Horgan says he regrets comment at leaders' debate about not seeing colour

NDP leader John Horgan says if he has to talk about anti-racism policies for the next 10 days of the campaign, it will be time well spent, apologizing for a gaffe during the leaders’ debate on Tuesday on the question of race and privilege.

“As the personification of white privilege, I misspoke — I deeply regret it,” said Horgan during a media availability in Vancouver on Wednesday.

“But I’m also absolutely committed to making sure that every day I’m reminded of the discomfort that I caused the people and I will work to correct that.”

During the debate, moderator Shachi Kurl asked all three leaders: “How have you personally reckoned with your own privilege and unconscious bias as a white political leader?”

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson talked about arriving at St. Paul’s Hospital from southern Alberta as a young doctor, working in Indigenous communities, and having Indigenous people as patients.

“That’s the kind of experience that humanizes it for you, and makes you realize we are all equal,” said Wilkinson.

Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau talked about parents who worry that their children could be killed in an interaction with police. “We’re not all equal. I wish we were. The three of us can’t fully reckon with that, because we’re white,” she said.

Horgan reflected on his childhood playing lacrosse on southern Vancouver Island with Indigenous and South Asian friends. “For me, I did not see colour. I felt that everyone around me was the same. I brought that through my entire adult life and I’ve instilled that in my children,” he said.

Horgan said this generation sees people equally. “Regardless of who you are, people need to be included.”

Neither Horgan nor Wilkinson addressed their own privilege.

After the debate, Horgan said he mischaracterized the challenges that people of colour face every day.

“I immediately recognized that that was hurtful to the people who heard me say that I didn’t see colour — of course I see colour, of course those are hurtful terms,” said Horgan.

“Black Lives Matter and all of the other initiatives that are underway are about drawing attention to make sure that we in privilege positions — a six-foot-two white male — need to be reminded and shaken regularly to understand the challenges people of colour face.”

The NDP re-established the Human Rights Commission to help people deal with reacism and challenges to their human rights, said Horgan.

He said people like himself who are not challenged by systemic racism sometimes have to be jolted out of their comfort zones.

“I was jolted out of my comfort last night, and I’m going to reflect on that and continue to try to be better every day,” he said Wednesday. “We all have to work together to make sure everyone feels comfort and safety and inclusion in every aspect of our lives.”

The NDP leader pointed to the controversy Wilkinson found himself on the weekend when a video aired that showed him remaining silent while one of his candidates — in an online roast for retiring West Vancouver Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan — made sexist remarks about Bowinn Ma, the NDP incumbent in North Vancouver-Lonsdale.

Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite suggested Ma, 35, was speaking to Sultan, 87, in a flirtatious way during an event at Capilano University.

Wilkinson spent Tuesday apologizing for not immediately calling out the “appalling” behaviour by his Liberal MLA, saying he didn’t want to ruin Sultan’s celebration and that it was abundantly clear Thornthwaite had made a fool of herself.

Horgan referred to both the video and the debate incidents as teachable moments “for us all.”

Also at the campaign stop on Wednesday, Horgan said a re-elected NDP government will maintain a wage hike given to care workers in long-term care in the early days of the pandemic to ensure they could adhere to a provincial health order to be employed at only a single site.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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