a taxpayer, you should want to know who is making decisions, who is spending your money and how it’s being spent,” said Jamaican-born Lawrence, who was named one of Canada’s Top 100 women entrepreneurs this year. “It’s all about accountability and transparency and we want eligible voters to be knowledgeable about the process.”
Lawrence says the perception that Blacks don’t vote is false. She points out, however, that every Black vote is desperately needed to show politicians the community matters.
“Many of our people are too busy trying to make ends meet and they don’t take the time to get to know the politicians and be part of the process,” she said. “…We are a vulnerable community and we need to be involved.
“We are at the bottom of the barrel and we need to move our way up. We have to let the politicians know that we are a force and that we are here to stay. Most of us are citizens and not visitors and we should make that clear on Election Day with our vote.”