Two candidates from the Caribbean community – Michael Coteau and Mitzie Hunter – are among six registered to run for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party.
Coteau and Hunter, MPPs whose ridings are in the Greater Toronto Area, are former cabinet ministers.
The four other candidates vying for leadership are Stephen Del Duca, a former minister of economic development and transportation, Kate Graham, a politics instructor at the University of Western Ontario, Alvin Tedjo who worked as a public servant in the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and Ottawa lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth..
After governing Ontario for nearly 15 years, the Liberals were decimated in the 2018 election. They salvaged just seven seats, losing the status and caucus funding of a recognized party in the Legislature.
Liberal delegates will select their new leader on March 7.
The Caribbean Camera recently caught up with Coteau and Hunter who spoke about their bid for leadership:
THE CARIBBEAN CAMERA : How would you describe your experience so far in the leadership race?
MICHAEL COTEAU : It’s been a very different type of campaign for me. Usually, I’m running against someone from another party. Now I’m up against colleagues, who have similar values and we’re competing for the leadership of a party that is very important to each of us. It’s been an exciting experience – first goIng on a listening tour, and now travelling to connect and talk with so many diverse people.
THE CARIBBEAN CAMERA : How do you distinguish yourself from the other candidates in the race?
MICHAEL COTEAU: I believe that I come with a lot of experience politically, professionally and in terms of social activism. Politically, I’ve been responsible for several challenging files; as Minister of Child and Youth Services, I was able to fix some pretty tough problems, including helping to establish supports for the Ontario Autism Program, and getting legislation passed for child protection. Earlier, as Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, I was responsible for the 2014 Pan/Parapan Games. I was also Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and Minister responsible for Anti-Racism. I also served as a school board trustee, and went on to become Vice Chair of the Toronto District School Board.
I was also executive director of a non-profit national literacy program. As an entrepreneur, I own my own small web development company called Capture, and we’re responsible for several high profile not-for-profit websites.
Growing up in Flemingdon Park in Toronto, I learned the value of community, the importance of education, and also the challenges people face in these working-class neighborhoods. So I bring a wealth of experience to the Liberal Party.
THE CARIBBEAN CAMERA: If you should win the Liberal Leadership race, and go on to become Premier, what are you hoping to do for the Black community?
MICHAEL COTEAU: I would restore the 47 million dollars for the Black Youth Action Plan which I initiated originally. That plan and those funds supported several organizations that were working on long term solutions to issues such as gun violence and finding ways to support Black youth in Ontario.
I would also restore the Anti-Racism Directorate, which was formed to eliminate systemic racism in government policies and decisions and advance racial equity in Ontario, (The Ford government eliminated several sub-committees of the Directorate in 2018).
When it comes to public education, I would restore funding, in particular OSAP funding, which has benefitted indigenous and racialized women, and I would also restore funding to after-school programs and other initiatives that keep kids off the street. I think education is the best means to achieve that.
THE CARIBBEAN CAMERA : How has the leadership race been so far?
MITZIE HUNTER : It has been exciting and has given me an opportunity to meet the people of our very diverse province, from our farmers in the north to people in our urban centres.
THE CARIBBEAN CAMERA : You are one of two black candidates in the race.How do you distinguish yourself from Mr. Coteau and the other candidates?
MITZIE HUNTER: This is not a two-person race. My fellow candidates are all bringing their unique skills and experiences to the table. I’m running because I feel confident in my skills, and my track record is proven and my vision for Ontario sets me apart from the other candidates. For example ,I worked during my post-secondary years to pay for my under-graduate degree and my MBA. So I appreciate the value of an education and understand the struggles that students face meeting the costs of getting one. I’m an unlikely story as I became the first person of colour to be Minister of Education in the history of Ontario. I bring private sector experience at senior levels, as well as non-profit and public sector experience for over two decades. So I know what is required to bring people together to solve difficult challenges.
THE CARIBBEAN CAMERA : What are some of the programs or developments you would like to see for the Black community, should you win the leadership race?
MITZIE HUNTER: I would like to see more students graduating from high school. This allows them to make more choices by going to university, becoming an entrepreneur, or having a skilled trade. I have a program called ‘Take Flight’ which focuses on post- secondary education, and would restore every dollar Premier Doug Ford has taken out of post-secondary education, I think that what he did was short-sighted and we need to invest in the skills and talents of our people, and give our young people a chance at success in life by allowing them to complete their studies.
One of the ways to do that is to reduce the burden of student loans and debt. Any loans that they have should be interest free for two years and whatever interest is charged should not go over the prime rate.
Affordable housing is also a big issue with millennials; half their income goes into rent. I believe affordable housing is a right not a privilege. So I have an extensive plan that will provide for the development of rental housing, putting more affordable housing near to transit stations and providing co-housing for co-living arrangements to make renting more affordable.
I would also like to encourage entrepreneurship to grow and expand in Ontario . This will help the Black community.
In the area of health, I’d like to make sure health care is available when and where it’s needed and improve health outcomes for the Black population.
With respect to climate change, we can’t just talk about it. We have to have real policies and programs in place to sustain the environment for the future. My goals as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party are all focused on building a stronger future for Ontario, so that everyone living in our province, including the Black community, can thrive.
– Nicole Georges