Alvin Curling- a man of the people

One of Ontario’s most remarkable politicians reminisces on his career

By Alia Loren Campbell

When he was a youngster, Alvin Curling never thought he would have the career he had. But while growing up in his native Jamaica, he always found himself drawn to roles of leadership.

Alvin Curling

As he puts it, “I was very much involved in the social aspect of things.”

While attending Seneca College, he ran for student council while managing all his classes and was awarded the Seneca Cup for his leadership and academic excellence. After graduating his interest in his community led him to Queen’s Park.

In 1985, he was elected to the Ontario Legislature after winning the Scarborough-North constituency with 30,504 votes.

Curling remembers how he found out he had won. While travelling back to his campaign office with his colleagues on the night of the election, he heard on the radio that Curling had won in Scarborough-North.

“I was so tired that I wasn’t even sure it was me,” says Curling.

Though he was happy about his win, even if he had lost, Curling saw himself as a winner, not because of the votes, but because of the effort he put in.

Alvin Curling portrait at Queen’s Park

And after his win, Curling’s political achievements continued to grow, along with his responsibilities.

He became Ontario’s minister of housing and was later – in 2003 – was appointed Speaker of the Ontario Legislature, making him the first Caribbean Canadian to hold that position.

Still, Curling didn’t stop there.He went on to serve as an MPP for 21 years. Despite the new roles and struggles that arose as one of the few black politicians, he never felt like quitting.

While serving in the legislative assembly, there was a defining moment in Curling’s time as a politician that drew attention to his career. The Conservative government had an idea to pass a contentious piece of legislation – Bill 26 – without public consultation

But Curling thought that people deserved to know what Bill 26 was all about.

“The government has a right to do what it has to do, but it has to do it in a democratic way and the best way you can do things democratically is to involve the people,” Curling says.

Alvin Curling with friends and family at the naming of street in his honour

But no matter how hard Curling tried, he was never given the chance to speak about his opinions on the bill and its rushed procedure.

So when it was time for him to stand and vote on the bill …he didn’t. He refused to stand up until he given a chance to be heard, putting the Ontario legislative assembly “on halt” for 18 hours.

As the sit-in continued, tensions rose as he and some of his colleagues refused to leave the chamber, even after he was threatened to be removed by force.

Curling held on until things began to turn in his favour. He was finally heard, and his proposal for Bill 26 to be shared with the public was accepted.

When news came out about Curling’s demonstration, many critics called his sit-in childish or disgraceful but others saw it as an important moment in Canadian history.

An Ottawa Citizen reporter compared that moment to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Curling is thankful to have many Black heroes who came before him, who allowed him to feel confident enough to do what he has done. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

He recalled the times in his political career where he felt like he didn’t belong while working in Ontario’s largely white Legislature.

“Why is it that when we come here, we must pretend to be like furniture, and stay there until somebody sits on you or uses you?” Curling says,

 “This is why I say that we’re not furniture, this space here, this place belongs to us,” he added.

Curling is proud of what he was able to achieve but if he could go back in time and give himself some advice, he’d tell himself to “be confident, be proud of who you are, don’t try to be Black, but just be Black, be yourself.”