The drive to get more Filipino Canadians into politics
Three Filipino-Canadian politicians talk about the path to a more racially diverse political landscape
Today is the start of Pinoys on Parliament, a three-day event running Feb. 19-21.
It's a yearly national conference focused on youth leadership for young Filipino Canadians.
While previously held in Ottawa, this year, it's virtual. There are online speakers, panels and workshops on offer for people across the country.
As part of our CBC Calgary Filipino pop-up bureau, we have been exploring various aspects of the community here in Alberta, but many of the stories are about experiences shared across the country.
We wanted to learn more about the drive to get more Canadians of Filipino descent interested in politics. So, we convened a panel of three Filipino Canadian politicians from different regions and asked them why they made the choice to enter public service themselves.
Our guests were Mable Elmore, a four-time NDP MLA in the riding of Vancouver-Kensington; Jocelyn Curteanu, a city councillor in Whitehorse since 2012; and Malaya Marcelino NDP MLA for Winnepeg's Notre Dame riding.
You can listen to their full interview with CBC's Paul Karchut in the audio link, or read just a bit of their introductions in the abbreviated Q&A below. Both have been edited for length and clarity.
Paul Karchut: Let's have the three of you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you got into politics. Why don't we start out West? Mable, can you introduce yourself for us?
Mable Elmore: Terrific. Thank you very much, Paul. I'm a four-term MLA representing Vancouver-Kensington, born in Langley, raised in northern Manitoba. My mother came from the Philippines as a nurse in 1965. She met my dad. His background is Irish-Canadian.
And I didn't think I'd be a politician. Last thing I thought I'm ever going to end up being (is) a politician. But I just enjoyed volunteering in the community and helping people. And I was asked to consider running to be a candidate in the provincial election and I ran. I was a big underdog.
But I really had strong support across the Filipino community and broader community. And so I won the nomination. I was elected and made history. It was a great honour to be elected as the first and only MLA of a Filipino heritage (in B.C.) and also the first out lesbian of colour elected in B.C., and I believe in Canada, in 2009.
PK: Malaya, let's have you introduce yourself. Speaking of real winter, joining us from Winnipeg.
Malaya Marcelino: This is my very first term so we just finished up a year. And the leader of the Opposition, the NDP, Wab Kinew, asked me to consider running in this constituency that I grew up in.
My mother has been an MLA for the NDP for 12 years, and it was a difficult kind of experience being a kid, watching all that happen. We only got to see our mom on Sunday mornings at church, but I decided to do it for personal reasons. Because we saw what was happening in the health-care system and we saw some issues with crime personally affecting our family friends. And I thought that I would be able to step up and help with that in our community.
I'm a mom of two young children, so it's a lot of juggling. I understand why people or women don't do this until their children are older. I work a lot. But it's important work and it's important to have that voice that represents people who normally don't get represented.
PK: Jocelyn, let's have you introduce yourself now — joining us from chilly Whitehorse this morning.
Jocelyn Curteanu: Yes, I'm a city councilor for the City of Whitehorse. I actually was born in the Philippines, in Quezon City. My parents (are) both Filipino.
I was the vice-president of the Canadian Filipino Association of Yukon (and) I was asked to speak in front of city council one time to provide a delegation to encourage city council to sign on to the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination.
I thought it was just a formality, to show our community support for this initiative. And then when I spoke, I felt that there was some resistance. And it concerned me because I was thinking, "What do you mean there's no racism in Yukon?" You know, like I mean, the population of Yukon was just becoming more diversified. We were having more foreign workers, immigrants coming in. But culture remained, for the most part, the same.
So when that happened, it kind of convinced me that, yeah, we can't have a council without minority representation. And now this is my third term and I'm loving it and just realizing how much work it is but how important the work is.
PK: And I gather that you, Mable and Jocelyn, are taking part in a virtual conference on getting younger Filipino Cadnadians into politics, Jocelyn. What is the initiative?
JC: So it's called Pinoys on Parliament. And it's an initiative for Filipino youth to get together in a leadership conference. It tries to sort of spread that message that Mable was talking about, how important it is for our Filipino youth to get involved and the encouragement to take that step and follow that dream.
A lot of them feel that there might be glass ceilings that hold them back. And so we want to say, "Hey, look, we're here. We made it and we aren't any different from you. And if you need help, we're here for you."
And just just to show them how important it is that Filipinos and all racialized minorities have proper representation in all the government and all of the leadership roles.
PK: Well, it's been a real pleasure speaking with the three of you. And I want to thank you for your work and for your time here today.
Everyone: Thanks, Paul. Thank you. Bye.