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A Missed Opportunity For The New Premier

02/22/2013 11:19 EST | Updated 04/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Earlier this week I was at Queens Park at the invitation of the new Premier to help celebrate the end of Black History Month. The GTA has the largest black population in the country.

I had hoped Margarett Best would be in attendance. As an Ontarian, I would have liked to have offered her my sincere appreciation for being a great mentor for many and as a black Ontarian -- for setting a great public service example, as an MPP and Minister.

In Ontario politics that has few black parliamentarians let alone Ministers, it's a shame the rare black woman MPP is being neglected to the backbenches. At Queens Park, she is the only woman of colour in Cabinet and one of few Cabinet members well known to be involved in ethnic and Caribbean communities all over Ontario.

In 2011, she also made history as the first black woman to ever be re-elected in Ontario.

As a person of firsts, Best's life is a Canadian success story at its best where hard work can be a ticket to a better life in Canada. Her presence in Ontario politics complements the ideal public servant for millions of Canadians.

The single mother of three whose determination, in later years, led her to Law school before eventually becoming MPP in 2007 has been a great advocate to many young people such as myself. I was a candidate of her riding for City council in 2010 -- when I approached her office for advice.

I was given a half hour appointment to meet with the ever busy MPP and Minister. I was an hour late yet the Minister waited patiently to meet up with me. She saw as much potential in me as I saw wisdom in her.

She was super proud of the work she was involved in and the people who worked in her office. She was proud to represent everyday Ontarians in her riding as much as she was with representing the likes of the Toronto Police Chief. She was also troubled with the plight of the youth in her riding and her wish was to mentor as many young people as should could.

At the end, she gave me practical advice and wished me well. She never asked me if I was a Liberal or if I was a supporter of hers. For her, getting involved in public service was paramount to the ideal Ontario she wants to help achieve. The rare hour I spent with her took me to the Martin Luther King words she uttered when she first became an MPP: "Not everyone can be famous but everyone can be great because greatness is measured by your service to others." It seemed she really lived the words.

At that speech, she also promised to be "a dedicated public servant for the people of her diverse riding."

That is why I think the Premier made a very wrong decision to remove her from more senior positions and neglect her to the back where she clearly does not belong. To look at her time as Minister is to clearly be impressed and hope the other Ministers would be as competent as she was.

For instance, as Minister of Consumer Affairs whose role has been diminished over the years, she became its greatest ambassador. The work she did there will have positive impact for generations of Ontarians to come. The Wireless Services Agreement Act, the reformation of the pay loan industry and the condominium Act are some of these examples.

This achievement led University of Toronto's and member of Wynne's transition team member, Tony Dean, to celebrate her leadership as an advocate "as a lighthouse example of smart, efficient and customer-focused government."

He continued: "The best examples of transformation often arise from the right mix of political and public service leadership. Consumer Services is a good example of this. It has moved over a number of years from a mid-size regulatory ministry to a small and nimble consumer champion -- a "good news" ministry with resonant retail messaging that speaks to the practical concerns of citizens in their everyday lives."

For a new Ontario government that wants to embrace a "fair society" and wants to be inclusive, Best's exclusion is short-sighted. With Liberals, the tradition has always dictated that one black Minister be appointed at a time. It has always been that way as emerging ethnic communities are beginning to find out and look for political refugee elsewhere.

In her place , MPP Michael Coteau was chosen as a Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. In a new government full of newbies and inexperienced Ministers -- the able, competent and experienced Best would have been a great person to have.

That is why I had hopped to meet her at the event and thank for all she has meant for me and others personally. Its a real pity, she was not kept Minister by the the new Premier.

She would have continued to be a great Minister.