Leslyn Lewis

Bob Brehl: Is politics hurting cause of social justice?

  • June 17, 2020

The other day at a neighbourhood “social distancing” soiree, while discussing the protest movement following the brutal killing of George Floyd by a bad cop in Minneapolis, I got lectured by a white women in her early 60s.

“Until you relinquish your white privilege, there will not be true equality,” said the woman, who collects a nice public-sector pension and whose views are definitely left of centre.

She continued by saying Canada is little better than the United States when it comes to “systemic racism.” She did admit she is a privileged white person, but said she accepts that and, like me, believes we must work to improve race relations in Canada.

We agreed there is racism in Canada, no doubt, but I reject that it exists to the same deep-seated degree as in the U.S. To equate the two countries on race relations is folly.

Second, we cannot stamp out racism through legislation and re-writing history by changing street and school names of long-dead people. Indeed, after apologizing for deeds of our forefathers, rather than erase them from history we should use their failures as a 21st-century educational tool. And third, I pointed out the story of my first mentor in journalism; a fabulous man named Malcolm Johnson who came from the poor section of Halifax known as Africville and became a writer and editor at Canada’s largest newspaper, The Toronto Star. 

In 1985, my first year in full-time journalism, I was assigned to a bureau office in Scarborough headed by Malcolm. He helped me immensely to develop as a reporter. Over the years we became friends and golfing buddies.

He was one of the biggest influencers early in my career. I never thought of him in racial terms and didn’t even know he grew up in Africville until, on the golf course, his brother Carl told me about their early years.

“If racism is systemic in Canada, how did Malcolm achieve what he did more than 50 years ago when he started out?” I asked.

The woman’s response was there are always “outliers” like him, but most blacks are repressed. That was the end of the conversation.

I realized she had a point. The data is irrefutable when it comes to the under representation of blacks in senior roles and their over representation when it comes to poverty and incarceration. What I witnessed at the Star and experienced in my relationship with Malcolm is not the lived reality for many black people in Canada.

But over the next few days, as the race protests increased and spilled over the border into Canada, I also began to wonder if this is not wholly a racial issue, but perhaps a political struggle between left and right, liberal and conservative.

For example, Leslyn Lewis, an accomplished black woman, is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. She should have the backing of activists like my neighbuor and everyone who wants to bridge the racial divide. But not a peep from any of them in support of Lewis.

Lewis and her family came to Canada from Jamaica when she was five years old. Her parents worked 60-plus-hour weeks to provide the children with a better life and opportunity.

Lewis, a mother of two, has four university degrees, including a Master’s in environmental studies from York University and a PhD from Osgoode Hall Law School. She specializes in commercial law and in helping companies sell green technology abroad. She has a slew of community service awards and is vice-chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which distributes more than $100 million annually in grants to community projects.

She sounds like a solid candidate and beaming example of what my neighbour wants for Canada: equality of opportunity and leadership positions regardless of race. So, why aren’t progressives advancing her cause?

Well, she’s a pro-life Christian who thinks marriage should be between a man and woman. However, she’s publicly stated she doesn’t have a “hidden agenda” to roll back the clock, but those are her beliefs.

“I don’t push (my) views on someone else,” she recently told the National Post. “I’m respectful that other people have different opinions, and they have different lifestyles, and as a leader I would equally have to represent those individuals.”

But merely espousing conservative views would rule her out for high office in the eyes of many progressives who are rightly battling racial injustice. “Leadership takes guts and the courage to put Canada ahead of being politically correct,” Lewis writes on her website. “If we can’t even discuss the issues that make us uncomfortable, we’ll never be able to solve them.”

Now, there’s a candidate for leadership with common sense. But are “progressives” willing to listen, let alone support her?

On a personal note, after a decade, it’s time for me to move on and pass the torch. It’s been a pleasure.

(Brehl is a writer and author of many books.)

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