Ontario’s first Black education boss

By Gerald V. Paul

Mitzie Hunter, right, at the recent UMOVE and Zero Gun Violence Parents Conference. Photo by Gerald V. Paul.
Mitzie Hunter, right, at the recent UMOVE and Zero Gun Violence Parents Conference. Photo by Gerald V. Paul.

QUEEN’S Park – Newly minted Education Minister Mitzie Hunter is “thrilled” to be entrusted with the province’s $22- billion education system, she said in an interview with The Camera yesterday.

Jamaica-born Hunter – Ontario’s first Black minister of education – pledged to continue to build on the existing foundation of goals: high levels of student achievement; reduced gaps in student achievement and increased confidence by Ontarians in publicly funded education.

Calling her new portfolio “a tremendous responsibility”, she said she is “humbled”. Hunter replaces Guelph MPP Liz Sandals who moved to Treasury Board as president in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cabinet shuffle. Hunter was previously tasked with steering the planned Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.

(If past experience is any indicator, Ontario can expect a feisty minister in this key role. Elected in 2013, The Camera tested the civic leader who came out of the corporate sector armed with an MBA, asking then if she had “fire in her belly?” Who told us to ask that, she replied and let this writer have it!)

The youthful MPP, generally regarded as a rising star who served as CEO of the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, a non-profit that brings together people to tackle challenges facing the region, shared on Twitter: “Thrilled to be the new Ontario education minister. Will work with all partners to ensure young people have a strong foundation for future growth.”

The ministry’s goal, she said, is for every child to have the opportunity to succeed and achieve their full potential across Ontario.

Hunter pointed out that “it takes a village to raise a child” – parents, educators, and community partners, children and students who have strong relationships and a positive sense of self are best positioned to reach their full potential.

It’s through expressions of happy and healthy childhood development and a positive sense of well-being that learners can become more resilient and better able to overcome challenges now and in the future, Hunter said.

Hunter said as multiculturalism minister, everyone should celebrate during June, Ontario’s first-ever Pride Month, and advocate for LGBTQ rights. “Equity and excellence go hand in hand. Equitable, inclusive education is also central to creating a cohesive society and a strong economy that will secure Ontario’s future prosperity.

“Canadians embrace multiculturalism, human rights and diversity as fundamental values.”

Given Ontario is Canada’s most diverse province, she said, solutions must be found to concerns such as homophobia and gender-based violence, cyberbullying and hate propaganda on the internet, racism and religious intolerance.

Rejection, exclusion or estrangement are associated with behavior problems in the classroom, lower-interest in school, lower student achievement and higher dropout rates, Hunter noted.

Her words to young people, especially girls, are: “Never give up.

“Have hope, work hard and know that you have government to support you” and “make education a central component of your life.

“There are no barriers, as long as you have your education.”