By RON FANFAIR
Concerned about the lack of representation in the higher echelons of Canadian politics, a local Jamaican organization convened a one-day summit last Saturday to address the issue.
Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton, the federal Liberal and New Democratic Party leaders respectively, and Conservative Party members of parliament, Peter Kent, Raymonde Folco and Jason Kenney, agreed that Jamaican nationals have made significant contributions in all spheres of Canadian life, including politics.
Ignatieff recognized the efforts of political stalwarts such as the late Rosemary Brown, the first Black woman in Canada to run for the leadership of a federal political party, and Alvin Curling, the longest serving Black parliamentarian in Canadian history.
He said, however, that the present Canadian parliament does not reflect the country’s diversity. Marlene Jennings is the only Black MP in the House of Commons.
“I want to work with you so that, when you look at your parliament you will think, ‘I am represented there’ and that all Canadians are represented there.”
Jean Augustine – who stepped aside to allow Ignatieff to run in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding that she held for four terms until December 2005 – laid down some ground rules that need to be followed before Jamaicans, and Black Canadians in general, can consider wielding political clout.
“Before you begin to become a political force, there are some things you need to know and recognize,” Augustine, the first Black woman elected to the federal parliament, said. “There are reasons why we are not considered a political force and we are not taken into consideration when policy direction is taken. We are not a financial force because we are not seen as major donors and we are not a political force simply because we don’t have that voice.
“Our voices are usually fragmented. There is no one issue that we can stand up for and say we are united and stand together on that particular issue.”
Kent, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas), said Jamaicans represent the largest population among the Caribbean Diaspora in this country. He also recognized the Jamaican Canadian Association, saying it plays a crucial role in bringing together Jamaican Canadians from across the country and supporting development through programs that include initiatives to improve education and boost employment opportunities.
“Taken together, these initiatives contribute to a vibrant Jamaican Canadian community which we can all be proud of,” said the MP for Thornhill. “They also help to foster people-to-people links that act as the backbone of Canada’s ties to Jamaica and the larger Caribbean.”
Jamaicans “provide invaluable economic, academic and cultural contributions to our society because this is a community that shares Canadian values of family, faith and community and it’s a community that brings its music, dance and culture to Canada while bringing its enthusiasm for life, entrepreneurial spirit and, of course, those strong family values,” Kent added.