Featured Voices

February 15, 2024
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The MP Exit Interview project is made up of over 160 interviews with former Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum. Each former MP has a unique story to tell about their civic journey to the House of Commons, their time in office, and their particular perspective on the practice of politics in Canada. Here, we illuminate these stories, sharing featured insights from former MPs who have contributed to our ongoing study, in their own voices.

Born in Happy Hill, Grenada, the Honourable Jean Augustine became the first Black Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons. After immigrating to Canada at 23, Jean obtained her Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Education at the University of Toronto. She was instrumental in founding the Toronto chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, and later became the national president of the organization. She served as an elementary school principal for the Metropolitan Separate School Board and Chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority before she made history when she became the first Black woman to be elected as an MP, winning the seat of Etobicoke-Lakeshore as the Liberal candidate in 1993. 

She served as the Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore for four terms, becoming the first Black woman to hold a Cabinet position when she served as Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women from 2002 to 2004. She also served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister from 1993 to 1996, and as Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Vice-Chair on Human Resources Development. She was elected Assistant Deputy Speaker of the House in 2004. She retired from national politics in 2005, but went on to serve as the first Ontario Fairness Commissioner in the Office of the Fairness Commissioner (OFC). 

In 2008, the Samara Centre for Democracy interviewed Jean Augustine. Listen below to learn about her civic journey from Happy Hill to Parliament Hill, in her own words. 

Jean Augustine on her early sense of civic responsibility and community engagement:

Jean Augustine on the lack of role models when she ran for federal office:

Jean Augustine’s approach to entering politics:

Jean Augustine on being sworn in as the first Black Woman MP:

Jean Augustine on one of the many challenges of being a trailblazer on Parliament Hill:

Jean Augustine on how to combat partisanship in the House:

Jean Augustine on the most fulfilling aspects of her life as an MP:

If you would like to access the full audio interview and transcript for Dr. Jean Augustine’s interview, please complete the Samara Centre for Democracy’s data sharing agreement here.

Image: File:Jean Augustine 2010 (crop).jpg Activités_de_Noël_à_Etobicoke.jpg: Michael Ignatieff, by Radey Barrack, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12244273

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