Editor's note: This story was first published on Sept. 22, 2021. This version corrects that Rey Pagtakhan served as an MP from 1988 to 2004 not 1997 to 2004.
A Filipina-Canadian is on her way to join the Liberal caucus in the 44th Parliament as the representative of the Mississauga-Streetsville riding in Ontario.
Rechie Valdez, an entrepreneur, will be the first Filipina-Canadian in the House of Commons and the second Filipino-Canadian in general, following former Liberal member of parliament Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, who lost in the 2004 election after serving since 1997. Dr. Pagtakhan represented a riding in Winnipeg, MB, where there is also a big Filipino community.
As of Sept. 22 morning, Valdez has gained 47.2 per cent of the votes with 99.53 per cent of polls reported. Conservative candidate Jasveen Rattan got 33.7 per cent of the votes.
Elections Canada has yet to officially declare winners as counting of thousands of mail-in ballots starts only on Sept. 21. But on Monday, most mainstream media called a Liberal minority win, which includes Valdez. The Conservatives remain the official opposition.
Valdez’s riding is in the so-called 905 hotspot in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), which analysts describe as having competitive ridings. Like in the 2015 and 2019 elections, the GTHA remains a sea of red after Monday’s race, with a few exceptions. Thornhill, for example, remains a Conservative riding with the election of Melissa Lantsman.
“Rechie’s victory is going to inspire Filipino-Canadians across the country to consider service and public office as something that can be achieved for themselves and for their communities,” said Grant Gonzales, co-founder of the Filipino-Canadian Political Association (FCPA), a grassroots, cross-partisan, non-profit organization, in an interview with New Canadian Media.
The newly-organized volunteer-led group aims to encourage more Filipinos across Canada to engage in politics by either volunteering or joining political parties with the hope that they would run for public office at all levels of government. The goal is to have Filipino representation at decision-making levels.
“What’s special about Rechie’s victory is that she will be the only Filipino-Canadian serving in the House of Commons. So, even though she only represents one riding, as all MPs do, she has a special responsibility … to make sure that the voice of the community ‒ the broader Filipino community ‒ is heard.”
Valdez may be in for a challenge, though.
Aside from being a rookie Member of Parliament, she needs to balance the expectations of her own riding’s constituents with the rest of the Filipino community in Canada.
Gonzales said Valdez’s responsibility should first be to the community that voted for her.
“But I think what she can do more broadly … is to raise awareness about our community’s underrepresentation not only in the House of Commons but across the country ‒ in provincial legislatures and in city councils,” he said.
“And this is not a partisan activity. I think this is a civic and democratic duty. As the only Filipino Canadian [in the House of Commons] … she would be in a good position to advocate for [this] given the power that she now has as an elected member of parliament.”
For community leader Erie Maestro, a Filipino sitting in Ottawa should also balance the interests of Philippine and Canadian policies.
Maestro is coordinator of the Canada chapter of 1Sambayan, a broad coalition of groups calling for a trustworthy administration for the 2022 Philippine national elections.
A win for a Filipino in Ottawa “also means to take seriously the obligations of Canada in the area of human rights, specifically in its relations with the [President Rodrigo] Duterte government in the Philippines,” said Maestro.
She stressed both the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) ongoing investigation of Duterte, as well as the impact of Canadian mining corporations’ in the lives of Indigenous communities in the Philippines as reasons to take that duty seriously.
Gonzales said it will benefit the community if Valdez is appointed to a high-profile position within the Liberal caucus. There, she would have a better chance of placing her constituents’ and community’s demands on the government’s agenda, than by “just occupying a seat.”
“She needs to be able to not only represent her community in a meaningful and influential way, but, given her special responsibility as the only Filipino in the House of Commons, to be able to bring voices of Filipino-Canadians forward to the House of Commons where no one has been in that position to do so in the last 17 years,” Gonzales explained.
While the minority Liberal government has yet to warm its seats, eyes are already on the next federal election.
Gonzales said he hopes that Valdez’s victory will be a catalyst for political parties to seriously pay attention to the needs of the Filipino community and prioritize nominating Filipinos as candidates in forthcoming elections at all levels.
“They [political parties] too must consider how they are incorporating marginalized racialized voices as part of their team ‒ more specifically as candidates,” Gonzales said, adding he hopes Valdez’ victory will “spark those conversations among all political parties.”
He added the FCPA is encouraging political parties to not just consider Filipinos as candidates in the ballots, but to nominate them in competitive ridings where they can win. Including them in real decision-making positions within the cabinet and in key posts such as parliamentary secretary must follow.
Maestro said there will be lots of expectations from Valdez as she is the first woman from the Filipino community to reach Ottawa and because of the void left behind by Dr. Pagtakhan.
Dr. Pagtakhan held cabinet positions in the 36th and 37th Parliament. He was at one time a Secretary of State (Asia Pacific), Minister of Veteran Affairs and Minister of Western Economic Diversification during his term in office in Ottawa.
Aside from Valdez, three other Filipino-Canadians made a bid for Ottawa under the Liberal banner: Virginia Bremner for Vancouver-Kingsway, B.C.; Elizabeth Quinto, Oxford, Ont.; and Paul Ong, Winnipeg Centre, Man.
Other Filipino-Canadians who also tried but did not make it include Phil De Luna, PhD, who ran in Toronto-St. Paul’s in Toronto under the Green Party of Canada, and labour organizer Naden Abeenes, Vancouver Quadra, B.C. for the New Democratic Party.
Veronica Cusi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media