Sophia Laababsi had a clear goal in mind when she decided to run for the municipal council of the Plateau district in Quebec: to carve out a place in municipal politics for people who generally do not see themselves represented at city hall. .
“I’m here to make sure people feel like they belong,” she said. “To make sure that if they have a voice they want to raise, they can do it – and feel comfortable doing it.”
Quebec candidate Forte et Fière, who arrived in Quebec City from Morocco 18 years ago, said she believes residents are disengaged from municipal politics because they have no connection with the candidates who usually run in the elections.
Various candidates are running in Quebec’s top five municipal parties this year, although it is not clear if this is a growing trend as the province only tracks the age and gender of municipal candidates. .
Democracy Quebec candidate Mbaï-Hadji Mbaïrewaye, who also ran for municipal councilor in 2017, says he thinks things have improved since the last election.
“There are more racialized people getting involved in politics and it is a good decision,” he said, adding that the main challenge now was to get people of color and Aboriginals to vote.
Mbaïrewaye was born in Chad but came to Quebec to study at Laval University in 2007. He said one of his priorities is to make the city a more inclusive space for people of color.
“One of my main motivations for running in politics is racial justice,” he said. “I am fighting for social justice but also for racial justice.”
Mbaïrewaye says he intends to work on combating hate crimes and racial profiling by police, and increasing representation on city council and the Quebec Chamber of Commerce.
What is the diversity of the main municipal parties?
Mbaïrewaye is one of the two black candidates running for Democracy Quebec, the other being Bertrand de Lépinay.
The Marie-Josée Savard team says it has two candidates who identify as a visible or religious minority, and two LGBTQ candidates.
Transition Quebec says it has two candidates from a visible minority and four LGBTQ candidates, including a non-binary one.
Laababsi is the only ethnically diverse candidate from Québec Forte et Fière. The party says it has an LGBTQ candidate.
Quebec 21 says it has a candidate from a visible minority, Stevens Mélançon, but none from the LGBT community. Mélançon refused Radio-Canada’s request for an interview.
Mbaïrewaye says that the presence of all these candidates is inspiring for young people of color who live in Quebec.
“Even though we are not elected, these young people are proud of us and we hope that they can follow our example in the years to come,” he said.
Visible minorities made up 6.4% of the city’s population in 2016, according to data from the most recent federal census.
The City of Lévis could have its very first black mayor
The municipal race in Lévis, Quebec, across the St. Lawrence River, also sees more racial diversity.
Elhadji Mamadou Diarra, head of Repensons Lévis, is running for mayor against outgoing President Gilles Lehouillier, who has held this post for nearly ten years. If Mamadou Diarra wins, he will be the very first black mayor of Lévis.
The father of two, who left Senegal for Quebec 26 years ago, says achieving this milestone is not the main priority of his campaign.
“It’s a pride yes, but I don’t take every opportunity to say ‘oh look, I’m the first black candidate’,” he said. “For me, what is important is to really serve the entire population of Lévis, no matter where they come from.
He says he campaigned on the promise to make municipal affairs more open and transparent.
And while he admits that some people he has met seem reluctant to his ideas because of his skin color, he says the vast majority of voters have been very receptive to him and his team.
“The people are very welcoming and generally supportive of us,” he said.
Fight against Islamophobia and racism
Like Mamadou Diarra, some candidates for Quebec have had to deal with racist incidents, such as the vandalism of their signs.
In particular, Boufeldja Benabdallah, candidate in the constituency of Cap-aux-Diamants for the Marie-Josée Savard Team, was the target of Islamophobic remarks made by the only candidate of the Citizen Alliance of Quebec, Alain Giasson.
Benabdallah, co-founder and former president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, said the comments showed him there was still a lot of work to be done to combat racism.
“I was really hurt that there are still people who don’t see me as a citizen, who just see me as a religion,” said the father of four, who has been in Quebec for 50 years. He says the city deserves better than a party that tries to divide its citizens.
“Why create animosity because this person is LGBT, this one is Muslim, this other is Jewish?” he said. “These communities have never created problems for the city.”
He says that cultural diversity is a great asset for Quebec City and that he wants the urban center to continue to be an international crossroads where people of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds can live together harmoniously.
“It’s up to us to build these bridges, to bring people together,” he said.
Create a space for young people and the LGBTQ community
Salem Billard, a non-binary candidate for Transition Quebec who uses them / them pronouns, wanted to run for office to show that people like them have their place in municipal politics.
“On all my social networks, I am taken less seriously because I am not binary, because I am young, because I was born a woman,” they declared.
It made them realize that their presence was necessary, they said. “I have to show the world that we are still people.”
One of their main goals is to make the city more inclusive for non-binary and transgender people. For example, they want to add more gender options on municipal forms and allow residents to use their preferred name instead of their legal name.
This is the first time that Billard will participate in a municipal election. The 22-year-old had never voted so much so far as they believed no one was representing them properly.
“I want to build a safer place for [the LGBTQ community]”they said.” I want to make sure that… they feel safe in their political environment. “
Billiard says their age doesn’t make them less qualified for the job. He is an advocate with experience working with homeless people, survivors of domestic violence and people living with HIV / AIDS.
Quebec residents will go to the polls on November 7.
For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.