Emmett Bisbee (3rd place winner, $1500)
Lincoln M. Alexander: A Remarkable Canadian Politician

Barrie Central Collegiate, Innisfil, Ont.


In order to retain the confidence of the people, governments and parliaments around the world must prove to their citizens that they are representative of all of society's demographics — whether it is gender, religion, or race. Since colonial times, minority groups have struggled in North America to feel included, and for their voices to be heard. While it is often historically overlooked, black Canadians faced many problems that were similar to those faced by black Americans over the previous centuries. The injustices suffered by black Canadians led to the desire for change. Over the past decades since the post-war period, there has been monumental progress for equal rights in Canada. Lincoln M. Alexander achieved three important milestones over his long public service career — first black Member of Parliament, first black Cabinet Minister, and subsequently first black Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. His political success demonstrated that old barriers were being broken down, and was a sign of emerging racial equality in civic affairs.

Following his service to Canada in the Second World War as a Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot, Alexander graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School and became a member of the Queen's Counsel in 1965, an accomplishment that was relatively rare for black Canadians at the time. He ran unsuccessfully for the Conservative Party in the 1965 general election, but was elected as the Member of Parliament for Hamilton West in 1968. After his election as the first black Member of Parliament, he noted in the House of Commons:

I am not the spokesman for the Negro; that honour has not been given to me. Do not let me ever give anyone that impression. However, I want the record to show that I accept the responsibility of speaking for him and all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour.1

His victory message was that of a man who had been elected to serve all those he represented, while championing racial equality. His success proved that it was possible for black Canadians to be involved in politics and the future of their nation.

When Joe Clark became Prime Minister of Canada in 1979, Alexander was appointed Minister of Labour, which was the first time a black Canadian had been appointed to the Executive Council. From that moment, Lincoln Alexander was in service to all of Canada, instead of being limited to his Hamilton West constituency. His role would allow him to oversee the evolving issues with workplace discrimination across the country. It was symbolic for a black Canadian to hold such a role while the struggle for equality still existed in the workforce nationwide. Though his time in Cabinet was short-lived, as the government would fall within a year, his elevation to the role spoke of his capabilities, and to the fact that people like him were the reason that racial acceptance was beginning to be promoted in most aspects of Canadians' lives. Some of the nation's most powerful figures certainly agreed.

In September 1985, Alexander was recommended by Prime Minister Mulroney to the position of Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. He would be the first black Canadian to be a representative of the monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Such a position is generally reserved for well respected former politicians or public figures who have made a difference in various fields. Future appointments such as Adrienne Clarkson and David Onley speak to this tradition. Lincoln Alexander was certainly deserving of the honour. During his tenure he made youth education his focus of attention. He remained Ontario's vice-regal representative until 1991, when he became Chancellor of Guelph University, a position he would hold for sixteen years.

Lincoln Alexander died at the age of 90 on October 19, 2012. He was remembered as a passionate believer in taking steps towards racial equality. Premier McGuinty noted at the time of his death, "He broke down barriers. He made Ontario a better place for all of us, the next generation of public servants and citizens."2 His legacy will carry on as proof that all Canadians, regardless of race or ethnic origin, have the ability to participate in their democracy to their full ability. Reflecting on his time in politics, Alexander once noted, "I just made up my mind that I was as good as anyone if not better. I won't run away from the fact that I'm black and be weak because I'm black."3 His words continue to inspire youth today, and will for future generations.


1. Martin, Sandra. "Obituary: Former Lieutenant-Governor Took Discrimination as Personal Challenge." The Globe and Mail. October 19, 2012. Accessed December 4, 2014.
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/obituary-former-lieutenant-governor-took-discrimination-as-personal-challenge/article4623578/?page=all (opens external website in new window)
2. CBC News. "Lincoln Alexander, Canada's 1st Black MP, Dies." CBCnews website. October 19, 2012. Accessed December 4, 2014.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/lincoln-alexander-canada-s-1st-black-mp-dies-1.1180603 (opens external website in new window).
3. "Aspects of African-Canadian Culture." African Canadian Online. Accessed December 4, 2014. http://www.yorku.ca/aconline/culture/politicians.html (opens external website in new window).