For the first time in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, two African-Canadians will be sitting on the same side of the country’s second largest provincial legislature.
Lawyer Margarett Best made history becoming the first Black female politician to be re-elected while three-term Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee, Michael Coteau, is among six Liberal rookies who will join her in the 107-member seat parliament following the party’s victory in last week’s elections.
Born in Canada to a Grenadian father and British mother, Coteau kept the Liberal flag flying in Don Valley East, winning 51.08 per cent of the votes in the party’s stronghold since the riding was created 12 years ago.
“This victory has not yet sunken in,” said an elated Coteau who disposed of Progressive Conservative (PC) party candidate Michael Lende with a plurality of 7,738 votes in the riding once held by former Health Minister David Caplan, one of 14 Liberals who did not seek re-election. “I guess I will truly grasp the significance of it when I am sworn in and on the job.”
As a trustee, Coteau advocated student nutrition, community use of school space and environmentally friendly schools. He also promoted the use of digital textbooks which propelled him into the spotlight here in Canada and the United States where he appeared on CNN last January. Trustees voted this year in favour of a plan that could save the board nearly $100 million in the next 10 years.
Coteau was also an early supporter of the Africentric Alternative School which opened in September 2009. The school was approved by a very slim margin and it is doubtful that the measure would have passed without his support. Another Black trustee on the Board did not support the school.
“Winning 50 per cent is a clear mandate and I am assuming that has to do with my promise on the campaign trail to tackle the issues of education, healthcare and seniors’ needs and my track record as a trustee over the years,” he said. “For me, this is just the beginning of another phase of public service and there is a lot of work ahead. I have some ideas which I will bring to the table.”
Best returns for a second term, defeating PC candidate Gary Ellis, a former senior police officer, by 6,469 votes in Scarborough-Guildwood to ensure a Liberal sweep in the municipality.
“It’s an amazing feeling, after you put in the hard work, to know you have achieved the result you were looking for,” said Best. “It’s good to be back and I am certainly going to be looking to build on what I did over the past four years.”
The Minster of Health Promotion and Sport expects to be back in the next Cabinet.
“I think I have been an asset to the party and I have done enough to return as a minister,” said Best who was part of the team that helped bring the 2015 multi-sport Pan Am and Parapan Games to Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe region. She also played a significant role in the province’s banning of smoking in vehicles when a child is present.
Best welcomed Coteau to the fold and plans to reach out to him.
“As a rookie, I had mentors who guided me and showed me the ropes,” she said. “I intend to do the same for Michael.”
Twenty-year Liberal MPP and former House Speaker Alvin Curling and New Democratic Party (NDP) representative Zanana Akande, the first Black woman elected to the provincial legislature and also the first Black woman to serve as a Cabinet minister, sat in the House at the same time, but on opposite sides.
Trinidad & Tobago-born Bas Balkissoon is returning to Queen’s Park for a third term after beating NDP candidate Neethan Shan by 2,145 votes. The Scarborough-Rouge River riding swapped hands federally last year with then 29-year-old Tamil Rathika Sitsabaiesan winning, and the change was reflected provincially with Shan – another young Tamil – securing widespread support in the diverse community.
“I knew it was going to be close because I was up against a community that would stick together and vote as a bloc,” said Balkissoon. “What I am more disappointed with was the low turnout by people who complain and then they don’t show up to vote.”
The voter turnout in his riding was close to 35 per cent.
In the 2007 elections, Balkissoon brushed aside his closest rival and PC candidate, Horace Gooden, by 17,400 votes.
Several other Black candidates fared reasonably well at the polls. PC candidates Carol Williams and Fred Sherman finished second in Scarborough Centre and Ottawa-Vanier respectively.
A former Catholic school principal, Williams secured 8,520 votes behind Liberal incumbent Brad Duguid who won with 16,150 votes while Sherman, a former Government of Canada press secretary, garnered 8,931 votes. Liberal Madeleine Meilleur won the riding with 19,615 votes.
Dionne Coley (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), Nigerian-born Atinuke Bankole (Cambridge), CTV News diversity producer Karlene Nation (York West) and Somali immigrant Wali Farah were third in their ridings.
Coley, a college lecturer who was called to the Ontario Bar during the campaign, got 6,781 votes. Bankole received 10,141 votes in the riding which was won by Conservative Party candidate Rob Leone with 15,941 votes. Farah captured 5,972 votes for the NDP while the PCs’ Nation garnered 2,738 votes.
Green Party candidates Judith Van Veldhuysen and George Singh tallied 1,172 and 448 votes respectively in St. Paul’s and Scarborough-Rouge River.
The Liberals fell one short of the 54-seat majority, which was 17 less than they held in the last government. The Conservatives picked up 12 seats to move to 37 while the NDP gained seven seats to slide to 17.
The last time Ontario had a minority government was 26 years ago when the Liberals ended the Progressive Conservatives’ 42-year rule with the assistance of Bob Rae’s NDP.