Niki Sharma makes history with strong showing in election to Vancouver park board

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      A newly elected member of the Vancouver park board has broken a two-decade-long jinx for candidates with Indian surnames.

      In every election dating back to 1993, these politicians came last on their slates for the three major parties—the NPA, Vision, and COPE—whenever they ran for council, school board, and park board in Vancouver.

      This time, it didn't happen. Lawyer Niki Sharma, a first-time candidate with Vision Vancouver, came fourth in the park-board race with 56,501 votes. She was the highest-ranking rookie entrant and came only 15 votes behind high-profile park-board chair Aaron Jasper, who is also with Vision Vancouver.

      "I'm extremely pleased with the results," Sharma told the Straight by phone. "Hopefully, it will inspire people from any background to step forward and not think that their background or ethnicity is an obstacle to that."

      The fifth Vision Vancouver candidate for park board, Trevor Loke, trailed behind Sharma with 49,879 votes. That was a difference of 6,622 votes. Loke, who works for the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, was also elected.

      Sharma has a degree in environmental biology and specializes in aboriginal law.

      After candidates with Indian-sounding surnames came last for all the parties in 2008, it spawned a discussion about whether or not the city's at-large voting system is racist. There was also talk of a legal challenge or a human-rights complaint.

      Some in the local Indian community even declared that they wouldn't run in the 2011 election because there was no chance of winning without a ward system.

      Even though Sharma was able to break the jinx, the only other candidate of Indian descent in the park-board race, Freyja Pri Toor, came last. She was nearly 500 votes behind perennial independent candidate Peter Raymond Haskell. (Haskell also ran for school trustee, and came last in this race.)

      Sharma said that she's hoping to work with the board's aboriginal advisory committee to bring more people into facilities. "I want to focus on keeping things affordable and building a stronger community, no matter what the backgrounds of people are," she stated.

      On the school board, the only candidate of Indian descent, the NPA's Sandy Sharma, came last on her slate. She was 4,791 votes behind the the next-lowest-ranking NPA candidate, Stacy Robertson.

      Meanwhile in Burbaby, veteran councillor Sav Dhaliwal came sixth out of the eight candidates on his slate. All were elected with the Burnaby Citizens Association.

      The BCA's two school trustees of Indian descent, Baljinder Narang and Harman Pandher came fifth and seventh, respectively, on their slate, which was elected by the voters.

      In Surrey, two councillors of Indian descent were elected on Mayor Dianne Watts's slate. Tom Gill came sixth and Barinder Rasode came eighth.

      Rina Gill came second among Surrey Civic Coalition candidates, whereas the only other candidate of Indian descent, Kuldip Ardawa, came last on the SCC slate.

      Niki Sharma's victory was no doubt a pleasant surprise for her, but it was also tinged with some regret because her mother, Rose Sharma, failed to get elected to council in the District of Sparwood. She came seventh out of 10 candidates, finishing 39 votes behind the sixth-place finisher, who was elected. Rose Sharma was 27 votes ahead of eighth-place candidate Paul Hiebert, father of kidnapped toddler Kienan Hiebert.

      It was Rose Sharma's third attempt to get elected in Sparwood.

      "I think from my mom's perspective, it was a hard-fought election, and she came very close," her daughter said. "Of course, I'm disappointed that she didn't get elected. I'm very proud of her—extremely proud of her. She's very courageous for stepping forward as many times as she has, and she's a great community volunteer. It's very inspiring to me. I hope that she'll continue to fight the good fight."