Jamaican-born Margarett Best has always been a fighter.
When she was only 11 years old, her mother, May Gwendolyn, died. Two years later she left her home in May Pen, Clarendon along with her oldest sister, Clare, who had cared for her since her mom’s death, to join an older sister, Ferlena, and her great uncle, Ivan Orr, in Detroit, Michigan in the United States.
Her uncle died a year later and at a very young age, Margarett found herself living on her own. She got married at 18, before she could complete her university education and moved to Canada. This marriage lasted a short time and she later re-married.
At 29 years old, with a growing family and working two jobs, she returned to school because she knew that was how she was going to achieve the upward mobility that she wanted. She attended the University of Toronto at Scarborough and Osgoode Law School, where she earned a law degree. In 1995, she was called to the bar, and had a successful law career for more than 12 years.
Now, at the age of 51, she is the province of Ontario’s Minister of Health Promotion and is the only black politician out of 107 provincial parliamentarians in the Ontario Legislature.
As Minister of Health Promotion, she is responsible for the health and wellness of the 13.9 million people, who call the province of Ontario home. Sports also fall under her portfolio and Minister Best was a part of the team, which recently won the bid for the city of Toronto to host the 2015 Pan American Games.
In the world of politics, Margarett Best is still a “baby”, having taken the plunge only two years ago when she ran for the Ontario Liberal Party in October 2007. She is the Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, a constituency previously held by another Jamaican, the former Minister of Youth and Children Services, Mary Anne Chambers.
It was Ms. Chambers, who introduced Ms. Best to the party. Speaking to JIS News, Ms. Chambers said she thought Ms. Best would be a good candidate for the party.
“I saw someone, who had overcome several challenges in her life, such as losing her parents and living on her own at an early age. She rose above that and put herself through law school. I felt that she would resonate with so many people, who have challenges and have not let those challenges get the better of them, and needed that type of inspiration,” she notes.
Minister Best tells JIS News that the timing was right when the call came asking her to consider becoming a candidate for the Liberals and running in the elections. “My three children were grown; the youngest just going off to university and I think going from being involved in the community to politics is like an evolution. Being a public servant is really about being involved with different communities,” she says.
Noting that Ms. Best was the only newly elected person to go directly into Cabinet, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Hon. Gerry Phillips says that, this was “a real feather in her cap and a testament to her ability.”
“It is very difficult to move from private life into public life, let alone moving into a high profile Cabinet-ministered life literally overnight, and she has handled it very well,” he points out.
Mr. Phillips notes further that the Minister of Health Promotion has made an enormous impact in her two years in the Ontario Legislature and has already accomplished things that some people spend a lifetime in politics and not attain.
“She got legislation passed banning smoking in cars when children are also in the cars. That’s going to save countless lives. Her second big achievement is getting the 2015 Pan Am Games to be staged here,” he details.
Margarett Best has several passions, the greatest of which is for her children. She is never tired of talking about them. “I have three fantastic children. I am so blessed. My oldest, Ryan, works for a pharmaceutical company doing clinical research on different types of drugs. My daughter, Keisha Arielle, is a brilliant girl who is on the Dean’s Honour Roll at the University of Waterloo where she is studying Environmental Biology. Colin loves to draw. He is very artistic and very talented. I just consider them to be a great blessing,” she tells JIS News.
She is passionate about young people. Every opportunity she gets she gives them advice. “I tell them the most important thing a person can have is confidence, meaning belief in yourself. You have to be a person of integrity, who will stand on your principles, because at the end of the day, that’s what will determine the outcome of any difficulty or challenge that you face.”
She also tells them: “When an opportunity knocks, don’t just open the door, but also raise the roof, kick out a window and tear down the ceiling.”
She is also passionate about education. “Education has been important to me from I was a little girl. I went to Love Lane Basic School and May Pen Primary, and attended May Pen High for about a year before I left Jamaica. I can remember crying when I didn’t get to go to school. It is important that people educate themselves so that they can remain competitive.”
She is passionate about family. “That’s one important thing I have instilled in my children – that family is important.”
She is passionate about Jamaica. The Minister said she loves Ontario and Canada because this is where she has lived for the past 32 years; but, there is a strong connection with Jamaica that cannot be denied.
“When I think about Jamaica, a big smile comes over my face. That’s my roots. It is a significant part of who I am. I would say to Jamaicans who live around the world, do not forget where you came from. We have a responsibility and duty to try in some way to uplift our island and to participate in the enrichment of Jamaica and the people of Jamaica. My favourite song is ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley,” she tells JIS News.
She is also passionate about community service. “It’s an innate need that I have. I’ve always felt the need to give back, whichever community I am a part of. Right now, I am part of the Jamaican community; I am part of the African Canadian community; I’m part of the Greater Toronto and Ontario community; and I’m also part of the wider Canadian community, but most importantly, I am a part of the human race. One race – one people. As in the words of the Jamaican motto – Out of Many, One People.”
Asked if she considers herself a role model, Minister Best had no doubt. “Absolutely!” she declared.
“I think I’m a role model for the Jamaican community. I am a poor Jamaican girl from May Pen and I came here to the province of Ontario with 13.9 million people and could become a minister of government. I’ve gone through all kinds of things. I hope that anybody looking at me can say, ‘if she was able to do all these things then there is a possibility that I can do that as well’. I am a role model for women because I am a strong woman. You have to have courage and believe in yourself that you can accomplish all these things,” she states.
The recipient of many awards and accolades, Minister Best has received an African Canadian Achievement Award; a ‘Reaching Out and Giving Back’ Award; a Professional Award of Excellence from the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis; A Woman of Distinction Award from the Black Business and Professional Association; and the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the Northern Caribbean University (NCU).
Minister Margarett Best is a proud Jamaican woman and a woman of which Jamaica can be proud.
Jamaican-born Margarett Best has always been a fighter.