A Toronto consultant who specializes in anti-racism is hoping to become one of the handful of Black candidates across Toronto to make it to Parliament.
Hawa Yahia Mire is flying the NDP banner in the riding of York South — Weston, and is running against the Liberals’ Ahmed Hussen, who is the minister of families and social development, and, in 2015, became the first Canadian MP of Somali descent.
Mire has been closely observing the protests and threats of violence accompanying candidates of all parties on the campaign trail, especially those towards Justin Trudeau, who, on Monday, had rocks thrown at him by protestors.
While many candidates and even journalists face an increase in threats of violence, Mire wants candidates to keep in mind that Black, Indigenous, and people of colour are subjected to much of the same on a daily basis in Canada.
“We’ve seen the rise of organized hate groups across this country for a very long time. I don’t think our elected officials have taken that rise very seriously,” Mire said. “And now we’re seeing the consequences of what happens if you don’t take that hate seriously.”
While Mire says it’s unfortunate to experience this kind of behaviour while running for office, she added that racialized Canadians, particularly Black and Indigenous women, face similar forms of aggression on a regular basis.
“I really do want to emphasize the fact that what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is currently experiencing has been an experience that many communities in Canada have experienced their entire lives,” Mire said.
Mire believes our political system isn’t set up to encourage diverse candidates. Whether through financial backing or other resources, Mire compares the disadvantage to students preparing applications for grad school without having the resources required to be successfully admitted.
“The lesson for all of us,” Mire said, “is simply because something doesn’t happen to you, or you don’t experience it and maybe you’re not aware of the severity or the magnitude of it, to not ignore it.”
The NDP has already reached a historic milestone on the campaign trail, according to Equal Voice, with a majority of candidates identifying as women or gender diverse. Nearly 80 per cent of the NDP roster are equity-seeking identifying individuals; women, youth, racialized folks, people with disabilities, low-income, etc. Mire calls the milestone a significant achievement, but acknowledges there’s much more work to be done.
“In the midst of having conversations about a pandemic, we’ve been talking about systemic racism and talking about the challenges that racialized Canadians in particular are facing across the country,” Mire said.
Equal Voice noted the number of women and gender diverse candidates is only slightly above 2019 numbers, making up just 43 per cent of those running. The NDP lead at 52 per cent, while the Liberals trail at 43 per cent, and the Conservatives at just one-in-three candidates who don’t identify as men.
Along with her consulting business, Mire is also a critical writer, commentator, and columnist and regularly publishes her work in socially progressive news outlets across Canada.
“The fact that the NDP is taking strides to make sure that the candidates are reflected by the diversity of the Canadian experience tells us that we’re on track to continue this kind of momentum election to election,” Mire said.
Pandemic election is exclusionary, says Mire
York South – Weston’s vaccination rates are among the lowest in Ontario, and Mire worries the fourth wave will disproportionately impact racialized folks and people with disabilities.
“Frankly, I don’t believe we needed an election at this time. We’re seeing the consequences of that play out,” Mire said.
Mire worries about candidates from other parties who have been canvassing in poorly-ventilated apartment spaces, saying they have “no regard for the number of cases that tend to be popping up day-in and day-out.”
While Elections Canada has approved canvassing for apartments and condominiums, Mire said the NDP is currently avoiding apartment buildings when canvassing in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in what are often low-income, high density areas.
“It’s not very thoughtful, considerate, or careful to call an election at this time,” Mire said, calling the snap election irresponsible. “So many people who desperately need a different kind of progressive leadership will be challenged to get to the polls.” (In June, before the election was officially called but widely speculated to be happening this fall, Mire penned an op-ed for rabble.ca about the pitfalls of a pandemic election.)
In her view, a pandemic election is anti-democratic because it presents more barriers to voting for society’s most vulnerable.
For Mire, the pandemic highlighted a lack of investments in community and care. She hopes to bring more innovative approaches to Parliament Hill that will help serve constituents on a local level.
“Although we don’t often think about it in this way, elected officials are in service to the communities who elect them. They are actually working for the constituents of a particular riding,” Mire said.
Mire said too often, the federal government’s focus is on Ottawa. She wants to become a member of Parliament to bring more attention to what’s happening in her own backyard; the riding of York South — Weston.
She has spent half of her life as a constituent of this riding, even attending high school there and graduating with her Master’s degree in 2017 from the nearby York University in Environmental Studies.
Amid the late-summer heat and public health measures, Mire has been forced to get creative, finding innovative ways to reach people where they are. Her campaign has been holding outdoor events where parents can grab their children an ice cream cone and learn about Mire’s platform, for instance. Her team’s canvassing efforts have also included meeting constituents in front of grocery stores.
For Mire, the NDP is the only progressive banner to run under.
“I think the Liberal Party pitches itself as a progressive option, but time and time again has shown us they’re voting against really key motions,” Mire said. She noted the NDP have taken a leadership role – particularly over the last few years — on subjects like systemic racism, affordable housing, and support for families.
Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred stories.