It was a flustered Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who called Toronto MP Jean Augustine to cabinet last month at a ceremony in Ottawa.
The appointment was one of many changes made that day to shore up a cabinet mired in scandal. But many Canadians watching the scene on television saw just one thing: Almost 135 years after Confederation, Canada could finally boast of its first black woman in cabinet.
That bragging will undoubtedly crescendo at a Toronto event tonight honouring Ms. Augustine, 64, now Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, event organizer Warren Salmon said.
"I was extremely happy and proud of Jean, to say the least," said Mr. Salmon, founder of First Fridays, a networking organization for Toronto's black community. "I know that there's been disappointment that there weren't any African-Canadians in the Chrétien cabinet, so Jean's appointment has answered that disappointment."
Ms. Augustine, who was born in Grenada and immigrated to Canada in 1960 to work as a nanny, came to the House of Commons in 1993 with the Chrétien Liberals and has served as parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister and chairwoman of the Commons foreign affairs committee.
She takes on a post that Mr. Chrétien had given short shrift, critics say, when he gave it to Ms. Augustine's predecessor, Claudette Bradshaw, who was already responsible for homelessness issues.
But Ms. Augustine's commitment to cultural issues and education should more than prepare her for the rigours of the portfolio, said former New Democratic Party MP Howard McCurdy, who for nine years was the only black in the Commons. In 1979, Lincoln Alexander became the first black man in cabinet.
"Jean has made significant progress since coming to office in 1993. She brings with her a commitment to those issues around multiculturalism that we both hold dear. She's committed to excellence and she's was lucky enough to choose the right party -- a party in power," Mr. McCurdy joked.
But the appointment means most to young people, especially young black women, said Cathy Maloney, a 28-year-old public-relations executive in Toronto.
"Jean's been at the game for a while and I think her being able to work her way up that ladder in an area dominated by not just men but by white men is phenomenal," Ms. Maloney said.
The member from Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ms. Augustine has a masters in education from the University of Toronto, which later honoured her with an honorary doctorate.
The Commons's only other black woman member, Marlene Jennings, credited Ms. Augustine for opening doors for black women.
But Ms. Augustine said she hopes her appointment draws the attention of those outside of Canada's black communities.
"Being the first black feels good, yes, but more than that, it says to others and to ourselves that blacks can be in every place in society," she said. "It's important that no one be able to say that blacks can't perform in every segment of Canadian society because we can."
But Canada's black community must temper its expectations of Ms. Augustine, another businessman in Toronto's black community said.
"If, in fact, members of the community put too much hope on Secretary Augustine being able effect changes for blacks, then I believe that they have misunderstood the political system," said Allister Coward, a partner with Tri-Accounting Business Services of Toronto. "But what Jean's accomplishments do illustrate is how important it is for blacks to participate in government in order to be able to aid the community in some form. Jean got involved in the process and she's finally been rewarded."
Ms. Augustine said she looks forward to tonight's celebration as a way of giving back to a community that has supported her career.
"I'll always be grateful to this community," she said, "just for the strangers who come up to me and say 'You go girl, go!' "