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I love politics. I have been involved in many campaigns, including for Barack Obama’s unlikely presidential bid in 2008 as well as in Ottawa and Toronto over the years. I have actively participated in the Ontario electoral reform referendum of 2007. I know the power of politics and its potential for good. I have always valued the fact, in Canada, we can vote without fear nor a strange knock on our door.
How many countries can guarantee that right to their citizens? Not too many.
Every time I vote, even when our politics seem to be imperfect and broken at times, I have appreciated the power I have as a Canadian citizen. Politics excites me and keeps me awake at night. In all my efforts in it, nothing has excited me more than the efforts I put in helping elect the new MP from York South-Weston – Ahmed Hussen.
Hussen became the first Canadian-Somali to accomplish this milestone.
When I met Hussen on a cold November day last year, in front of City Hall and he asked me to help him win a Liberal nomination, I did not think he had a chance. I was not sure, I wanted to work on a Liberal campaign, since I was not a partisan Liberal and more so because, I felt he had chosen a tough riding to win. He had a stiff competition, including from a former City Councillor. I thought he would be better off in Scarborough, where successful minority candidates seemed to do well.
Wearing a lawyers robe, looking tall, elegant, and confident, he convinced me he could win it. I shook his hand and joined his campaign. On nomination day, I was surprised by the many people his team was able to sign up in such a short time frame and bring them out to actually vote. His supporters, were not the usual partisan Liberal cadres, but new immigrants, particularly Canadians with Somali background. In a diverse riding, with large Canadian-Somali population, his campaign used their numbers, as strength to champion their greatest advocate in him.
When he was declared the nominee, he would give an impressive and fulfilling speech. In a soft but reassuring voice, he would reflect on politics whose ideal is to be citizenship engagement and new leadership. Alternating in Somali and English, he would say, “We have waited for the future, while building on the past” and that “we have voted for a positive campaign, that emphasis unity, courtesy and respect for each other”.
For a year, he would knock on thousands of doors, hear pessimists who would tell him, the riding would never elect a black African as an MP and that he was a fringe candidate focused on ethnic issues. He could have given up but continued to campaign. There would be fliers linking him to scandals and wedge issues from the Ontario Liberals. His campaign consisted of young and old, refugees, immigrants, new citizens and “old stock Canadians”and those in between and everyone contributed.
He convinced many, of a better Canada that also gave him a footing in life, a second chance – from a refugee, to working in the Office of the Premier, to being a passionate advocate with the Canadian Somali Congress, to a successful legal career and now — as a Member of Parliament. The reason Ahmed ultimately won was not because of the Liberal wave alone, but because he worked hard, built a strong team and was an exceptional candidate.
Prime Minister, Joe Clark, was once asked, what stood out the most for him in his short-lived government. The fact he attempted to make his cabinet diverse, bringing the wonderful Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black Cabinet Minister and the son of a Jamaican maid, to cabinet stood out the most for him. As we invite the world to be our citizens and neighbors, we will be a better society, if we become an accommodating society for all, even in our politics. We need to strive to be a society that understands how diversity and multiculturalism define us and make us better and rich citizens.
Rosemary Brown, a Jamaican-Canadian attempted to lead the NDP in 1975 but did not succeed. Jean Augustine, never moved far from the backbenches of the House of Commons. We can still count the black senators appointed in Canada since confederation, on one hand alone. It should not be.
As the new Prime Minister-elect, Justin Trudeau, fulfills a campaign promise of a gender balanced cabinet — I hope he would also fulfill the promise of cultural diversity among the executive members of his new government. He would be best served, by looking at Ahmed Hussen – a formidable, talented and hard working Canadian — up-close and using his talent in cabinet.
Not as a parliamentary secretary or a committee member, but as a cabinet minister. By appointing Hussen to cabinet, the new Prime Minister, can make a lasting impression on those the candidate welcomed to the political engagement process. I hope Hussen knows how proud I am of him and what his win meant to many of the people who contributed to his campaign.