“I’ve seen racism before, but this is different,” Evelyne Godfrey said in a recent interview.
“I’ve been hearing from other NDP members over the past year that they’ve been experiencing violence every time they leave the house and things like this and now they’re being attacked.”
Godfrey called the Sackville RCMP on August 22 after a man who lives on Queens Road slashed a tire on her car after shouting racial epithets directed at her and federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who wears a Sikh turban. Godfrey’s grandfather was also Sikh and her mother is Asian.
“I grew up in Sackville and obviously, I’ve seen racism in the 1970s and 80s,” she says, “but what I’d never seen before was violence like this.”
Godfrey, who was going door-to-door seeking signatures for her nomination papers, says it was the man’s anger that stood out for her most.
“Just really, really angry racism where the man seemed completely overcome with hatred and it drove him to do something really irrational.”
An RCMP officer arrested the 70-year-old man who was later released and is scheduled to appear in court at a later date.
For Godfrey, the incident illustrates a number of campaign themes including the need to make immigrants more welcome so that they choose to settle and stay in New Brunswick.
She says, for example, that better immigration policies could attract and retain health-care workers alleviating the chronic shortage of nurses and doctors that is shutting down hospital emergency rooms and other medical services.
“I hear from people who can’t get an appointment to see a doctor,” she says, adding that a friend who works as a registered nurse at the Sackville hospital has also been affected by staff shortages that have forced closures of the local ER.
Godfrey supports the New Brunswick Medical Society’s call for a $798 million increase in federal health transfer payments over the next decade to help the province support the needs of its aging population.
“If I was elected as MP, I would be fighting for the federal transfer money for New Brunswick,” she says. “That would be a top priority for me.”
She adds that more federal money could be used to improve the mental-health services that she sees as crucially important.
She also argues that top-notch health care would encourage immigrants, who do come to New Brunswick, to stay here.
Affordable housingWhen asked why she’s running for the NDP, Godfrey mentions affordable housing first — a centrepiece in the party’s national campaign.
She says, for example, that low-income tenants in Sackville frequently have trouble paying their bills.
“The rents in Sackville are just shockingly high and I’ve heard that a lot of times from different people.”
Godfrey says she knows a tenant who is trying to get by on provincial disability benefits while paying more than $600 a month for an apartment in an old Sackville building.
“The amount that you get in social assistance means that he’s paying it all out for the rent,” she says.
“He’s having to go to the food bank now and that’s it, can’t afford a television, can’t afford anything else, so he’s just existing there.”
Godfrey advocates more federal support for community co-op housing that would give members a break on their rent and keep welfare money from lining the pockets of private landlords.
Decolonization and anti-racism
Godfrey, who is an archeology professor at Mount Allison, also serves as Co-chair of the New Brunswick NDP Decolonization and Anti-Racism caucus.
She says decolonization is a much broader concept than respecting the rights of First Nations people, although that is also a large part of it.
“I think that the federal government does need to be held fully accountable to the Indigenous people who had their lives blighted by the residential schools,” she says, “but [decolonization] is a lot more than that.”
Godfrey says school children should be taught about Indigenous history and archeology that dates from before the first Europeans arrived here.
“I would like to see Indigenous languages taught in schools out of respect for the cultural heritage of this place.”
Time for a change
Godfrey says her family moved to Sackville in 1970 where her father was active in the NDP.
She remembers Romeo LeBlanc getting elected in 1972 as a Liberal MP and then cabinet minister who served in the House of Commons until he entered the Senate in 1984.
His son Dominic, who is seeking re-election as a Liberal, has represented the riding since 2000.
“I believe it’s time for a change,” Godfrey says with a chuckle.
“I don’t believe in hereditary government.”
This is the first in a series of reports on candidates in the federal riding of Beauséjour.