Diversity the ‘casualty’ of snap B.C. election, says lone Indigenous candidate on Vancouver Island

Adam Olsen says he’s running to represent the place where he grew up.

Incumbent Green Party MLA Adam Olsen (SȾHENEP) says the snap election called by Premier John Horgan last month hasn’t made it easy for diverse candidates to come forward.

As the only B.C. election candidate of 53 on Vancouver Island who identifies as Indigenous, Olsen says there are still many barriers for diverse people entering the arena of mainstream politics.

“One of the casualties of this snap election is diversity,” says Olsen, who’s from the Tsartlip First Nation, located on the Saanich Peninsula in W̱SÁNEĆ territory, Vancouver Island. 

The current MLA for Saanich North and the Islands is one of 10 B.C. candidates running in this election who identifies as Indigenous. Out of 332 candidates, that represents only three per cent of the group.

Long way to go

“I grew up on a reserve. I’m very familiar with the historical challenges that Indigenous peoples have had with the Crown government, provincial or federal,” Olsen tells IndigiNews over the phone. “It’s not the thing that everyone wants to do, to run and be a part of that Crown government.”

The Green Party’s Vancouver—West End candidate echoed this sentiment in a recent opinion piece for The Georgia Straight. James Marshall said a snap election would mean “richer, whiter and more male” candidates.

Marshall pointed out that running for politics is time-consuming and expensive. Candidates who do run are often unfairly targeted based on their skin colour, gender or cultural background, he writes.

“Very few people are currently financially stable enough to go without a paycheque for a month, in order to run for office,” Marshall wrote. “All of these factors are compounded if you come from one of the many sectors of our population that are less privileged.”

Rob Fleming, NDP MLA for Victoria—Swan Lake, told IndigiNews in an email response that the government is working to improve an equity mandate for candidates. He said he’s proud that the current government caucus is the most diverse in B.C. history.

“I am encouraged that in this election, the B.C. NDP is fielding the most diverse team of candidates our province has ever seen,” Fleming wrote. “We have taken really important steps in achieving greater equity, but we know there is still a long way to go in ensuring that our legislature reflects the people of B.C.”

Walking in two worlds

Olsen is one of five Indigenous people in the current provincial legislature.

“Out of 87, five is not many,” Olsen says. “And that’s pushing it as far as we’ve had it, ever.”

In this election, the Green Party has two Indigenous candidates, the NDP has five, and the Liberals have three. The B.C. Liberals did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Of mixed heritage, Olsen says he experienced a deeply-entrenched identity crisis growing up. But his experiences also inform his work, as he has learned to walk in two worlds.

“We could be a whole lot more if we embraced diversity and if we allowed that diversity to inform how we go forward,” Olsen says. “Recognizing that we have to create a more sustainable and resilient community. Many of the teachings that my ancestors passed down helped us achieve that. It needs to be part of the ongoing narratives.” 

He encourages interested Indigenous youth to “be courageous” and get involved in politics. He wants to see more Indigenous representation at the decision-making tables.

“When those voices are not sitting at the table — there are huge blind spots,” Olsen warns.

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