In June 2007, a record-setting 18 women (32 per cent) were elected to the Manitoba legislature, including 13 New Democrats and five Progressive Conservatives. NDP MLA Flor Marcelino became the first visible-minority woman elected to the legislature, and one of a record six women (33 per cent) appointed to cabinet.
For Mother's Day, we asked Marcelino -- an immigrant to Canada who worked full-time, started a newspaper and raised five kids -- a few questions about how she managed all this.
Q: HOW AND WHY DID YOU ENTER POLITICS?
A: I entered politics much later in life -- at age 55. At that time we had been Winnipeg residents for 25 years, I had retired from my day job, and my youngest was 18.
Ever since we came to Canada in 1982, my husband, Orli, and I held full-time jobs. In spite of a hectic home schedule and active church life we started a community newspaper, the Philippine Times, along with a friend and our church minister in 1996. At that time, we felt the need for the Filipino community in Winnipeg to be kept informed of human rights violations in the old country.
I never planned to run for office. I never even entertained the thought of seeking a nomination. I was happy to help in election campaigns in my own small way. On May 2, 2007, two weeks into the campaign period, NDP representatives visited me around noon and asked me to be their candidate when the nominated candidate for Wellington bowed out. They wanted me to respond immediately. I was hesitant to accept -- I felt that public office was not for me. I am not trained as a public speaker, nor did I have the means to finance a candidacy. I asked them to look for another candidate. They told me that Premier Gary Doer specifically directed them to ask me to run for the party. I asked for a few hours to consult with my family.
After seeking my family's consent -- granted grudgingly by some and outright approval by others -- I sought the advice of my church minister, Rev. Dr. Ray Cuthbert. I remember his exact words: "You have enough integrity, go for it." By 4 p.m., I phoned the party officials and agreed to be the candidate for Wellington.
In the afternoon of May 2, I accepted the party's offer to put my name on the ballot. Later that evening, I received an email with an attached YouTube file from a friend in Saudi Arabia. The attachment was a song entitled Lead Me Lord sung by a Filipino singer, Gary Valenciano. I listened intently and repeatedly to the song. I knew that song before but it had not touched me as it did that night. At that very moment it was conveying a deeper meaning to me. By about the fifth time hearing the song I was in tears. It finally dawned on me what life in public office would require of me -- time commitment, integrity, determination to work hard for the communities placed in my care and make a difference in peoples' lives, especially the disadvantaged. Right then and there I realized the opportunity for service to the community that an elected position can provide. With that insight, I decided to give this undertaking my best shot.
Q: DID YOU HAVE ROLE MODELS?
Two people influenced me most and served as my inspiration when I started campaigning. The first was my father. He was a church minister in the Philippines. He was very kind and helpful to others. I remembered him giving advice to people. He was very nice to his family. Unfortunately, he died when I was just 10 years old. I have tried to live a life that would make him proud and happy, as if he were still around with me.
The second role model and person I look up to is Tommy Douglas. I have decided to be a committed member of the NDP because of his ideals and principles. His speeches inspired me. I will never be a very good public speaker like him and my father, though. Both my father and Tommy Douglas had the caring heart and strength of mind to help make life better for others. Tommy Douglas had great vision for his people despite living in a "poor" province. He envisioned that people deserved the best health-care services, rural electrification, decent housing, employment insurance, old age pension, etc.
Q: HOW INVOLVED WAS YOUR HUSBAND IN RAISING YOUR KIDS?
My husband was very much involved in raising our kids. He came from a family of strict disciplinarians and harsh in their words when needed. On the contrary, my family background was the exact opposite. I never heard my father raise his voice. I never heard him argue with my mother. So in dealing with my children, I was not the strict disciplinarian that Orli was.
In our younger years, Orli and I were involved in activist ideas of social justice and human rights. I think our children saw us parenting based on our different backgrounds but with a combined strong faith in God, commitment to family and pursuit of social justice. The actions the children saw from us, their parents, along with the support of extended family, influence of church, and excellent education from public schools made them what they are today -- discerning, talented, independent and strongly attuned to social justice issues.
Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WOMEN WITH KIDS THINKING ABOUT ENTERING POLITICS?
A: It is doubly hard to be a woman-politician, especially if one has a young family. She is expected to do most of the housework and caring for children. She should be a multi-tasker and good in time management. However, with a supportive and understanding spouse/partner, the difficult job of a female politician is doable. Women contemplating a career in politics should prepare for long work hours, including weekends. They should possess genuine interest in peoples' welfare and a deep desire to serve all. It also requires one to be ready at all times to accept criticisms -- constructive or otherwise, including personal insults, and still maintain composure. Likewise, keep deep reserves of patience and a sense of humour -- they come in handy in dealing with difficult people.