Melanie Mark 'at peace' with decision to leave nastiness of politics behind
'You can throw darts at me any day, as long as it’s the truth,' says First Nations MLA
A day after announcing her resignation, Melanie Mark, the first First Nations woman to serve in the British Columbia Legislature and as a cabinet minister, said she feels "at peace" with her decision.
Speaking on CBC's The Early Edition, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant also said she feels "a sense of freedom." And, after referring to the legislature as a "torture chamber" during her Wednesday announcement, she called out the Opposition Liberals for going too far in their criticisms of her during her tenure.
"I'll point them to Hansard," she said. "There's record of the Opposition standing up and accusing me. I think at one point I was accused of stealing money from the public because I claimed dry cleaning [as an expense]."
"I was accused of deleting emails. I was accused of ruining the cruise ship industry even though I'm not responsible for the federal mandate of our ports. I was accused of ruining the RBC Museum — the Royal B.C. Museum — and all of that takes its toll."
Mark found return to legislature traumatic
Mark — of Nisga'a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway ancestry — was first elected in 2016 and served as minister of advanced education, skills, and training and then tourism minister until September 2022, when she stepped down from the portfolio so she could take care of a medical issue and focus on her family and mental health.
"I had a chance to be home, and when I returned to the legislature earlier this year, the trauma came back — of going back into the legislature and looking across at the Liberals," she said.
Mark admitted she was "boisterous in the House" in her role as an MLA but said statements made on the floor come down to being truthful when saying them.
"You can throw darts at me any day as long as it's the truth."
Mark added that "getting beat up" shouldn't go with the job of being a politician.
"As an Indigenous woman, from my culture, I just don't believe that you should go to work that way. I think you've got to go to work with respect, treat people with respect, treat people with kindness. I think it's too easy these days for people to attack politicians, and I think we can do better. I demand that we do better."
Later on Thursday, Mark was honoured by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. She shed tears and shared laughter with leaders from First Nations across the province, saying she felt "blanketed with love" during a ceremony held at the Musqueam Community Centre.
Job is to ask tough questions: Falcon
Responding Thursday to how Mark viewed her treatment in the legislature, Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said, "If that's how she feels, that's how she feels."
"And it's legitimate, and it's real to her, and there's just no question about it," he added. "But I also think it's important to note that ... our job as Opposition is to ask hard questions of government."
Falcon acknowledged Mark's role as a pioneer in provincial politics and said it's unfortunate she felt her experience in the legislature was tainted.
"My heart goes out to her for that."
Mark 'gave it her all'
With Mark stepping away from B.C. provincial politics after seven years, Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in Port Alberni, said she'll be missed.
"I think all of us know that Melanie Mark made a difference," Sayers said on CBC's B.C. Today. "She made a difference by becoming minister in two portfolios. She was a voice for Indigenous people, and she was able to make some positive changes — obviously not everything she would have wanted to do because of the mandates that she held. So I think Melanie Mark can walk away with her head held high, knowing that she gave it her all."
Chi Nguyen, executive director of Ottawa-based Equal Voice — which advocates for women and gender-diverse candidates at all levels of government — called Mark's scathing words about her treatment while in office "absolutely remarkable."
"To hear somebody who's been in service and doing this work for the last seven years and a real trailblazer and role model for many communities, talk about the environment as being as hard and difficult, it's a real toll for all leaders who serve, but in particular for women and women of colour and Indigenous community member. It is not easy work."
Mark plans to focus on family
Mark said she's resigning as an MLA not because life in politics is hard but rather for her daughters, Maya and Makayla. Moving forward, she said she plans to focus on family but also intends to "mentor and coach" the MLA who takes her seat — someone she hopes will also be Indigenous.
"Now there's a playbook," she said. "I came into the Legislature without a playbook."
Mark will make her resignation official by the end of March.
An NDP spokesperson said a date for a byelection has not yet been set.
With files from Karin Larsen and Meera Bains