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With First Election to BC MLA for a First Nations Woman, Melanie Mark Makes History

'This is our victory,' says Vancouver byelection winner, while New Dems also take Coquitlam.

By Andrew MacLeod 3 Feb 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

With Melanie Mark's victory for the NDP in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, for the first time in the history of British Columbia a First Nations woman has won election as an MLA.

Mark's was one of two wins for the opposition party in a pair of Feb. 2 byelections called to replace MLAs who had resigned to run in the October federal election.

"I am so proud to be Nisga'a, Gitxsan, Cree, Ojibwa, French and Scottish," Mark told a crowd of supporters at the Heritage Hall on Main Street that included her mother and two daughters. "To now add to my identity, I'm so proud to be your member of the legislature."

Mark received nearly 61 per cent of the votes cast in the byelection. With 5,353 votes, she came ahead of the BC Green Party's Pete Fry with 2,325 votes and the BC Liberal Party's Gavin Dew with 994 votes.

'Paddled hard,' says Mark

"My friends, this isn't my victory, this is our victory," Mark said. "We've paddled hard and strong in unity and solidarity with pride for social justice, economic justice, environmental justice, and it's not going to stop."

Mark talked about seeing five eagles on her final day of campaigning and taking it as a sign of good luck. She asked the crowd to work with her to defeat Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals in the next general election, scheduled for May 2017.

"[Mark] has been knocking on doors, meeting people, building relationships and demonstrating to all of you, the people of Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, that they deserve someone in their corner," said NDP leader John Horgan. "They deserve someone that's there for them. Not just when it's convenient, but in the tough times as well."

In the other byelection, in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, the NDP's Jodie Wickens beat the BC Liberals' Joan Isaacs by a narrower margin. Wickens received 3,562 votes, about 45 per cent of the total, to Isaacs' 2,936, about 38 per cent.

In an emailed statement, Isaacs thanked her team and said she intends to run in the 2017 general election.

The Green Party's Joe Keithley, the singer and guitarist for punk band D.O.A., trailed with 1,061 votes in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, about 14 per cent of the total.

Byelections unkind, says Lib president

"Historically, byelections have not been kind to sitting governments of any party," Liberal president Sharon White said in a widely distributed email sent as the vote counts were completed. "Since 1982, the governing party has won two of the last 21 byelections, almost always with a disappointing voter turnout. Today is no different."

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said in an emailed statement that the low turnout -- about 20 per cent of eligible voters in each riding -- made it a sad day for democracy in the province.

"Voters in B.C. are clearly fed up with 18 years of partisan bickering between the BC NDP and BC Liberals," Weaver said.

Mark was an official in the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth for eight years.

During the campaign, she told The Tyee issues that she would address as MLA include the high number of aboriginal children in government care, the legacies of the residential school system, the investigation of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and the need for better protection of the environment.

Wickens is the executive director of the Autism Support Network and with her husband is raising two boys in Coquitlam. With experience as a professional advocate who helps people navigate the government's systems, she'd bring a strong voice for the community, she told The Tyee.

With files from Christopher Cheung.  [Tyee]

Read more: Municipal Politics

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