Alberta NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi. (Photo via albertandp.ca)Amir Said, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In a turbulent time for Canadian politics, one name keeps popping up nationwide: Naheed Nenshi. After years out of the limelight, many headlines and front pages across the country currently bear his name.

On March 11, the former mayor of Calgary sent ripples through the Canadian political world by announcing that he would be running to succeed Rachel Notley as the next leader of the Alberta NDP.

He’s seeking the top seat in the largest official opposition in Alberta’s history, but that’s not where his ambition ends: he’s looking to become premier and put an end to the province’s almost uninterrupted Conservative dynasty.

As a newcomer to the Alberta NDP, he certainly faces opposition in getting the job: four of the candidates are sitting MLAs, Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Sarah Hoffman, Kathleen Ganley and Rakhi Pancholi. Edmonton-based Alberta Federation of Labour president and longtime NDP member Gil McGowan is also running. The party announced its final list of candidates on Friday night.

Having endorsed the Alberta NDP for the first time during the 2023 provincial election, Nenshi set aside his nonpartisanship and threw his hat in the ring to make meaningful change in the province.

However, there are many problems Nenshi wants to address in Alberta besides just the incumbent government: according to Nenshi, there’s a long road ahead when it comes to multiculturalism in Canada.

“We succeeded because of public services for the kids: great public education, universities, the ability to to really live a great life here,” Nenshi said in an exclusive interview with New Canadian Media, “and that’s my story, right?”

Most people familiar with Nenshi know his story: he was born to Indian parents from Tanzania, earned his master’s degree from Harvard, was the first Muslim mayor of a Canadian city and held the position from 2010-2021.

“In the past I was a little hesitant to talk a lot about my background because I didn’t want to make it feel like exceptionalism,” said Nenshi. “What I always used to say is that the story of me and my family is extraordinary in its details, but what makes it extraordinary is how ordinary it is.”

Nenshi proudly stated that he is as old as Canadian multiculturalism: he was born less than five months before then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s 1971 declaration that Canada was a multicultural country. Nenshi got to witness Canadian multiculturalism grow firsthand, especially through the lens of his own second-generation Canadian success story of being ranked the second-most influential person in Canada in 2013 and receiving the 2014 World Mayor Prize, among numerous other accolades.

Now, Nenshi says the topic has grown beyond just multiculturalism: he says Canada needs to find a way forward and achieve anti-racism in order for multiculturalism to truly succeed.

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, then-mayor Nenshi and his team invited Calgarians who wanted to talk about their experiences with racism at a public meeting of council. At that meeting, he says he was not at all surprised by the stories of bigotry and persecution that he heard, but what he was surprised by was the fact that racism has been so prevalent in Canada for so long.

“How is it that a young Black man telling his experience of how he gets harassed when he wants to go out with his friends on a Saturday night is exactly the same stories that my friends and I used to tell each other when I was young?”

Nenshi says real action needs to take place to preserve multiculturalism and truly achieve anti-racism in Canada.

“Even though we’re so proud of this multicultural country that we’ve built, and I am proud of it … I thought at the same time, how did we not progress in these ways over the last 30 years? For me, that was very challenging because I was thinking in my head, ‘how can I simultaneously be very proud of what we built but understand that we’ve got a lot of work to do to become truly antiracist?”

One of the reasons he decided to run for leadership of the Alberta NDP was due to prevalent social issues such as the incumbent government’s anti-trans legislation. However, he says the government is not the only source of those problematic views.

“You know, it really bothers me as a Muslim when I see my fellow Muslims speaking out against the human rights of other people,” said Nenshi, adding that “if Muslims are seen as being intolerant of others, then what incentive is there for others to be tolerant of Muslims?”

Nenshi says views like these only serve to contribute to negative perceptions of immigrants and multiculturalism, and in turn work against the desired outcome of ending racism.

As leader of the Alberta NDP, which promotes equity, diversity and inclusion, Nenshi’s aim would be to represent all Albertans, including fighting against inequality and bigotry whether that be racism or other forms of bigotry.

“These are hard conversations,” said Nenshi, “and sometimes only racialized people can start these conversations with other racialized people.

“But these are conversations that have to be held because we have to do a better job. Otherwise, we’re gonna find that the multiculturalism of which we are so proud, and about which we are so smug, will collapse around us.”

By Amir Said, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 18, 2024 at 19:03

This item reprinted with permission from   New Canadian Media   Ottawa, Ontario

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