B.C. Election 2020: Internal NDP diversity committee complains of ‘white leadership,’ asks for apology
The B.C. NDP says it’s working harder to address the concerns of people of colour within its campaign team after an internal diversity committee complained in a recent email about “white leadership” and a lack of racialized voices among party decision-makers.
“While we have done a lot of work to ensure diverse representation in the legislature through our slate of candidates, we still have much more work to do — specifically within our campaign staff and campaign leadership team,” NDP provincial director Heather Stoutenburg said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re working to assess and improve our hiring practices with a lens on diversity.”
The internal diversity feud was detailed in a long email sent Tuesday from the NDP’s IBPoC (Indigenous, Black, Persons of Colour) executive committee to its members, and a copy of the email was later provided to Postmedia News.
“I’m sure many of you are aware of the recent comments by the leader of our party regarding systemic racism, and how they have impacted not only the members of this committee, IBPoC staffers and candidates, but also IBPoC communities across B.C.,” the email starts.
The committee executives said they have also spoken with the party about a “need for IBPoC members in positions of power and inner circles, we are not just here for damage control.”
Although the email doesn’t define those ‘concerning comments’, they would include B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan’s gaffe during the leaders’ debate when he was asked about his own white privilege, and responded by saying he played lacrosse with people of diverse backgrounds and therefore “did not see colour.”The comment was immediately criticized for being insensitive, and he apologized the next day, saying he “deeply regret” the words he chose.
The email also mentioned NDP star Stikine candidate Nathan Cullen, who was forced to apologize this week for inappropriate comments he made about a Liberal candidate who is Haida.
The email complains the election has been “terrible” from the perspective of people of colour, and that some IBPoC members have left the party. The committee called for changes, including anti-white supremacy training and diversity/equity training for all party leadership, as well as commitments to address policies important to people of colour, such as banning street checks and protecting hotel-worker jobs.
The email says committee executives raised their concerns in an Oct. 14 phone call with Stoutenburg and that some action was promised, including a written apology from the campaign leadership team and a video apology from Horgan “addressing what he did wrong and how he plans to do better.”
Stoutenburg declined to be interviewed Wednesday, but in a statement said she is “grateful” to the equity committee for raising their concerns. She said the NDP will ensure its anti-racism values are reflected at all levels of the party and will continue with diversity training for political staff, which started in 2018.
Two members of the IBPoC committee executive, co-chair Savanna So Wai Pelech and treasurer Olivia Dixon, said they were too busy campaigning to be interviewed. But in a joint statement said the email was intended to let the membership know that their concerns had been addressed with NDP leadership.
“If we are to address systematic racism within our society we must be willing to have difficult conversations, and we’re grateful for the light this campaign has shed on this important issue and the conversations within the party that it’s spurred,” Pelech and Dixon said.
The committee will continue to work with the NDP “in our shared pursuit of racial justice,” they added.