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Black in Halifax: How municipal electoral boundaries are silencing marginalized voices

Carlos Beals said slicing up established communities in Dartmouth to fit into fewer districts leads to wealthier areas determining candidates.

Halifax City Hall

Metro file

Halifax City Hall

A former regional council candidate and Metro's guest editor for Black in Halifax believes electoral boundary changes could help Black people living in Halifax’s marginalized communities.

Guest editor Carlos Beals ran in District 6 during last year’s municipal election. He said during his campaign in Dartmouth North, he talked to many residents—including a 60-year-old woman—who’d never voted before.

Many told him his campaign gave them hope.

“People give up and that’s part of the problem. Our community in Dartmouth North, and Black people, have for the longest time attempted to challenge the system,” Beals said.

“But when everybody in positions of influence don’t look like you or don’t make it a priority to listen or call you back when you have a complaint, you get to the point where you feel as if nothing is going to change so why continue to challenge something if we know that no change is coming.”

Beals said he wanted to be clear it wasn’t sour grapes over losing that made him want to speak out about the way boundaries had been rejigged.

He said in his view, Dartmouth North was split in a way that weakened his community’s already marginalized voices.

"They separated and cut communities in half, and oftentimes our most vulnerable communities have been cut in half," Beals said.

In 2012, Halifax went from 23 districts to 16 in a boundary review. The district that includes Dartmouth North used to stretch south to the Macdonald Bridge. The new district stops just before Albro Lake Road, and the area past that is all part of the Dartmouth Centre district, which includes the downtown.

"Now you have the Lahey area and Highfield Park in one district and Demetreous Lane and surrounding areas a different district," he said.

Beals wants the municipality to consider changing its current electoral boundaries to give marginalized communities a better chance of having elected representatives who share similar life experiences.

“There was a lot more progress in our communities in Dartmouth North when it was just the one full district rather than being sliced in two, and I think that is because it ensured proper representation,” he explained.

“I think we need to remember that every member of our community, every member of our society, has the right for their interests, causes and concerns to be reflected at council and when you split them in two that causes wealthier areas or areas that are more privileged to determine who the candidate is.”

Beals said the youth in Dartmouth North, North Preston, and other communities offer him hope.

“Our young people are growing up today recognizing how important it is to care for each other no matter your colour or sexual orientation. I remain optimistic that change will come,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be immediate. I think it’s going to be when we see more people from marginalized communities running to represent their communities and when we see more young people engaged in the political process. But it’s happening.”

This story is part of Metro's ongoing Black in Halifax series. Let us know your thoughts on the series, and share your own stories using the hashtag #HalifaxWhileBlack with tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook comments. We may just share it in a future edition.

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