Former Liberal Party MP opens up about race and politics during coffee chat event

- March 22, 2021

L-R: Dal PhD candidate Tari Ajadi chatted with Celina Caesar-Chavannes earlier this month. (Screen grab)
L-R: Dal PhD candidate Tari Ajadi chatted with Celina Caesar-Chavannes earlier this month. (Screen grab)

Former federal politician, entrepreneur and author Celina Caesar-Chavannes had a timely conversation earlier this month with Tari Ajadi, a PhD candidate in political science at Dalhousie.

The "coffee chat" can in many ways be summed up by an excerpt from Caesar-Chavannes’s new biography, Can You Hear Me Now?, quoted by Ajadi as the conversation got underway.

“We need politics to be different, but the powers that be keep fiddling around the edges not attacking the structure itself which was designed to reinforce the status quo.”

Caesar-Chavannes served as Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and later as Pariliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development. In Can you Hear Me Now?, Caesar-Chavannes writes candidly about her childhood, her career as an entrepreneur and her decision to resign from the Liberal Party in 2019 due to the racism and tokenism she faced in politics.

The chat was hosted by the Faculty of Management's School of Public Administration, the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Dalhousie Undergraduate Political Science Society.

During the hour-long chat, Caesar-Chavannes and Ajadi try to get at the root of systemic racism in politics and the classroom, discussing topics like allyship, tokenism, transformative leadership, intersectional feminism and where we need to go following 2020.

Student societies submitted questions in advance that helped shape a conversation relevant to the issues that students are facing today and will be facing throughout their career.

Here are some of the highlights from Caesar-Chavannes during the coffee chat:

On taking on the role of senior adviser for equity, diversity and inclusivity in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen's University:

“The goal isn’t diversity. If you wanted diversity you could have had it. It’s quite easy because the population is diverse. The goal is equity, and the only way to do that is by transforming the culture of the institution.”

On the types of people she thinks are needed in politics now:

“We need people who are not afraid to break glass ceilings, but not because they want the fame of breaking the glass ceilings, but because they know that if they are closest to the glass it's going to fall, and they are going to get cut.”

Watch the full discussion below.


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