Celebrating diversity in Alberta

By Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West

February is always such a hopeful month. The days are getting longer, and whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow (this year he did not!) we know that spring is on the way. We had a busy Family Day weekend in Alberta Parks, and people are gearing up for warm-weather activities to come.

In February, we celebrate Black History Month, when we recognize the black Albertans who have contributed to our province in the past, and those who contribute today. From John Ware, a Texan rancher who arrived in 1882 and introduced longhorn cattle to the area, to Jefferson Edwards, who arrived in 1910 and started Alberta‘s first black baseball team, to Violet King, born in Calgary in 1929 and became the first black female lawyer in Canada, there are so many stories to tell.

Often, when we tell these stories, we focus on the racism and discrimination these folks surmounted in the course of their achievements, which they certainly did. They faced prejudice. They worked unimaginably hard. They organized their communities. They did this while also ranching, or developing athletic programs, or getting a law degree - feats that are themselves remarkable. I hope that one day black Albertans, and all Albertans, are free to achieve without the barrier of racial discrimination.

For that to happen, we all have work to do. Our government believes diversity makes us strong and we celebrate the contributions of the black community in this province. We became the first government in Alberta‘s history to recognize February as Black History Month. We are reforming the recruitment for agencies, boards and commissions so that these public bodies reflect our province. We are offering grants through the Ministry for the Status of Women in order to support women from diverse communities to build leadership skills and run for election at all levels. We are meeting with community groups to learn from them what challenges they face, and what they need in support.

As Premier Notley said, “Elsewhere in the world we see an increase in racism and intolerance. There is no place for that here. The more we know about one another, the more we realize we have in common.”

Speaking of diversity, Alberta has one of the fastest-growing francophone populations outside Quebec, with schools, groups, or cultural centres in 31 communities (including Lethbridge). In 2017 we announced the development of the province’s first French Policy, and to that aim we are recruiting for a new Advisory Council on the Francophonie. The council will have 10 members, selected to represent the diversity and scope of Alberta‘s francophone community. This group will advise the government on ways to make life better for French-speaking Albertans.

Pour en savoir d’avantage et pour présenter sa candidature à titre de membre du Conseil consultatif en matière de francophonie de l’Alberta, visitez le site boards.alberta.ca. La date limite pour présenter une demande est le 28 février 2018.

We are also recruiting for the Education Minister‘s Youth Council; junior and senior high school students who will meet with Minister Eggen during the 2018-19 school year to discuss their education priorities. This is a great way for students to learn leadership skills and have a tangible effect on their communities. Apply at education.alberta.ca/myc by March 30.

Another great opportunity for students is the yearly “MLA for a Day” youth conference at the Alberta Legislature. Youth from across the province will spend May 6 to 8 attending workshops, spending time with current and former MLAs, and participating in heated political debate. High school students can apply at assembly.ab.ca/visitor/student_zone by March 23.

First published Feb. 23, 2018, in the Lethbridge Herald.