By Lincoln DePradine
In a long career in local and provincial politics, tackling racism and trying to eliminate it have been a consistent fight of Michael Coteau.
Coteau, now Liberal MP in the House of Commons in Ottawa, has welcomed another opportunity to continue engaging in fighting racism. He’s been appointed co-chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, which was formed in 2015 to convene Black MPs and senators, as well as their allies, to address issues facing Black Canadians.
“I am honoured to be chosen by my colleagues as the new co-chair for the Parliamentary Black Caucus. It will be a great opportunity to continue my work to combat anti-Black racism, and to raise awareness and champion issues facing Black and marginalized communities across Canada,’’ said Coteau, MP for Toronto’s Don Valley East.
Coteau is replacing founding PBC member, Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who was co-leader of the Caucus for nearly seven years, until stepping down from the position.
“I’ve been looking for a while to try to pass on the flame,” said Fergus, who remains an active PBC member.
Coteau joins Rosemary Moodie – who held joint leadership with Fergus – as current PBC co-chairs.
Jamaican-born Moodie, a university professor and neonatal physician by profession, was appointed an independent senator in December 2018.
“I am grateful to MP Fergus for his hard work and continued advocacy. And, I am very, very excited to work with MP Coteau, along with our fellow Black parliamentarians, as we continue to push for progress,’’ Moodie said.
“The current moment in Canadian politics is historic,’’ she added. “Never before have so many Black voices stood in parliament, advocating for real change for Black Canadians.’’
The PBC is best remembered for such things as lobbying the various levels of government to provide support and funding for Black-owned businesses and to improve the diversity of the public service.
Coteau was born in England to a British mother and a father who was from Carriacou, which is part of Grenada. He arrived in Canada at age four.
A former Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee, Coteau was elected to the Ontario legislative assembly in 2011.
As a trustee Coteau advocated for anti-racism measures and lobbied for the collection of race-based data, which revealed that a disproportionate number of Black students weren’t graduating high school.
His ministerial portfolios, while serving as an MPP, included responsibility for Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate.
Coteau also served in the roles of minister of citizenship and immigration; tourism, culture and sports minister; minister of children and youth services; and community and social services minister.
“I look forward to working closely with my fellow co-chair Senator Moodie, and all members of the Parliamentary Black Caucus,’’ said Coteau, who also is a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
In addition, the rookie MP, who was elected last September, serves on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills & Social Development; and also the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Coteau said that in his role as PBC co-chair, he would like to see greater collaboration between Black politicians in Canada, the United States, the Caribbean and Africa. He also wants to help MPs across the country tap into the Black communities in their constituencies and ensure they know what Ottawa is doing to stamp out racism.
“My number one goal, from a personal perspective, is to build a larger forum for discussion so we can achieve more not only in Canada, but from a global perspective as parliamentarians,” said Coteau. “I just want to be a table builder.”