Lawyer Margarett Best entered unchartered territory four years ago when she accepted the challenge to run for the provincial Liberals in Scarborough-Guildwood. Though a political neophyte, Best felt that her extensive community service resume would serve her well in her new career.
She was right.
Not only did she beat Conservative Party candidate Gary Grant by 4,929 votes to secure a seat as the only Black member in the 107-seat legislature, but she was appointed Minister of Health Promotion and given the added responsibility of the Sports portfolio last year.
“I have been educated beyond my wildest expectations after four years in government,” said Best who holds an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica. “Of course, there were many challenges and you know you have to work hard for anything worth having. I was new to the game, but the many years of community work prepared me for the hurdles I faced.
“I also received exceptional support from the Premier and a lot of other people, including (fellow MPP) Gerry Phillips who was a mentor and someone I was able to rely on. I have Alvin Curling (former House Speaker) in my corner as my campaign chair and I have certainly benefitted from his experience. I feel that regardless of what I will ever do in my life again, nothing can compare with the opportunity I have had to engage with people of various communities.”
For now, Best’s focus is on her constituents whose votes she’s counting on to return to Queen’s Park.
“This is one of the most diverse of this city’s diverse communities with a very multicultural dynamic,” said Best who played a significant role in the province’s banning of smoking in a vehicle when a child is present. “I have relished the opportunities to interact with various cultures and also to influence young people’s lives by going to schools on a regular basis and reading books for students in the presence of their parents.”
The 33-kilometre riding created in 2003 from parts of Scarborough Southwest and Scarborough Centre has benefitted enormously with Best at the helm.
The Scarborough Village Community Centre was among six projects in her riding that received $5,383,866 in joint federal and provincial funding to improve community recreational infrastructure under the Recreational Infrastructure Program in Ontario (RInc Ontario) and the Ontario Recreation Program.
Nearly $1.3 million in provincial funding was set aside for the refurbishment of the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club in Galloway while Cedar Brook Community Centre received $36,000 for health and safety upgrades, Global Kingdom Ministries, $1,000,000 for a new gymnasium and Peter Secor Park got $33,000 for playground enhancement.
In addition, the Ontario government provided $2,957,026 in funding to construct a two-storey Aboriginal Family Life Centre in Best’s riding to accommodate a children’s visitation centre and recreation program, and new equipment and tools, including special configured light microscopes, incubators and health studies lab information technology to help Centennial College students graduate with solid skills for in-demand jobs. The new equipment and tools will also help the college continue to meet industry standards in many professions.
The Ontario government also contributed $35 million for the establishment of a new library, 22 classrooms, laboratory space and a 200-seat lecture theatre at Centennial College.
Just the third Jamaican to hold a provincial Cabinet post after Curling and Mary Anne Chambers who encouraged her to contest the riding, Best is extremely proud of her party’s achievements in the past four years.
“You only have to look at our track record over that period to see how much we have done for the people of Ontario,” she said. “Just look at the projects that have been completed in this riding alone that have benefitted my constituents. They are the ones that elected me and I will continue to look out for them. They are my priority.”
As the province’s Minister responsible for Sport, Best was at the forefront of Ontario’s successful bid to bring the 2015 Pan American Games to the Greater Toronto Area and Golden Horseshoe region.
A graduate of Wayne State University in Michigan, Best took some time off from school to raise her three children before enrolling part-time at the University of Toronto. She graduated from Osgoode Law School in 1995 and was called to the Bar two years later.
Best was a member of several organizations, including the now defunct Ontario Provincial Police Advisory Council, the Law Society of Upper Canada Solicitors’ Examination Blueprint Committee, the College Compensations & Applications Council, the Black Business and Professional Association and the Women’s Rights Action Coalition of Durham.
Prior to entering politics, Best ran a successful practice specializing in real estate and corporate law.