VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan is facing backlash for his answer about his own personal experiences with racism and prejudice as a white politician during a televised debate.
The provincial NDP, Liberals, and Green Party faced off in a debate moderated by The Angus Reid Institute’s president, Shachi Kurl, Tuesday evening.
As civil unrest and discussions about inclusion and treatment of Black, Indigenous and people of colour in Canada continue, Kurl asked party leaders, “How have you personally reckoned with your own privilege and unconscious bias, as a white political leader?”
With extra time to answer, Horgan drew on personal experiences with racism as social media users later questioned his comments.
“I grew up in southern Vancouver Island. I was a lacrosse player. I played with Indigenous friends. I played with South Asian friends. For me, I did not see colour. I felt that everyone around me was the same, and I brought that through my entire adult life, and I’ve instilled that in my children,” he said.
Horgan then used his time to respond to claims Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson was “casting aspersions” on his character during Wilkinson’s time to answer Kurl’s question on race.
“When I hear John Horgan talking about us, and them, good and bad friends and enemies. It’s actually kind of sad to see a leadership figure like Mr. Horgan degrade himself by going to dividing communities rather than uniting them. I believe that everybody in British Columbia needs to be treated equally, respectfully, and that that’s our duty and government,” Wilkinson said.
Horgan continued to mention the party’s establishment of the Chinese Canadian Museum to “tell the stories of our diversity.”
The NDP leader was promptly interrupted by Kurl, telling him, “This is a question about your own personal reflection.”
“I’m saying to you that we need to tell the stories about who we are as British Columbians,” Horgan said. “That’s what I grew up learning, and that’s what I want to do as the leader of the government. I think that’s critically important that you lead by example, based on what you believe, I haven’t seen that from Mr. Wilkinson.”
Kurl then interrupted him to say he was out of time.
Green leader makes waves describing bias, prejudice
Meanwhile, Sonia Furstenau, the leader of the B.C. Greens, is receiving praise for her answer to the question about bias and privilege.
She said across B.C., Canada, and elsewhere, Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour experience systemic racism on a daily basis. Furstenau acknowledged that she, Horgan, and Wilkinson can’t reckon with what that is like – since they are white – but can work together to address racism and bias in B.C.
“I think the moment, for me, that really hit home was imagining being a mother, and saying to my child ‘If you’re approached by a policeman. Don’t do anything. Just put your hands up.’ I can’t imagine being a mother and imagining that my child, my son might die because of the colour of his skin,” Furstenau said.
“We aren’t all equal. I wish we were. But we’re not, in this province, in this country, and around the world. People who are Black, people who of colour are still experiencing systemic and personal racism on a daily basis.”
Social media users and other politicians quickly took to Twitter to show their support for Furstenau, thanking her for her answer.
“Thank you @SoniaFurstenau for demonstrating so brilliantly what heart-centred leadership looks like,” one Twitter user wrote.
Thank you @SoniaFurstenau for demonstrating so brilliantly what heart-centered leadership looks like.
— Sonia Théroux (@soniatheroux) October 14, 2020
“Welp. @jjhorgan says he doesn’t see colour and @SoniaFurstenau is actually answering the question about her own privilege as a white politician,” another tweet reads.
— Mackenzie Kerr (@MackenzieKerr97) October 14, 2020
Elizabeth May, former federal Green Party leader, also shared her thoughts, writing, “Well done @SoniaFurstenau! Great job in debate- just being yourself – brilliant, caring, calm. B.C. voters- now is the time to vote Green.”
Well done @SoniaFurstenau! Great job in debate- just being yourself – brilliant, caring, calm. BC voters- now is the time to vote Green. #bcpoli #BCGreen #bcvotes @AdamPOlsen @NicoleBCDuncan @alex4salmon @NicESpurling @Stasher_BC@BCGreens
— Elizabeth May (@ElizabethMay) October 14, 2020
Compared to the NDP and Green Party leaders, Wilkinson has come under fire for missing the mark altogether as he took the time to respond to the question by describing his experiences with moving from Alberta and working as a doctor.
“I then worked in Indigenous communities, these Lake Lillo at Campbell River, dealing with a lot of Indigenous people as patients, got to know them got to know their way of life … We all have to feel like we belong here that we’re citizens and will be respected in British Columbia, and to my mind, that’s one of the highest duties of government is to make sure that every single person in this province feels that they are equally engaged and involved,” he said.
Wilkinson also told a story about how he delivered an Indigenous baby, whom the mother later named after him.
‘This is the answer I wish I gave on stage,’ Horgan tweets
After the debate, party leaders participated in a question period with reporters.
During the post-debate, Horgan retracted his statement, saying he “mischaracterized” the challenges people of colour face day-to-day.
“I was it inappropriate to say I don’t see colour. I don’t have a clue as a white person, the challenges that people of colour face every day, but I did grow up in poverty. I did grow up with Indigenous friends, South Asian friends, and for me it was normal, to be poor and to be part of the crowd that nobody paid attention to that was a mistake on my part, I have to work every day to improve on that, as to all leaders that aren’t of colour.”
Horgan said when he was answering the question initially, he was reflecting on his childhood.
In a tweet following the debate, Horgan underscored his apology, writing, “Saying ‘I don’t see colour’ causes pain and makes people feel unseen. I’m sorry.”
This is the answer I wish I gave on stage. Saying "I don’t see colour" causes pain and makes people feel unseen. I’m sorry. I’ll never fully understand, as a white person, the lived reality of systemic racism. I’m listening, learning, and I’ll keep working every day to do better. pic.twitter.com/Rbr7h0JOyh
— John Horgan (@jjhorgan) October 14, 2020
Horgan then vowed to continue “listening, learning,” and promised to work to do better.
Furstenau reacts to NDP, Liberal response
During the question period, Furstenau was asked to react to the NDP and Liberal Leaders’ response.
“I think it’s for them to reflect on their answers and to reflect on on on their privilege,” she said.
“We see and experience differently as white people than people of colour, and black people and indigenous people in this province and in this country,” she told reporters.
“I think that it’s incumbent on all of us to really reflect on how we can make change so that we have less systemic racism. We have to become anti-racist in everything we do.”
Furstenau added a way to pave a path for anti-racism is to add it into the K to 12 curriculum “to raise a generation of young people and our future leaders who can understand the difference that it is to be a white person in society.”
While the election day is set for Oct. 24, many voters are casting their ballots through mail or advanced polling long before that.
For more on party promises and the latest election news, check out our B.C. Votes 2020 page.