For the first time, residents of an electoral district will likely have a Filipino-Canadian representative in the legislative assembly, whether they vote B.C. Liberal or New Democrat.
Gabby Kalaw, who was born in the Philippines and moved to Canada at the age of three, wants to run for the B.C. Liberal Party in Vancouver-Kensington.
If nominated, the 34-year-old IT sales professional will challenge incumbent B.C. NDP MLA Mable Elmore in the May 2013 election. Elmore was the darling of the province’s third-largest visible-minority community when, in 2009, she became the first politician of Filipino heritage to win a seat in the legislature.
“If you want community representation, it’s not just Filipinos,” Kalaw told the Georgia Straight during an interview in Gastown. “It’s about providing the values for everybody in the community. I want to run more than just as somebody who’s reflecting Filipinos. I reflect the values that your children are going to grow up with, the values that the children of the Chinese are growing up with, same with the South Asians and Vietnamese.”
According to the 2006 census, 70 percent of Vancouver-Kensington’s residents belonged to ethnic minorities. Fifty-three percent of these were Chinese, 17 percent were Filipino, and 14 percent were South Asian.
Kalaw claimed that many groups in Vancouver-Kensington feel left out by Elmore. “I feel I can do a better job representing everybody,” he said.
Elmore said that she has reached out to the different ethnic minority communities in the constituency.
“When I was elected, my view was that I’m representing all the constituents of Vancouver-Kensington,” Elmore told the Straight in a phone interview. “One of the priorities that I feel strongly about is to really ensure that all communities are engaged and feel welcome to avail of services.”
The New Democrat MLA said that her constituency office has a staff member who speaks Cantonese and Mandarin. She added that informational materials available at her office are translated into Chinese and Punjabi.
Filipino community commentator Ted Alcuitas noted that, on the one hand, an Elmore-Kalaw contest is a good thing if one looks at it through the lens of cultural pride. However, Kalaw could face criticism from Filipino-Canadians who see his challenge of Elmore as a sort of “betrayal”, Alcuitas said.
“Personally, I don’t go for that kind of attitude,” Alcuitas told the Straight by phone. “If both candidates are qualified, let the best candidate win. We should not be voting based on ethnicity, without looking at the qualifications of the candidates. Perhaps this other candidate is better qualified than the incumbent.”
The Filipino community is politically diverse. This was on display during the last B.C. NDP nomination battle in Vancouver-Kensington, which Elmore won. Rey Umlas, who served as the B.C. government’s liaison to the Filipino community in B.C. under then–New Democrat premier Glen Clark, supported Elmore’s rival, Jinny Sims, a South Asian Canadian who is now a federal NDP MP. For this, Umlas received criticism from some community members.
“But I stood pat on principle and who I believed was going to be a better representative for Kensington,” Umlas recalled in a phone interview with the Straight.
An Acadia University graduate, Kalaw isn’t a political novice. In the 2011 municipal election in Vancouver, he came close to winning a seat on the park board. Of the three Filipino-Canadians who ran for council and park board during that campaign, Kalaw earned the greatest number of votes.
In recent elections, Vancouver-Kensington has alternated between New Democrat and B.C. Liberal representatives. It was held by then–NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh until he was unseated by B.C. Liberal Patrick Wong in 2001. Wong was defeated in the 2005 election by New Democrat David Chudnovsky. Chudnovsky did not run for a second term in 2009.
Syrus Lee, the B.C. Liberal who lost to Elmore in 2009, indicated to the Straight by phone that he’s not interested in running in Vancouver-Kensington next year.
The ruling B.C. Liberals have been consistently trailing the New Democrats in provincewide opinion polls.
“It will be a tough fight,” Kalaw said. “I’m the underdog. I understand that.”