Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nova Scotians Make Room to Get Equity on Board ; Saturday's Vote Attempts to Give Voice to African Nova Scotians with School-Board Seats Reserved for Blacks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nova Scotians Make Room to Get Equity on Board ; Saturday's Vote Attempts to Give Voice to African Nova Scotians with School-Board Seats Reserved for Blacks

Article excerpt

Around the world, democratic societies struggle with how to ensure minority groups a seat at the table where policy is made.

Here in Nova Scotia, they're doing it by - quite literally - pulling up another chair.

Saturday is election day here, and for the first time, each of the the province's eight regional school boards will have an additional seat designated for a black member.

It's a first among the Canadian provinces. African Nova Scotians, as they are known, are largely descended from slaves freed by King George III if they would fight against their rebellious masters during the American Revolution. Their deep historical roots in Canada and their self-awareness arguably give them a certain leadership role among Canada's black communities.

But you can't take self-awareness to the bank, or put it on the table. From the beginning, African Nova Scotians, about 3 percent of the population, have had a tough slog, enduring joblessness and lack of educational opportunity. "Many of them did not get their 40 acres and a mule," says Delvina Bernard, a black educator, referring to the grants promised to the freed slaves by the Crown.

The designated seats - established this past spring by provincial legislation brought in by Premier John Hamm's Conservative government - are raising no particular constitutional questions. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly protects affirmative action to correct historic inequalities. And the idea that something needs to be done to empower the black community is not attracting serious opposition.

But some sparks have flown over how it is being done. Only blacks and the parents of black children are entitled to vote for the designated seats. And such voters must decide whether to choose a candidate for the designated seat or the regular district seat.

"I take people at their word when they say it's the process they're not happy with," rather than a racial set-aside itself, says Douglas Sparks, a community-development activist and father of three daughters. …

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