Greg Fergus is stepping down from his twin roles as co-chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus and head of the Liberal Black Caucus — teams whose advocacy has greater than as soon as changed into authorities coverage.
Fergus departs each the PBC and the LBC after six years of representing Black MPs, senators and staffers on Parliament Hill. Fergus stated he is making room for a brand new era of Black parliamentarians.
“It was simply time to go,” Fergus informed CBC Information.
Fergus, a parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, stated he has a brand new position in authorities now — one which entails working with specialists and assume tanks which forecast traits to perceive “the place the puck goes” on points like new expertise, equality and local weather change. He stated he’ll current his findings to cupboard.
As Fergus departs, he leaves behind an entity whose work has moved the needle on authorities coverage for Black Canadians — however has additionally been accused of being too status-quo.
The way it started
In 2015, Fergus joined a wave of latest Liberal MPs going to Ottawa for the primary time.
“Nicely, the very subsequent day, I used to be flooded with cellphone calls from Black Canadians throughout the nation,” Fergus stated, including that he wasn’t thought-about “a star candidate.”
He stated he heard from folks throughout the nation telling him how “wonderful” it felt to see a Black Canadian sit within the Commons.
Fergus stated that have was shared by different newly elected Black Liberal MPs like Ahmed Hussen and Celina Caesar-Chavannes, and by veterans Emmanuel Dubourg and Hedy Fry.
From there, the LBC fashioned to advocate for the wants of 1.2 million Canadians — everybody from Black Nova Scotians with roots on this nation going again 400 years to West Africans not too long ago arrived in Canada.
The Black caucuses welcome non-Black parliamentarians and political staffers to hitch their conferences. Former Liberal staffer Allen Alexandre remembers a go to from U.S. President Barack Obama as a robust second.
“I feel there was a way of historical past weighing down on us,” stated Alexandre, who served in senior roles for a number of cupboard ministers and was a member of the LBC as a staffer.
Over time, a multipartisan and bicameral PBC was created to incorporate MPs and senators from a number of events.
Black caucus finds its ft throughout scandal
The thought of a proper group of Black legislators will not be new. The U.S. Congress has an analogous physique that began back in 1971. It is dedicated to points like prison justice reform, combating voter suppression and American overseas coverage in Africa.
Its youthful Canadian cousin lacks a social media presence, a web site and acknowledged public goals. Canada’s PBC additionally would not commonly report on the progress it has made in reaching its goals.
The LBC, in the meantime, rallied help behind numerous causes — getting the primary Canadian banknote that includes a Black Canadian girl (Viola Desmond), getting the Canadian authorities to acknowledge the United Nations Decade for Canadians of African Descent — and praised Trudeau for his statements acknowledging anti-Black racism.
However Trudeau himself had some explaining to do after photographs of previous appearances by him in blackface and brownface make-up got here to mild. Trudeau apologized for the photos, referred to as them “embarrassing” and stated he was offended with himself for not recognizing the impression they may have.
Fergus was criticized on the time for publicly standing by Trudeau. “Fergus made himself an agent of colonialism,” wrote Erica Ifill, an economist and one among Canada’s few Black political columnists, “and allowed himself for use as window-dressing, or the Black face of a scandal involving blackface.”
Alexandre, a senior staffer to ministers, stated he noticed it in a different way. Though he and others had been disillusioned with Trudeau, he stated, many nonetheless believed he genuinely cared concerning the issues Black Canadians face and noticed the scandal as a second for significant motion.
“I do imagine that had it not been for blackface, the acceleration that we noticed within the tempo of addressing points wouldn’t have truly occurred in such a brief, quick interval,” Alexandre stated.
Instantly after the 2019 election, Trudeau appointed Bardish Chagger as minister of range and inclusion. Alexandre labored with Chagger.
In 2020, months after the blackface scandal, the Black Lives Matter protests exploded round North America. The homicide of George Floyd distilled what racialized communities knew about their experiences of violence by the hands of police. It additionally uncovered systemic racism in establishments — together with the federal authorities.
In response, the PBC issued extra than forty calls to motion to the federal government, together with diversifying the general public service and police and justice system reform. Final yr, a CBC evaluation decided that the federal government had made progress on more than half of the calls to action.
Some may see this as successful, however it’s one Fergus stated would not belong to him alone.
“There’s an previous line: ‘You may get something completed in Ottawa so long as you aren’t keen to take credit score,'” Fergus stated.
The following era
At 27, Arielle Kayabaga made waves by changing into the primary Black girl elected to London Metropolis Council. The bilingual millennial made the swap to federal politics after a late-night cellphone name from Fergus.
“He was like, ‘Sister, I would like to speak to you,”‘ Kayabaga stated. “His phrases had been so stunning to me that I used to be like, ‘Let me name you again.'”
Kayabaga stated Fergus urged her to run after the Liberal incumbent in London West stepped down — and reminded her that such alternatives are uncommon.
“They are saying for ladies, you bought to ask them seven instances earlier than they comply with run. No person goes to ask a Black girl to run seven instances,” Kayabaga stated.
Humbled to be the brand new chair for <a href=”https://twitter.com/LiberalCa?ref_src=twsrcpercent5Etfw”>@liberalca</a> black caucus. And right now, I spoke with <a href=”https://twitter.com/justinpjtrudeau?ref_src=twsrcpercent5Etfw”>@justinpjtrudeau</a>, together with <a href=”https://twitter.com/GregFergus?ref_src=twsrcpercent5Etfw”>@gregfergus</a>, about guaranteeing Black Canadians throughout the nation are being represented, heard and revered. <a href=”https://t.co/41aqfnRFMK”>pic.twitter.com/41aqfnRFMK</a>
Now an MP in Ottawa, Kayabaga is following in Fergus’ footsteps by taking on as chair of the LBC.
The PBC will elect its subsequent Home chief at its subsequent assembly, which isn’t but scheduled. Fergus leaves his publish because the PBC’s Commons chair; his counterpart, Rosemarie Moodie, stays the Senate co-chair whereas the caucus searches for a brand new Home chief.
“There may be nothing inherently attractive or highly effective about [the job],” Alexandre stated.
The position requires individuals who can bear up beneath generally conflicting pressures, he stated — between social gathering loyalty, authorities accountability and the excessive expectations held by the group.
However when these pressures are efficiently managed, Alexandre stated, caucuses just like the LBC and PBC can exemplify how Parliament should work.
“It places a bit of bit extra energy into the palms of caucuses, whether or not they’re regional, whether or not they’re issues-based, whether or not they’re religious-based,” Alexandre stated. “I feel the Black caucus actually turns into a mannequin that may be emulated.”
For extra tales concerning the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success tales inside the Black group — take a look at Being Black in Canada, a CBC challenge Black Canadians might be happy with. You can read more stories here.