Panel celebrates Black Nova Scotian women in politics

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t,” panelist encourages aspiring public servants

4 min read
Black Women in Electoral Politics panel
caption Mount St. Vincent professor Maki Motapanyane (R) hosted the Black Women in Electoral Politics event at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S. on March 13, 2024. Seated to Motapanyane's right is Halifax city councillor Iona Stoddard, and to Stoddard's right is former Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds.
Ainslie Nicholl-Penman

Six current and former Nova Scotia politicians openly discussed their experiences as Black women in public office, telling a panel about the joys and challenges of being barrier breakers.

The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia collaborated with Mount Saint Vincent University on March 13 to host a Black Women in Electoral Politics panel in celebration of International Women’s Day. Panelists shared tips on how to smash through racist barriers.

“I had no idea that once I broke through the glass ceiling, I would actually face concrete,” Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard told the audience, recounting her time as the chair of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Bernard was appointed to the Senate in 2016 and became the first African Nova Scotian to serve in the upper chamber.

“It’s (about) knowing the game and choosing how you’re going to play the game. Do you play the game, or do you rise above it, and I always choose to rise above it.”

Nova Scotia PC MLA Twila Grosse
caption Twila Grosse (second from left), minister for African Nova Scotian Affairs, is the province’s first Black female cabinet minister and the first Black MLA in the history of the PC party.
Ainslie Nicholl-Penman

Atwell, the first Black woman elected to the Nova Scotia legislature, spoke about her time as an MLA with the New Democratic Party in the late 1990s.

Joining Bernard on the panel was Nova Scotia’s Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Twila Grosse, who is the first Black female cabinet minister in the province’s history. Also on the panel was former Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds, former NDP MLA Yvonne Atwell, current NDP MLA Suzy Hansen and Halifax councillor Iona Stoddard.

Stoddard recounted her journey from East Preston to Toronto to Province House.

“When you think about being inside all of that for the first time, I didn’t have a history like that,” she told the panel. “I dropped out of school in Toronto and had to go back, and over the years had to educate myself on working in various places.

“But I always thought that I can do this because I could never figure out why not. I never thought about my colour in that way, I never thought about coming from East Preston in that way.”

Yvonne Atwell and Twila Grosse
caption Former NDP MLA Yvonne Atwell, who served in the 1990s, talked about her journey from East Preston to Province House. Seated to Atwell’s right is Twila Grosse, provincial Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
Ainslie Nicholl-Penman

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t”

The six panelists sat on a stage at the back of the room facing an audience of at least 50 people, with host Maki Motapanyane sparking discussions with engaging questions. Motapanyane is an assistant professor for Women’s and Gender studies at MSVU and had planned the event for two months.

Motapanyane said she hoped the event would reach a young demographic of Black women to break down barriers and put their names forward in elections, which Stoddard said is exactly what she did in 2016.

“There were five men (in the election) and myself, so I knew I had a job ahead of me,” Stoddard told the panel about her first time running for city council. “Out of the six I came in fourth, and I felt pretty good … so in 2020 I decided to give it another shot.”

Stoddard said the experience and recognition she gained from her first election allowed her to come back stronger and win her seat as councillor of District 12.

“It’s a big responsibility, but my goal is to talk to little Black girls, young Black women, women of colour, to say, ‘You can do it and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.’ ”

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