After March 30, Mable Elmore took a break from driving the No. 8 bus. However, in the next few weeks, the 10-year transit operator will continue working a stretch of Fraser Street from East 49th Avenue to Kingsway. It won’t lead downtown, but it’s a route that hasn’t been taken before by a Filipino Canadian in British Columbia.
As the NDP candidate for Vancouver-Kensington, Elmore, a daughter of an immigrant nurse from Cebu in central Philippines, stands to achieve a first in a major ethnic community that doesn’t have a seat in the mainstream political life of the province.
Her campaign to become an MLA has generated excitement among Canadians of Philippine ancestry.
“It’s a recognition of the political coming-of-age of Filipinos,” former UBC professor Aprodicio Laquian told the Georgia Straight.
The Philippine-born Laquian noted that Filipinos have a lot of catching up to do with the Chinese Canadian and South Asian communities in making inroads in B.C.’s political sphere. (According to Statistics Canada 2006 census figures, 88,100 Filipinos reside in B.C., making them the province’s third-largest visible-minority group.)
Laquian first met the Canadian-born and -raised Elmore in the early 1990s when she was advocating for female migrants. Elmore later became active in the union and antiwar movements. She’s currently a member of Canadian Auto Workers Local 111 and remains cochair of StopWar.ca.
Her activist credentials have won her the support of local Filipino social advocacy organizations like Migrante B.C. and the Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights.
As a lesbian, Elmore doesn’t fit the housewife image preferred by many conservative Filipinos. But according to Leonora Angeles, a Philippine-educated UBC academic, Elmore has secured the support of various religious-based groups in the community.
One favourite story told by Elmore is that of an elderly Filipino woman she hadn’t met before she knocked on her apartment door. On the woman’s altar, along with candles and Catholic religious symbols, was Elmore’s campaign photo.
Erie Maestro runs a Filipino preschool program at the South Hill library branch on Fraser Street.
“The campaign of Mable is a lesson to us who now call Canada as our second home: that we have to engage also in the political life here,” Maestro, an immigrant, told the Straight.
But Elmore didn’t get a free ride from some politically active Filipino Canadians. NDP organizer Rey Umlas campaigned for Jinny Sims, a former president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, for the party’s nomination.
Umlas insisted in a phone interview with the Straight that Sims, who is of South Asian heritage, has a greater chance of defeating B.C. Liberal candidate Syrus Lee in a constituency where more than 52.5 percent of the ethnic population, based on the last census, is made up of Chinese Canadians.
In Vancouver-Kensington, Filipinos are the second-largest minority group, with a 16.9-percent share, followed by South Asians at 14.2 percent. Overall, 70 percent of the constituency’s population of 54,870 are ethnic minorities.
Umlas acknowledged that if Elmore wins in the May 12 B.C. election, she will be the “pride of the community”.
Filipino immigrant Leo Alejandrino lives in the constituency, works as a school custodian, and was active in Elmore’s campaign. He noted to the Straight that Vancouver-Kensington needs an MLA with blue-collar roots like Elmore. An Elections B.C. analysis of the 2006 census indicated that the top three occupations in the constituency are sales and services, clerical, and machine operations in manufacturing.
Elmore credits her nomination to the “enthusiastic support” from the Filipino community. “They were mobilized and participated in numbers that hadn’t been seen before,” Elmore told the Straight. “So that’s something new, and I think momentum is carrying through the campaign.”
Elmore went back behind the wheel of the No. 8 bus a day after winning the NDP nomination on March 22. About half a dozen riders who were at the nomination meeting recognized her and, according to the NDP candidate, “They were surprised to see me.”