Originally published on October 28, 2021.
How is it possible to be passed up for promotion time and time again, even though you’ve delivered exceptionally in times of crisis? Perhaps you’ve been told that you’re not “leadership material,” or perhaps the goal posts move every time you are successful at whatever task you are given. Or perhaps you’re being tokenized, trotted out like a show pony in the name of “diversity.” If you’re Black Indigenous, person of colour (BIPOC) you know this reality all too well.
For Greg Fergus, MP for Hull—Aylmer, this reality hit home last Tuesday.
On October 26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed his latest federal cabinet. It may be gender-equal — out of 39 ministers, 19 are women – but it’s also incredibly white: with only 8 BIPOC ministers. Earlier this fall, when Omar Sachedina of CTV News asked the PM if he would commit to 50% BIPOC representation, Trudeau responded, “What we have done over the past year is bring in far more diversity into the Prime Minister’s Office than ever before, into cabinet.”
The Liberal party’s commitment to diversity is so strong, they left one of their most hard-working and successful Black MPs on the bench.
Greg Fergus has been an MP for six years. He is the Chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, Chair of the Liberal Black Caucus; he was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, to the President of the Treasury Board, and to the Minister of Digital Government. He has worked tirelessly to push files on diversity and inclusion and anti-Black racism, which are the same files the Liberals often face-plant in their performative navigation of race.
Fergus was responsible for the Parliamentary Black Caucus’ calls-to-action following the murder of George Floyd. (I assisted CBC reporter, David Thurton, in tracking how many of these calls had been answered.) He is also responsible for including Black communities in consultations for the 2021 federal budget, which was unprecedented. Were it not for Greg Fergus, neither the $300 million for Black philanthropic organizations nor would the Black Entrepreneurship Fund have happened because who else would’ve done it? No one.
I could go on. And I will.
Fergus also made space for a new organization for Black federal public servants, or the Federal Black Employee Caucus (FBEC), to serve a constituency within the public service that is subject to targeted harassment, racism, and misogynoir, and is too often shut out of senior roles. He greased the wheels of engagement with top bureaucratic officials, making the talk of diversity in the public service come closer to reality. One would think the Liberals would be grateful for all of this work from Fergus, considering the federal government is being sued by Black federal public service employees who claim it “failed to uphold the Charter rights of Black employees in the federal public service, shirking its responsibility to create discrimination- and harassment-free workplaces, and actively excluding Black bureaucrats.”
And yet it seems like the Liberal party is doing the same thing to Greg Fergus. Given all these accomplishments, why has Greg Fergus been passed up for promotion, twice (yes, twice)?
Because, like women, Greg Fergus has hit the glass ceiling for doing the emotional labour of the Liberal Party and is getting just as much recognition. When the Liberals were desperate to craft a credible response to their blackface scandal, they called on their Black friend to help clean up the mess. And clean it up he did, at the risk of his own reputation. It was Fergus who went on the blackface apology tour, imploring Canadians to forgive the prime minister for his indiscretion (*cough* racism).
Greg Fergus has hit the glass ceiling for doing the emotional labour of the Liberal Party and is getting just as much recognition.
Black labour is neither cheap nor free, yet it is often treated as such in institutions across the country. We are used as the faces of diversity and inclusion but are rarely given the support or resources to make it to a position of power and influence. I experienced this when I worked at the federal Department of Finance where I was tokenized as a diverse hire during its university recruitment campaigns but was never given the files that would have given me a pathway to higher positions that would invariably come with more power and influence.
Unfortunately, Black talent is neither respected nor recognized in Canada. If it were, it would have to be compensated, and with that compensation comes power and influence and we can’t have that. Instead, there is a coordinated effort to ensure that power stays white, and discrimination is the way in which this symphony is conducted.
This is why the Liberals can boast a gender-equal cabinet, which contains mostly white women and only four women of colour, and ignore Omar Sachedina’s call for more BIPOC representation. As I explained in my Hill Times column: “White supremacy diminishes Black talent; it places us in a subservient position at the starting line, while culturally appropriating our creations for its material and social benefit.”
And it is in the service of white supremacy that the Liberals ignored Greg Fergus’ Black talent and Black labour.
Merit was never a question.