First Black Canadian to head a federal party says victory can make politics more inclusive

© Reuters/Chris Wattie FILE PHOTO: Canadian flag flies in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

OTTAWA (Reuters) – New Green leader Annamie Paul, the first Black person to head a mainstream Canadian federal party, on Monday said her victory was a sign that politics could become more inclusive.

Paul, a 47-year-old Toronto lawyer, beat seven other contenders to win the leadership of the party late on Saturday.

“It is highly symbolic and highly important that I sit here today,” she told a news conference in Ottawa.

“What I bring is hope to all the people who have not seen themselves represented in politics to this point, hope it’s possible we can have a more inclusive style of politics.”

Paul is the second person of color to head a federal party in Canada after Jagmeet Singh took over the left-leaning New Democrats in 2017.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address what he calls systemic racism in Canada.

Paul faces several challenges. The Greens have only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and she herself is not a member of Parliament.

Paul will contest a special election in the parliamentary constituency of Toronto Centre later this month but that seat is likely to be retained by the ruling Liberals. She came in a distant fourth in a bid for the same seat in a federal election last year.

The Liberals, who have only a minority of seats in the House of Commons and rely on the support of other parties, look set to govern with the New Democrats and therefore do need the backing of the Greens.

Paul said Canada faced two great challenges: the coronavirus pandemic and global warming.

“The climate emergency is and remains the existential crisis of our times and we cannot forget about it because it has not forgotten about us,” she said.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)