Mark Lee

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

“Power grows from the barrel of a gun,” Mao Zedong said or as his successors in Beijing are proving, out of the smoke stacks of factories.

“Is the Jamaican Diaspora a Political Force in Canada?” Politicians of the left right and centre turned up at the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation’s “summit” on June 13 to answer that question and others thrown at them by the moderator and attendees.

But after about six hours of talk that showed that the politicians did a quick rundown of the black who’s who in sports and entertainment – so they could sing their praise to the gullible – and loud shouts of “amen” from some vocal members in the audience who loved that sort of recognition, it’s hard to say exactly what new was learnt.

From the left, federal New Democrat leader Jack Leyton pointed out that it was necessary to get involved working in the riding one is interested in representing, organising, campaigning and fund raising. That was basically echoed by leader of the federal opposition Liberal’s Michael Ignatieff and Minister of Citizenship Jason Kenney, representative of the ruling Progressive Conservative leader and Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

A section of the rapt audience at the Jamaica Diaspora Canada summit.
A section of the rapt audience at the Jamaica Diaspora Canada summit.

The important caveat that in some instances the endorsement of the leadership of the party was necessary – as in her case former Prime Minister Jean Chretien – was raised by Ontario’s Fairness Commissioner, Jean Augustine, the Grenada born former federal MP in the Liberal administration.

The Jamaica born former member of the provincial parliament (1985-2005) and Speaker of the Ontario Legislature on a Liberal ticket, Alvin Curling, was adamant there was political clout within the community of Caribbeans/Jamaicans as evidenced by his own electoral record. He pointed to Jamaica born Rosemary Brown, the first black woman to win a seat in a Canadian legislature (Vancouver 1972) and run for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party; former Liberal MPP Mary Ann Chambers and her successor Margarett Best as well as those making contributions in other areas such as Michael Lee-Chin in the financial field and Ray Chang in academics.

In keeping with what critics would see as a tradition of victimology, some attendees wanted to know in that forum what was being done about the ‘orphaned’ children of criminal deportees, about assistance with Jamaica’s debt and how churches could be built in the Toronto area at the rate they saw temples of non-Christian faiths – the suggestion being the government was somehow funding or facilitating the activity.

Caribbean nationals are faced with the Canadian multi-cultural dilemma: old Anglo-Canada wants newer arrivals to fall in line with a certain pecking order of power and authority while accommodating silos of cultural diversity. The old guard accepts turbans in the legislature and in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police but no one will be happy with an RCMP of Gurkhas.

At the same time, Canada is not a meritocracy. Even official government employment organizations tell us how important it is to know or be known by people and for joining ‘networks’ to find good jobs and get ahead. The powerlessness of Afro communities, into which most Jamaicans are grouped, is well documented in official statistics that show higher unemployment and the lowest measures on all social indices for blacks compared to all ethnic demographics and further, that on average, whites with high school only education are bosses of and more highly paid than blacks with university degrees.

The many folk who turned up to the Diaspora summit with flyers promoting their businesses and events may point to where the real focus ought to be if Jamaicans or Caribbeans are seeking power as a demographic. Any one Jamaican could be prime minister of Canada (Governor General Michaelle Jean was born in Haiti) but a Jamaica born prime minister of Canada is not any more empowering for Jamaicans in Canada or on the island than is Barack Obama’s election solving African-American marginalization.

Perhaps it was the wrong group that was invited to be quizzed about whether Jamaicans have political influence. Maybe it was the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim leaders or the Italians who control the construction sector that should have come in to speak on “how to”. Or maybe just borrow another slogan from the Jamaican Rastafari: “Organize and Centralize!” Michael Manley and Maurice Bishop in their time did borrow “Forward Ever, Backward Never!” and used it effectively. That, or we can borrow Mao’s Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong) or the revised edition of Hu Jintao who it seems owns the USA’s debt.