As a Durham resident for the last three decades, Arthur Augustine has seen the dramatic demographic changes in the municipality.
While the region has become more culturally and ethnically diverse as the population of immigrants and visible minorities grow at a rapid pace, Augustine feels the diversity is not reflected in the most meaningful forms of social change and expression of power in the municipality’s critical establishments.
For that reason, he has thrown his hat into the ring to become Durham’s first elected regional chairman in the October 27 municipal elections.
“We have newcomers from all over the world moving into this area, yet I don’t see that kaleidoscope of diversity reflected in the corridors of power, particularly at the political level,” he said. “Blacks, South and East Asians are at the top of the list and when you look around, yet you don’t see people looking like them in positions of prominence who could effect meaningful change. Proportional representation is seriously lacking.”
Two years ago, Durham regional council voted to move from an appointed chairman to an elected one. In the past, regional councillors selected the chairman at the inaugural council meeting after the election.
Augustine joins incumbent Roger Anderson, who has held the post since 1995, and political neophyte Michael Deegan, a Whitby resident and denturist, as the regional chairman candidates.
Migrating from Trinidad & Tobago in 1972 to join his mother and other relatives, Augustine secured a diploma in philosophy from Ryerson University and his first degree in psychology from York University before entering the teaching profession.
Turned on to barbering while in university, Augustine left Conrad’s Barber Shop where he was employed part-time to open his own business – Arthur’s Hair Design – in Pickering.
“I took a leave of absence from the Toronto District School Board after a year in the classroom to run my business which was so successful that I quit teaching,” he recalled. “I wanted to be my own boss and things turned out extremely well as I was making a lot of money and doing something that I like which is interacting with people.”
The barbershop soon became a venue for males – young and old — to socialize and engage in lively conversation on myriad issues, play dominoes, chess and draughts. It was also the place where a simmering feud between area high school students was amicably settled and rap competitions were held on weekends.
“The shop was always crowded and it was, in a sense, a community centre where you could come and get a haircut,” said Augustine, a married father of four children who co-founded the Caribbean Resource Centre and is a member of the Black African & Caribbean Community Outreach (BACCO) advisory council.
Seeking answers for the mechanisms that trigger conflict, Augustine successfully pursued a Master’s in forensic psychology and became a sought-after speaker and facilitator on conflict resolution and mediation.
While delivering a workshop at Durham College nearly a decade ago, Augustine so impressed the visiting Trinidad & Tobago’s Congress of the People (COP) leader Winston Dookeran that the political leader invited Augustine to run in Laventille West – a tough Trinidad neighbourhood where he was born and raised – in the 2007 Trinidad & Tobago elections.
Accepting the challenge, Augustine garnered just 9.1 per cent of the votes to finish behind People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate NiLeung Hypolite.
“The experience I had campaigning in Trinidad and going through an election has prepared me for this challenge,” he said. “I have been part of this community for 30 years, I have been active as a volunteer and I am aware of the issues of concern such as youth employment which is among the highest in the province and nuclear emergency preparedness. We have the oldest operating nuclear plant right here in Pickering and I would bet very few people know what to do in case of an emergency. We have to start educating residents.”
If Augustine is elected in October, he will join Trinidad-born Renrick Ashby, who has been an Ajax councillor for the last six years and Jamaican-born first-time Liberal candidate Granville Anderson, who captured the Durham riding in last June’s provincial elections, as the other elected politicians of Caribbean heritage in the municipality.