Jamaicans have been praised for their contribution to the economic and social development of Canada, but are being encouraged to get more involved in the country’s political affairs.
The urging came from Canadian parliamentarians and politicians, who addressed the summit of Jamaicans conference, held recently at the Jamaican Canadian Centre in Toronto, under the topic: ‘Is the Jamaican Diaspora a Political Force in Canada?’
Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Jack Layton, in his remarks at the event organised by the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation (JDCF), praised Jamaicans, including Reggae superstar, Bob Marley, for having had a “wonderful” influence on his life and urged those present to get involved politically, so that “you can help us change our country for the better.”
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas), Peter Kent, noted that Jamaican Canadians form an essential part of the country’s mosaic, while Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Michael Ignatieff, admitted that the Parliament of Canada does not reflect the full diversity of Canada.
Ontario’s Fairness Commissioner Jean Augustine, who is originally from Grenada, and Toronto City Councillor, Jamaican-born Michael Thompson, both agreed that the Jamaican Diaspora is not a political force in Canada.
“We’re not considered a political force because we’re not taken into consideration when decisions are made and when policy directions are taken,” said Ms. Augustine, who was the first black woman to be elected to Canada’s federal parliament.
The former Parliamentary Secretary to a former Canadian Prime Minister, who also served as Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, said the community does not speak with one voice. “Our voices are usually fragmented and there is no one issue that we can say we stand together on,” she stated.
Mr. Thompson said Jamaicans in Canada need to do more and should start by grasping every available opportunity. “The community needs to reach out and get involved and we need to establish a database so we know where our people are,” he suggested.
Former Speaker of the Ontario Legislature, Jamaican-born Alvin Curling, on the other hand, stated that Jamaicans are a political force.
“Wi likkle but wi tallawah,” said Mr. Curling, who served 20 years as a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and was also Canada’s Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He said Jamaicans have always been politically inclined and he paid tribute to the late Jamaican-born Rosemary Brown, who in 1972, became the first black woman in Canada to be elected to a provincial legislature, and eventually made a bid to lead the federal NDP.
Former Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Grenadian-born Jean Augustine, addresses the audience at the recent summit of Jamaicans conference, organised by the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation (JDCF) at the Jamaican Canadian Centre in Toronto. Seated at the head table (from left) are: President of the JDCF, Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams; Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada & the Official Opposition, Michael Ignatieff; Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, Evadne Coye; and Jamaica’s Consul General to Toronto, Anne-Marie Bonner.
Another Jamaican-born MPP, Margarett Best, who was appointed Ontario’s Minister of Health Promotion in 2007, said more work needs to be done to get Jamaicans politically engaged, so that more of them can go out and vote during elections.
Member of Parliament (MP) and Chair of the Canada-Caribbean Parliamentary Friendship Group, Raymonde Folco, said it is important that the voices of Canadians from all walks of life are heard in the decision-making halls of government.
“If your voice is not heard among the many businesses, communities, non governmental organisations (NGO), diplomatic communities, you remain voiceless,” she stated. “When you are voiceless, you do not have influence, you cannot be a catalyst for change and the transformation of our nation and the world,” she pointed out.
Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, Her Excellency Evadne Coye, in her remarks, said her hope is to one day return to Canada to witness the installation of a Jamaican in Canada’s Federal Parliament. Although there are several Jamaicans at the provincial and municipal levels across Canada, at the moment, there is no one of Jamaican heritage in the federal government.
President of the JDCF, Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, for her part, noted that Jamaicans have made numerous contributions to Canada and deserve to be duly recognised. “We are worthy of respect and worthy of our place in this country,” she stated.
Ms. Ffolkes-Abrahams said the Foundation will now come up with a plan of action on how to get Jamaicans more politically involved.
Also in attendance at the Summit were Jamaica’s Consul General to Toronto, Anne-Marie Bonner; President of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), Audrey Campbell; and former State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Delano Franklyn.
Entertainment was provided by poet Sharon Wellington, who performed a piece by the late Louise Bennett Coverley (Miss Lou), and the JamCan Folk Singers, who sang a medley of folk songs, including ‘Mango Time’, ‘Linstead Market’, and ‘Dis Long Time Gal’, to the delight of the audience.