A cautionary note to Minister Mitzie Hunter

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday July 23 2014 in Opinion
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Dear Ms. Hunter:


To begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, we have only met in passing, and to the best of our knowledge, we have no familial connection beyond the same last name.


Congratulations on your re-election to serve the Scarborough-Guildwood riding. Congratulations also on your appointment to lead the Ontario government’s plan to introduce a pension plan for the province. Considering that this was at the forefront of your party’s election platform, it would suggest that this is a promise that is expected to be fulfilled.


More and more, the strain on the cost of living for seniors is becoming more significant in today’s economy. Workplace pension plans have become a thing of the past, an antiquity, if you will, of a bygone era. More and more, seniors pass the traditional retirement age finding that they cannot afford to retire. That, of course, creates a situation in which young people seeking to enter the workforce to do battle with accrued educational debts are having difficulties finding jobs.


But, you know that. So, your undertaking will be of considerable importance and will be challenging, at best.


So, why the cautionary note? You are a Black woman with a substantial history of achievement – including Chief Administrative Officer at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and Chief Executive Officer at Toronto CivicAction Alliance. No doubt, you have faced hurdles on your way up the ladder to these posts. And, one can assume, that you have dealt with them successfully. I would, however, be surprised if some of the experiences were not painful.


Your current post as an associate minister of finance places you in an arena that very few of your gender and race have travelled. Specific to the Ontario legislature, there were Zanana Akande, Mary-Anne Chambers (Scarborough East) and Margarett Best, your predecessor in the riding you now represent.


Akande resigned her ministry role and her seat without serving a full term. Chambers did not seek re-election after one term, and Best resigned before completing a second term.


In the latter two cases, health was cited as the reason for not seeking re-election or for resigning.


The job of an MPP is not easy. It does take a lot out of the individual. There are the tasks of committee memberships, constituency representations, special functions to maintain visibility and party responsibilities. As a minister, the job gets more complicated. The balancing act becomes trickier. Politically and publicly, the target on your back becomes more visible.


I hope you have had an opportunity to meet and have a substantial talk with your predecessors and that you have sought guidance as to the “potholes” you may encounter, especially in your new post.


To be fair, I have not spoken to either of your predecessors about their experiences in their political life: What, if any, objectionable moments or conditions they may have faced as a Black woman. It is a conversation that I certainly would like to have. Whether they would be upfront with me about their experiences is another thing. They may however be more upfront with you. If you haven’t had that conversation, I urge that you do so.


The sense of loyalty that Chambers and Best, and even former Speaker and Minister Alvin Curling may have to the party may preclude them from publicly denouncing any negative conditions within the party or government hierarchy. But it is quite possible that in private moments they may impart information that may guide you.


I have been around long enough to know that the ideal image that political parties try to portray is often at a distance from the reality. Politics, it is often said, is a blood sport. You never quite know who you can trust.


As much as we idealize the idea of diversity and what it purports, we are not there yet. Yes, people of African descent have made progress in many facets of our society but we know that it is not only a long way from where we should be, but a long way to go. The public service is still mired in that duplicitous state.


The Black Ontario Public Service (BOPsers) has been trying to move some of those yardsticks and they are feeling the pushbacks and, not surprisingly, from those who were considered allies. Breaking down the barriers does not appear to be a priority.


I – we – wish you well. We are a people who, regardless of party affiliation and whether we voted for you or not, take pride in the success of – shall we say – people like us. At the same time, we are aware that there are pitfalls. Unless it is blatant, racially motivated downfalls are never identified as such. The tendency is to identify it as incompetence or similar circumstances. Please be aware.


patrick.hunter11@gmail.com/Twitter: @pghntr

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