(Left to right: Quebec Leader of the Opposition Dominique Anglade, former Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, U.S. Senator from California and 2020 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris)
Apart from the global COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 will be best remembered for the year where racial tensions have reached a boiling point that hasn’t been seen in decades. Fear, distrust and anger are some of the words that would best describe what BIPOC feel following the deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, and many others due to police brutality. Amid these circumstances, important milestones have been set in 2020, specifically in politics. Here are three women who have set new firsts in Quebec, Canadian and American politics, respectively.
In 2018, the governing Quebec Liberal Party lost the provincial election to François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec. Premier Philippe Couillard resigned as leader of the QLP soon after.
On June 27, 2019, The Member of the National Assembly (MNA) for Saint-Henri—Sainte-Anne, Dominique Anglade, became the first person to announce her candidacy to run for leadership of the QLP. Anglade was the daughter of the late writer and academic Georges Anglade, who self-exiled to Quebec in late 1960 because of his opposition to Haiti’s Duvalier regime. Born and raised in Montreal, Anglade entered politics in 2011 to become the first president of the CAQ. However, because of the CAQ’s approach to ethnic and immigration issues, she switched to the Liberals in 2015 and served as Deputy Premier and Economic Development Minister under Philippe Couillard.
Dominique Anglade was acclaimed as leader of the Quebec Liberal Party and Leader of the Official Opposition on May 11, 2020, after her sole competitor, former Drummondville mayor Alexandre Cusson, dropped out. This date made Anglade the first woman to lead the Quebec Liberal Party and the first woman of colour to lead any major Canadian political party.
However, little attention was given to Anglade’s historical accession outside of Quebec. However, the Liberals are confident that Dominique Anglade’s message of economic nationalism, progressivism and environmentalism could win over some Quebecers and make Anglade the first Black Premier of Quebec.
“When I first stepped into this race, people told me I had no chance of raising the $300,000 entrance fee. Fast forward to the final week of the campaign, and we have passed the TWO MILLION dollar fundraising mark.” – Leslyn Lewis
Following the Conservative Party’s loss in 2019, Andrew Scheer resigned in December of that year, thus triggering a leadership election. One of the four official candidates was the relatively unknown Toronto-based lawyer Leslyn Lewis.
Leslyn Lewis was born in Jamaica and emigrated to Canada at the age of five. Lewis earned her Juris Doctor and Ph.D. in international law from the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. She also has a Masters of Environmental Studies, a distinction not commonly associated with the Tories. In 2015, she ran as a last-minute candidate for the Conservative Party in the riding of Scarborough—Rouge Park. Despite losing by 13 000 votes, Lewis was already noted by many media outlets to be a remarkable candidate and a shining star in the Conservative Party.
Leslyn Lewis was one of two candidates in the leadership election that ran as a social conservative. Unlike her other rivals, Lewis managed to have support amongst all conservative spheres. By using her slogan of courage, compassion and common sense, Lewis was focused on appealing to conservative immigrants who, like her, always voted for the Liberals.
Erin O’Toole, the MP for Durham, ultimately won the leadership election. However, as the Toronto Star journalist Alex Boutilier perfectly phrased it, Lewis was “already a winner in the Conservative leadership contest.” Despite her lack of political experience and her inability to speak French fluently, she came third on both the first and second ballots, garnering respectively 20.5% and 30% of votes. Lewis raised more than $2 million from more than 11 000 individual donors. “She came out of virtually nowhere to mount a serious outsider bid for the party’s top job, impressing long-time party operative and grassroots members alike,” Boutilier remarked. Leslyn Lewis became the kingmaker in the election, meaning that she played an essential role in designing the winner. The Conservatives were asked to rank their ballots based on their preferences. Most of Lewis’ supporters second and third choices were Erin O’Toole. Those crucial second and third choices made O’Toole the next leader of the Conservative Party, over former cabinet minister Peter MacKay, initially seen as favoured to win. Also, keep in mind that Leslyn Lewis is the first woman of colour to run for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
What’s next for Leslyn Lewis? Well, on September 15, 2020, the former leadership candidate announced that she would seek the Conservative nomination in the rural Ontario riding of Haldimand—Norfolk, opening a bright future for a newcomer in politics.
How can we talk about 2020 and racial unrest in America without mentioning this year’s presidential elections? On April 8, 2020, former Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, became the presumptive nominee after his remaining rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, suspended his campaign. Due to his age, Joe Biden’s shot to the White House is in a vulnerable state. His previous gaffes on many issues throughout his long political career had also come to haunt him back. His moderate stances could also have the possibility to alienate younger and more progressive members of the Democratic Party. As mentioned above, should Joe Biden win, he would be 78 by his inauguration and 82 years old by the end of this first mandate. Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick could be the most crucial one in American history since whoever’s going to be his running mate could also become the next president of the United States.
In a CNN presidential debate, Biden had announced that his VP pick would be a woman. At the height of the George Floyd protests, Joe Biden finally revealed his long-awaited running mate, California Senator and former presidential candidate, Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California to a mother of Indian descent and a father of Jamaican descent. Harris spent her adolescence in NDG and graduated from Westmount High while her mother taught at McGill University. Before being elected to the United States Senate in 2016, Harris served as the Attorney General of California and the District Attorney of San Francisco. Harris gained national attention for her progressive senatorial record and her scrutiny of multiple Trump-appointed judicial nominees. She announced her candidacy for president of the United States in 2019 and earned the national spotlight when she shared her experience about busing and race to Joe Biden on the first presidential debate in front of millions. Months after suspending her presidential campaign, Harris is back in the spotlight, this time as Joe Biden’s running mate.
Harris is the first African-American, first Asian-American and third woman to become the vice-presidential nominee on a major party ticket. Despite her progressive record, Harris has been under scrutiny due to her performance on several law enforcement cases during her years as California’s Attorney General.
However, just like in 2016, Kamala Harris might not become the first female, the first African-American, and the first Asian-American Vice President if the Democratic ticket’s turnout is unfavourable. Even if polls show that Joe Biden is polling higher than Donald Trump, just like in 2016, when Hillary Clinton was polling higher than Donald Trump up until the elections, the fate of the 2020 United States presidential elections remains in the voters’ hands.
By Jacques Wang