Black History Month 2023 - Interview with Michael Coteau, M.P.

Michael Coteau

Interview with Michael Coteau, M.P. (Don Valley East), co-chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus.

CAPE: The Parliamentary Black Caucus was established in 2015 to “bring forward, discuss, and advocate issues that are of importance to Black communities across Canada.” 

What have been some of its successes/achievements since it was established and what is it doing to address anti-Black racism in general and in the federal public sector in particular?

Michael Coteau: Since its formation in 2015, the Parliamentary Black Caucus has been a vehicle for Parliamentarians, in a non-partisan forum to discuss and advocate for issues facing the Black community in Canada. Over the past 7 years, the Caucus has heard directly from Black Canadians. The Parliamentary Black Caucus offers a unique opportunity for Black Canadian to communicate with MP’s and Senators not only from across the country, but across the political spectrum.

Most recently the Parliamentary Black caucus conducted a pre-budget consultation process from Black led and focused organizations, highlighting their proposals and areas of interest for the upcoming federal budget.  The Caucus held two live dialogues, where individuals and organizations were able to present directly to parliamentarians and field questions.

The Parliamentary Black Caucus will be providing our feedback, as well as the proposals of those who participated in the consultation process to the Minister of Finance. These proposals are an important part of the budget process, and the Parliamentary Black Caucus will continue to hold them in the future to further engage with as many Black led organizations, and ensure that the needs of the Black community in Canada are reflected in the federal budget process.

CAPE: The existence of anti-Black racism in the federal public sector has been documented. According to the 2019 Public Service Employee Survey, “more than 15% of Black public service employees experienced racial discrimination in the workplace.”

What do you think needs to be done to address anti-Black racism in the workplace in the federal public sector?

Michael Coteau: Barriers to Black Canadians still exist in sectors across Canada, and a lack of diversity continues to be an issue. The Canadian government has taken various steps to address anti-Black racism in the federal public service. The government announced the creation of a new Anti-Racism Strategy for the federal public service, which includes measures to increase diversity and inclusion, promote cultural competency and sensitivity, and address systemic discrimination and bias. 

The government continues to work on the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion in the Federal Public Service, as well as promoting equity and diversity in the public service. The government of Canada has also committed to implementing a new, mandatory training program for all federal public service employees on anti-Black racism and unconscious bias. 

Additionally, the government has announced plans to review and update federal hiring processes to remove barriers for underrepresented groups, including Black Canadians.

CAPE: The President of the Treasury Board’s Mandate Letter released on December 16th, 2021, tasks her, amongst other things, to deliver on the commitment to establish “a mental health fund for Black public servants and supporting career advancement, training, sponsorship and educational opportunities.”

Why is this important and how can it be done efficiently?

Michael Coteau: The support and promotion of mental health in the workplace is of vital importance to the government. Many Black Canadians experience systemic racism in the workplace which can have a significant impact on their mental health. More work is still needed to be done to address these issues, which is why the establishment of a mental health fund for Black public servants is so important. 

The establishment of this mental health fund is a good step towards evidence-based solutions with the goal of having long lasting effects.  Supporting Black Canadian public servants in the workplace can and will strengthen the public service while simultaneously providing new support for not only the current federal public service, but for those entering it in the future.

CAPE: It has been widely reported in various media outlets, that “a group of Black federal public servants is accusing the government of racism and is threatening to pull out of the development of a mental health action plan meant for Black workers.” 

How does the Parliamentary Black Caucus seek to find resolutions in situations like this?

Michael Coteau: The Parliamentary Black Caucus, since its establishment has been an avenue for Black voices in Canada to be heard. As parliamentarians, we listen to the feedback of our constituents and stakeholders and speak on behalf of Canadians. 

A core function of the Parliamentary Black Caucus is to amplify the voices of Black Canadians in a focused environment. This allows the Caucus to have meaningful and direct conversations with stakeholders. This allows the Caucus to tackle issues as a group rather than as individuals, while also having a whole of government approach having members from various parties from both the House of Commons and the Senate.

CAPE: One of the three objectives for the Implementation of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent is “adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks …and to ensure their full and effective implementation.” 

What has Canada done so far in the decade-long proclamation (2015-2024) for the benefit of Canadians of African descent especially those working in the federal public service? 

Michael Coteau: January 30th, 2018, saw the government of Canada officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent. Since that time, the government of Canada has committed to promoting and assisting the objectives as set out by the United Nations. 

Since that time, the government of Canada has taken steps to contribute to the United Nations Objectives. The 2018 Federal budget saw a commitment from the government of $9 million targeted towards community support for Black Canadian youth initiatives. The core objective of this funding is to provide greater opportunity for Black Canadian youth through the enhancement of leadership skills, as well as civic engagement.  An additional $10 million was allocated in the 2018 federal budget directed to a mental health initiative, solely focused on Black Canadians. This fund allows for culturally focused programs directed to the Black community to receive funding for the implementation of culturally appropriate programs focused on Mental Health. 

The 2019 federal budget saw an additional $25 million for projects directed towards capital projects that will allow for greater capacity building within black communities. 

The government of Canada remains committed to delivering on the objective of the International Decade for People of African Descent, and that of Black Canadians.