British Columbia

Diverse slate of new B.C. mayors serves as inspiration for would-be politicians, analyst says

A political analyst says multiple B.C. cities' elections of their first mayors of colour over the weekend should encourage more diverse candidates thinking of running for their community's top job.

Voters in Vancouver, Prince George and Williams Lake have all elected their first mayors of colour

From left to right, Prince George's Simon Yu, Vancouver's Ken Sim and Williams Lake's Surinderpal Rathor were elected mayors on Oct. 15, becoming the first people of colour to lead their communities. (Nadia Mansour/CBC, Ben Nelms/CBC, Surinderpal Rathor/Facebook)

A political analyst says multiple B.C. cities' elections of their first mayors of colour over the weekend should encourage more diverse candidates thinking of running for their community's top job.

Vancouver has chosen Ken Sim as its first ever Chinese Canadian mayor, Prince George has voted in Hong Kong-born Simon Yu as its leader, and Williams Lake voters have given the top job to Surinderpal Rathor.

"We are seeing the changing faces of British Columbia not only in the cities, but also in the smaller communities throughout the province that I think covers a trend but also a long-standing history of the diversity of our province," said Andy Yan, director of the city program at Simon Fraser University.

Yan said Sim's victory was a "coming of age" moment for Vancouver. 

"The ongoing maturation of the political culture … has been able to coalesce in terms of the first BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] mayor of the City of Vancouver," he said.

"It really marks a change of an era, and it's a change that I think is positive."

Mayors of colour make history

Sim's victory speech on Saturday night echoed the idea of a historic shift.

"One hundred and thirty-five years after the first Chinese head tax was paid just for the right to come here and work on building a railway, Vancouver has elected its first Chinese Canadian mayor," he said.

WATCH | Ken Sim celebrates decisive victory in Vancouver's mayoral race on Oct. 15

Ken Sim addresses supporters after projected victory in Vancouver

5 months ago
Duration 12:56
Vancouver's new mayor-elect celebrates what appears to be a decisive win for him and ABC Vancouver in the 2022 municipal election.

Sim said he stands on the shoulders of Chinese Canadian politicians such as former Vancouver MPs Douglas Jung and Sophia Leung, and highlighted the community's contribution to the building of B.C.

"It's not just limited to the city limits of Vancouver," he told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition.

"If it wasn't for the Chinese that built the railway, Vancouver and B.C. would be part of the United States right now."

Yu said his victory in the Prince George mayoral race as a first generation immigrant doesn't only speak to the diversity of the northern city, but also carries significant meaning for the entire province and beyond.

"I got a chance to participate in this full democracy in a place where there's hardly any Chinese population," Yu said.

"This is a shocker — I think the news travels back all the way to Hong Kong and Vancouver. This is the biggest win for democracy."

Yu is the first person of coloour to hold the position

Rathor, who has served six terms as a councillor in Williams Lake, said he's thankful for the opportunity to work with the Cariboo community for decades.

"This community has given me everything I have desired in the last 48 years," the mayor-elect said on CBC's Daybreak Kamloops.

Breaking barriers to seeking public office

Yan said he believes the first person of colour to be elected mayor in B.C. was Peter Wing, who served three terms in Kamloops beginning in 1966.

Yan said Wing's mayoralty was possible thanks to the higher social trust in smaller communities outside Metro Vancouver.

"Trust building … is easier to attain in places that are a bit smaller than in large metropolitan areas," he said.

Peter Wing, second from left wearing a mayor's chain of office, is shown with his wife and parents in an undated picture. Wing served three mayoral terms in Kamloops, B.C., beginning in 1966. (Kamloops Museum and Archives)

Yan argues that the City of Vancouver and other B.C. municipalities should work to remove institutional barriers to people of colour seeking public office.

"The overall electorate is valuing the idea of different voices, of different faces, of different cultures, of different religions," he said.

"Breaking barriers is the pathway towards building a bigger and better community."

With files from The Early Edition, Daybreak Kamloops and Betsy Trumpener