Retired MP overcame hurdles to secure Black History Month designation

A number of other federal heritage months have been added, e.g., Asian Heritage in May, Islamic History in October):

Jean Augustine’s efforts in the House of Commons 25 years ago to build support for a motion calling on the federal government to designate February as Black History Month in Canada succeeded in the end, but there were some hurdles along the way.

“I had colleagues who would say, ‘If you want February, who would come for March? If you have Black History month, when are we going to have white history month?'” the retired Liberal MP told The House on Friday.

“Those were kind of provocative statements that were made to me as I tried to convince my colleagues.”

The retired Liberal MP’s campaign to designate Black History Month in Canada in 1995 came just two years after the Grenada-born Augustine became the first African-Canadian woman elected to Parliament.

The importance of visibility

Today, there are still only a handful of black MPs in the House of Commons.

To encourage more black Canadians to run, Augustine said, political parties must ramp up their recruitment efforts and ensure candidates with diverse backgrounds are chosen to run in winnable ridings.

Otherwise, she said, “It’s kind of like an exercise.”

Augustine said she knows her presence in Parliament sent a signal to black Canadians everywhere. She said she can remember people telling her that they would gather their children and grandchildren every time they saw her on television in the House of Commons, or descending the stairs behind then-prime minister Jean Chrétien.

“‘Look, look, look, look,’ they would say. ‘If she can do this, you can do this.'”

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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