Black female politicians celebrated at fundraiser
August 26, 2017
On her way out after meeting with Jean Augustine in her office a few years ago to advocate on behalf of young people, Mitzie Hunter recalled being pulled aside before leaving and offered some sage advice by the first Black woman elected to Canada’s parliament.
“She told me to challenge myself at all times, always be prepared and to equip myself with the experiences and the skills needed so that when I got the call for public service, I would already be qualified and ready,” she said.
Absorbing every word that was said paid handsome dividends for Hunter who, in August 2013, became the third consecutive Jamaican-born to represent Scarborough-Guildwood residents after Mary Anne Chambers and Margarett Best.
Hunter went on to serve as associate minister for the Ministry of Finance responsible for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan before becoming the province’s first Black Minister of Education in June 2016.
She along with Augustine, Zanana Akande, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Chambers and Best were celebrated at a fundraising tea party in Caledon last Sunday.
“You are all women of purpose,” Hunter told the other honourees. “You have dedicated yourselves to public service, to helping others and to improving the lives of others through your life’s work. You have devoted yourselves to a greater cause and a selfless devotion to the world and others around you. Through your hardwork, your passion and your commitment, you have made our communities, our province and our country better. That is purpose, that’s perseverance and that’s the beautiful message for everyone here today and every young woman out there who is looking to make the world better.”
Hunter said she always had an overwhelming desire to help others.
“I have always wanted to have a life committed to public service,” she added. “I always knew that I wanted to do work that had meaning and impact on the community and other people’s lives. So very early in my career,” looked to others who I felt were role models and could inspire and impact me.”
A graduate of Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute and the University of Toronto Scarborough campus with a political science degree, Hunter worked at Bell Canada as a regional director for five years before becoming president of SMART Toronto, an information community and technology industry firm.
She spent seven years at Goodwill Industries of Toronto, rising to the position of vice president, external relations & corporate secretary and two years as Toronto Community Housing’s first chief administrative officer, where she led the organization’s strategic and business support functions, including corporate communications, strategic planning, human resources and information technology, prior to joining CivicAction in January 2012.
Rising from humble beginnings in Grenada, Augustine – who turns 80 next month – has had a stellar career as a public servant.
She worked as an elementary school principal with the Toronto board and served as chair of Metro Toronto Housing Authority before entering politics.
Augustine represented the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding for four terms prior to resigning from federal politics in 2006 to make way for former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff.
As the first Black woman appointed to Cabinet when she was named Secretary of State with responsibility for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Augustine also filled the roles of Minister of State, assistant deputy chair of committees of the whole and special adviser for Grenada. She was also parliamentary secretary to then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and she chaired the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Parliamentary Committee and served on the parliamentary sub-committees on human rights, international trade, citizenship and immigration.
Augustine was the founding chair of the Canadian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development and Chair of the National Liberal Women’s Caucus.
As a result of two motions she initiated, February was declared nationally as Black History Month and the Famous Five Statue received a home on Parliament Hill, giving recognition to the contributions of women and Blacks in Canada
In addition, she was the province’s first Fairness Commissioner appointed to advocate for foreign- trained professionals and ensure the credentials of internationally-trained professionals are treated fairly.
The Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment was launched in June 2008 at the Technology Enhanced Learning Building on York University’s Keele Campus.
Augustine made a special gift of historically significant items to York University including her parliamentary chair, robes and portrait from the House of Commons, photos, commemorative items and gifts.
She also donated a collection of papers documenting her time as an elected representative which will be archived in order to allow students and scholars access for research purposes.
A few years ago, Augustine established a scholarship at George Brown College to encourage and assist single mothers in their decision to undertake post-secondary education at the academic institution.
She served on the committee that helped organize the first Caribana celebration in 1967 and was a founding member of the Grenada Association of Toronto.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Chambers was poised to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh when she met her husband and tied the nuptial knot over four decades ago.
England’s loss was Canada’s gain as she has made remarkable contributions to her adopted homeland since migrating with her family in 1976.
A year after retiring as a Scotiabank senior vice-president, Chambers entered politics and served for nearly two years as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. In that role, she announced the largest multi-year investment in post-secondary education in four decades and introduced major improvements to student assistance policies and funding.
During her tenure, significant changes were also made to the Private Career Colleges Act to provide enhanced protection for students and increased support was made available to encourage apprenticeships in the skilled trades.
Chambers, who also served in the provincial government as Minister of Children and Youth Services and was instrumental in the launch of the Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) before quitting politics a decade ago, is a former Canadian Club of Toronto president, Rouge Valley Health System governing council vice-chair, Air Cadet League of Canada governor, Tropicana Community Service Organization board member, United Way of Greater Toronto trustee and director of the 2008 Toronto Olympic Bid Corporation.
In 2007, she successfully lobbied for the University of Toronto Scarborough campus to engage in a tutoring and mentorship program with Grade Nine and Ten area school students. Chambers also made a financial contribution when she left politics, described as a parting gift to the community, to help sustain the program run by the university’s Black Students Association.
And as vice-chair of the U of T governing council, the former university board member participated on a task force on student financial support that led to the implementation of a policy that would not deter young people from enrolling in the university because of inadequate financial resources.
Chambers is a former president of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education Canada and chair of the York Centre for Education & Community advisory council. The centre is designed to support teaching and learning that’s appropriate to students’ diverse needs, considerate of their cultural experiences and supportive of their aspirations.
She was appointed to the Order of Ontario two years ago.
The product of St. Lucian and Barbadian immigrants, Akande was a school principal before entering politics.
In 1990, she won the St. Andrew-St. Patrick riding for the New Democratic Party and was appointed Minister of Community & Social Services.
After serving as Bob Rae’s parliamentary secretary for two years, Akande – the first Black woman to be elected to the province’s legislative assembly and also serve as Cabinet Minister in Ontario -- quit politics but continued to advocate for the community.
Just 17 years ago, Caesar-Chavannes was a forklift operator with an undergraduate degree. She later attained an MBA, but was rejected by employers for being overqualified or lacking managerial experience.
The married mother of three children started a clinical research management company and, four years ago, completed an executive MBA at the Rotman School of Management before entering the political arena in early 2014.
The Member of Parliament for Whitby was parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for two years before being appointed parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Development last January.
Best, who was first elected to represent the residents of Scarborough-Guildwood 10 years ago, didn’t attend the event.
Before resigning her seat four years, she introduced legislation banning smoking in cars when children were present and led the charge for the Pan Am/Parapan Games in Toronto in 2015.
Part of the proceeds from the event will go to the Jean Augustine Chair in Education at York University and help increase funding for programs and training and enhance the quality of living for females at the St. Ann’s Bay Infirmary in Jamaica.