Veteran NDP MLA Jenny Kwan has made it official: she's running for her party's federal nomination in Vancouver East.
Surrounded by a couple of hundred supporters at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Kwan opened her speech by thanking everyone in the room, including aboriginal elders, family members of missing and murdered women, representatives of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, labour leaders, and her friends.
"I cannot tell you what that means to me, how much your encouragement means to me, as I embark on this journey," Kwan said.
Then she forcefully declared: "My name is Jenny Kwan and I want to be the next MP for Vancouver East."
She's the third person to enter the race to succeed Libby Davies, who won't seek reelection. Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore and SFU's director of media and community relations, Scott McLean, are the other two candidates. No nomination meeting has been scheduled.
Kwan, a former Downtown Eastside Residents' Association activist, also said that she wants to be part of the first-ever NDP federal government under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair.
"Vancouver is a unique place in our country because we care not just for ourselves, but because we care about each other and we care about our community," she said. "Here in Vancouver, we're prepared to fight for what we believe in. What we need in Ottawa is someone who is fearless to take on the prime minister and...I'm a fighter and I'm not afraid to take on Stephen Harper."
She added that when it comes to ideology versus science, she will be on the side of evidence-based science every time.
Kwan reflected on her days at a city councillor from 1993 to 1996 when she was the only Coalition of Progressive Electors representative against 10 NPA politicians. Between 2001 and 2005, Kwan was the one of only two NDP MLAs in the legislature holding the 77-member B.C. Liberal caucus to account.
"If you have to fight until 4 o'clock in the morning for a community, you know you can count on me," Kwan said. "I've had my share of around-the-clock debates in the provincial legislature. You will remember Bill 29 where the B.C. Liberals tore up contracts [and] stripped HEU health-care workers of their fundamental right to collective bargaining. I was there to fight against the Liberal government on your behalf. And five years later, Bill 29 was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. No matter what level of government tries to violate your constitutional right, I will be there to fight for you."
She also said that regardless of the outcome of the nomination race, she pledged to fight to elect an NDP provincial government with John Horgan as B.C.'s next premier.
Kwan spent a few minutes talking about the impact of colonialism on the first peoples of Canada. Quoting a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, she said that "disappearances and murders of indigenous women in Canada are part of a broader pattern of violence and discrimination".
"Canada has a legal obligation to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women and girls," Kwan said. "How many more indigenous women and girls have to go missing before we have a national inquiry? If this were happening with any other community, would it be tolerated? Absolutely not. So why, why would we accept it when Minister [Bernard] Valcourt says this is a First Nations issue? This not just a First Nations issue. This is our nation's issue."
At other times in her speech, Kwan spoke about attending the annual February 14 women's memorial marches in the Downtown Eastside to draw attention to missing and murdered women.
"While there is much to be proud of in Vancouver East, we all know that we have much to work on," she said.
She also focused some attention on the federal government's temporary foreign worker program and criticized a previous Liberal government for abandoning a national housing program.
"Now Stephen Harper is going to end subsidies to housing co-ops," she said. "You wonder why we have an unprecedented homelessness crisis in our communities. Canadians deserve a national housing solution. We won't forget what the federal Liberals did and we won't let Harper walk away from the co-ooperatives."
Prior to Kwan's speech, several people, including First Nations leaders, praised her past efforts on behalf of the community.
The president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, and his wife Joan were among those who proudly expressed their support.
Phillip referred to Kwan as "our sister", saying that he was "deeply honoured" to endorse her candidacy.
"I believe that Jenny Kwan was born with purpose and that purpose was to make this a better world," Phillip said. "And I believe her going to Ottawa as the MP for the Downtown Eastside is simply a part of her fulfilling her purpose; [it's] why the Creator put her here among us, to make a better place for our children, for our grandchildren and our grandchildren's grandchildren. And what's happening in this room is a special moment in all of our collective history [that] was meant to happen. And it feels good and it feels right, and I just feel so honoured and so proud and so privileged to be a part of this special moment in all of our lives."
Cecilia Point, a member of the Musqueam Nation, emphasized that she's "not a political person".
"But Jenny is like our sister," Point said. "When we at Musqueam had to defend our graveyards from desecration, every single time we called her, she came. She came and stood with us. I raise my hand to her for doing that."
Audrey Siegl, also a member of the Musqueam and a former COPE candidate, echoed her support for Kwan, emphasizing that the NDP MLA has done this without seeking to better her position.
"It sits in my heart," Siegl said. "It changed me and it changed my opinion of what a politician is. And it also woke me up to the fact that underneath everything, we're all human beings. And as a human being, Jenny, you shine and you sparkle and you do nothing but good work."
Squamish First Nation Chief Ian Campbell also praised Kwan's courage and commitment. He repeating Siegel's observation that Kwan does her work selflessly.
"We know that this has been an ongoing struggle to seek justice and equality in this country," Campbell said. "And it is leaders, champions like Jenny, who have made it possible, for she does not do it for the glory or the limelight. She does it for the betterment of our future generations, of our children, so that they can grow up healthy with respect and love in their eyes. For that, I am here today to support her."
Marjorie White, a founding member of the friendship centre, and Deanna George, an elected member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, also spoke.
But it wasn't just members of First Nations who went to the podium to endorse Kwan. Thekla Lit, a human-rights and educational activist, said that nobody knows Vancouver East better than Kwan, who's represented Vancouver-Mount Pleasant in the legislature since 1996.
"In my personal experience, many politicians will only take up causes if they think it will give some solid political return for them," Lit said with a smile. "I have personally encountered quite a number of these politicians who care more about photo ops or media exposure rather than putting concrete efforts in getting things done. Jenny is different. She has time and again shown that if she's convinced the cause is worth fighting for because it's the right thing to do, she will do her best to get results, even though sometimes she was only working at the back stage without public recognition."
The most recent example of this, Lit explained, was when B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Teresa Wat launched a process to recognize historical wrongs against the Chinese community. Lit said that she witnessed Kwan spending a great deal of time consulting with different stakeholders to seek their advice.
"I also know that she worked hard on the wording of the apology motion and developed detailed recommendations regarding the legacy initiatives in a very tight timeline," Lit said.
One of Kwan's supporters, former NDP candidate Gabriel Yiu, gave the Straight a list of more than 60 community leaders, activists, business people, and union officials who've endorsed Kwan's candidacy.
It includes former NDP MLAs David Chudovsky and Bob Williams, United Steel Workers District3 director Steve Hunt, comedian Charlie Demers, Rio Theatre owner Corinne Lea, and political commentator Bill Tieleman, as well as the heads of several organizations serving Chinese Canadians.
Also on the list are the president of Unifor Local 111, Nathan Woods, and Unifor Local 111 vice president Carlos Moreira. This is the same local that represents transit operators, including Elmore before she became a politician.