Words of wisdom from Canadian Filipinos in elected public office (Second of a series)

If you asked me six years ago if I would ever consider entering politics, I probably would’ve laughed out loud. Yet here I am today, in my second term as a Whitehorse City Councillor, vying for the Yukon Liberal Party nomination for my riding of Copperbelt South.

If successful, I’ll be competing head on with veteran politicians to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the upcoming 2016 territorial election. It is a long and arduous process but I love my community and my country. To be able to spend my days working in the best interests of Yukon would be an honour and a privilege. The fact that we can live in a society where people are not forced to just “fit in,” and can feel free and secure to celebrate their diversity and share their culture, is an invaluable gift that Canada gives to each of its citizens.

My first face-to-face encounter with our municipal politicians occurred when I was asked to speak to City Council in support of the City of Whitehorse joining the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD) in the capacity of vice president of the Canadian Filipino Association of Yukon (CFAY). I naively believed that appearing as a delegate for this cause was merely a formality. The intention of membership is to send a clear message that our city doesn’t tolerate racism and discrimination and will take the necessary steps to eliminate them from our community. I was confident that we all recognized that this was the right thing to do.

However, I was very disheartened when it became obvious that the council members I was presenting to - who were elected to represent Whitehorse residents, which include our First Nations people and a growing visible minority population – appeared to be indifferent and to some extent, resistant, to this request. I suddenly realized that our changing demographics and the issues that came with it were not resonating with our elected officials. There wasn’t enough diversity on city council and they simply could not relate. So with the 2012 municipal election on the horizon, I was strongly encouraged by my family and friends to run.

When my intention went public, the Canadian Filipino community in Yukon rallied behind me. With this ethnic group making up almost 10 percent of our local population, many felt that it was time that the first city councillor in Yukon of Filipino descent was elected. The support I received was overwhelming, and our team of volunteers worked tirelessly on the campaign until I was successful.

Since then, I’ve overcome lots of challenges and feel that I’ve learned more in my first term on Council than I ever did in my nearly two decades of public service. Furthermore, I championed the establishment of the city’s CCMARD Advisory Committee, whose role is to advise City Council on best practices for developing and implementing polices, plans, and services to eliminate racism and discrimination, and was honoured with the 2013 Maharlika Award by the Filipino Canadian Cultural Heritage Society of BC.

Well into my fourth year of politics, I’ve grown to really understand and appreciate the weight of responsibility and extent of influence our government leaders have. The roles they play in keeping our citizens safe and ensuring basic needs are met are fundamental to a healthy and thriving society. Personally, the ability to affect positive change and the opportunity to raise awareness and assist others are my greatest satisfaction.

Nevertheless, I’ve noticed one significant element to good governance that has been undeniably deficient lately - and that is RESPECT - respect for leaders and positions of authority; respect for other political parties; respect for the citizenry; respect for human rights; respect for laws; respect for processes; and respect for our differences. This lack of respect is eroding governments and dividing countries. We need to build bridges, not barriers or borders. This is why it is SO important to have diversity in our governing bodies. Diversity makes us stronger, and respect keeps us united. Contributing various perspectives and ideas to a plan or problem increases the odds of finding mutually acceptable solutions and a way forward. Sharing experiences, cultures and values with one another widens our scope of understanding and fosters respect especially in times of disagreement.

Canada has provided foreign born citizens like us, Canadian Filipinos, with a better life and a chance to reach our full potential. Committing to a life in politics is not for everyone but it is one of the best ways to give back to a country that has given us so much. Politicians help connect us with resources, inspire us to do more and try harder to serve our community. I hope that as a Canadian politician of Filipino origin, a wife and a mother of 4, and a full-time public service employee, I have demonstrated that there are NO glass ceilings. If you can see it, you can break it!

(Jocelyn Curteanu is a Councilor with the City of Whitehorse. Canadian Filipino Net earlier ran a story about her, see: http://www.canadianfilipino.ca/news/246-whitehorse-s-first-filipina-city-councillor-campaigns-to-become-yukon-s-first-filipina-mla.)


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