Greg Fergus leaves Parliamentary Black caucus 


Greg Fergus

Greg Fergus is stepping down from his dual roles as co-chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus and head of the Liberal Black Caucus — groups whose advocacy has more than once turned into government policy.

Fergus departs both the PBC and the LBC after six years of representing Black MPs, senators and staffers on Parliament Hill. Fergus said he’s making room for a new generation of Black parliamentarians.

“It was just time to go,” said Fergus.

Fergus, a parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said he has a new role in government now — one that involves working with experts and think tanks which forecast trends to understand “where the puck is going” on issues like new technology, equality and climate change. He said he’ll present his findings to cabinet.

As Fergus departs, he leaves behind an entity whose work has moved the needle on government policy for Black Canadians — but has also been accused of being too status-quo.

In 2015, Fergus joined a wave of new Liberal MPs going to Ottawa for the first time.

“Well, the very next day, I was flooded with phone calls from Black Canadians across the country,” Fergus said, adding that he wasn’t considered “a star candidate.”

He said he heard from people across the country telling him how “amazing” it felt to see a Black Canadian take a seat in the Commons.

Fergus said that experience was shared by other newly elected Black Liberal MPs like Ahmed Hussen and Celina Caesar-Chavannes, and by veterans Emmanuel Dubourg and Hedy Fry.

From there, the LBC was formed to advocate for the needs of 1.2 million Canadians — everyone from Black Nova Scotians with roots in this country going back 400 years to West Africans recently arrived in Canada.

The Black caucuses welcome non-Black parliamentarians and political staffers to join their meetings. Former Liberal staffer Allen Alexandre remembers a visit from U.S. President Barack Obama as a powerful moment.

“I think there was a sense of history weighing down on us,” said Alexandre, who served in senior roles for several cabinet ministers and was a member of the LBC as a staffer.

Over time, a multipartisan and bicameral PBC was created to include MPs and senators from multiple parties.

The LBC rallied support behind various causes — getting the first Canadian banknote featuring a Black Canadian woman (Viola Desmond), getting the Canadian government to recognize the United Nations Decade for Canadians of African Descent — and praised Trudeau for his statements acknowledging anti-Black racism.

But Trudeau himself had some explaining to do after images of past appearances by him in blackface and brownface makeup came to light. Trudeau apologized for the photos, called them “embarrassing” and said he was angry with himself for not recognizing the impact they could have.

Fergus was criticized at the time for publicly standing by Trudeau. “Fergus made himself an agent of colonialism,” wrote Erica Ifill, an economist and one of Canada’s few Black political columnists, “and allowed himself to be used as window-dressing, or the Black face of a scandal involving blackface.”

Alexandre, a senior staffer to ministers, said he saw it differently. Although he and others were disappointed with Trudeau, he said, many still believed he genuinely cared about the problems Black Canadians face and saw the scandal as a moment for meaningful action.

“I do believe that had it not been for blackface, the acceleration that we saw in the pace of addressing issues would not have actually happened in such a short, short period,” Alexandre said.

Immediately after the 2019 election, Trudeau appointed Bardish Chagger as minister of diversity and inclusion. Alexandre worked with Chagger.

In 2020, months after the blackface scandal, the Black Lives Matter protests exploded around North America. The murder of George Floyd distilled what racialized communities knew about their experiences of violence at the hands of police. It also exposed systemic racism in institutions — including the federal government.

In response, the PBC issued more than forty calls to action to the government, including diversifying the public service and police and justice system reform. Last year, a CBC analysis determined that the government had made progress on more than half of the calls to action.

Some might see this as a success, but it’s one Fergus said doesn’t belong to him alone.

“There’s an old line: ‘You can get anything done in Ottawa as long as you are not willing to take credit,'” Fergus said.