The faces of New Westminster city council and school board have most decidedly changed.
In an election where “diversity” became a buzzword, and voters and candidates alike started talking about how to get underrepresented people into office, it has happened.
Mayor Jonathan Cote cruised to an easy victory, with 73 per cent of the vote – and every member of Team Cote won a spot on city council and school board.
With those wins came a shift away from the all-white, often male-dominated councils of the past.
Visible minority candidates have found their way not only into office, but to the top of the polls. And the gender balance has decidedly swung in favour of women – with some younger women included, at that.
Nadine Nakagawa, a self-described millennial of Japanese descent, finished the night atop the council polls with 7,764 votes, while Anita Ansari, whose family hails from Pakistan, topped the school board race with 6,843 votes.
Nakagawa will be joined on council by fellow newcomer Chinu Das, who had championed diversity and inclusion throughout the campaign, bringing up the issue at all-candidates meetings when the predominately Caucasian audiences failed to reflect the city’s diverse makeup.
Council also shifted from two women to three, as incumbent Mary Trentadue also won her seat back. They’re joined by fellow Team Cote council incumbents Patrick Johnstone, Chuck Puchmayr and Jaimie McEvoy.
Ansari told the Record during the campaign that diversity – or the visible lack thereof in the city’s elected officials - was an important consideration for her in deciding to run in the first place.
“I have a daughter, and I want her to be able to imagine to be mayor of someplace. Whether she chooses to or not, I want the possibilities to be open for a woman of colour,” she said in an interview pre-election. “I didn’t think about a lot of these things until I had a daughter. You don’t really realize these are the boxes that you view around your reality until you have a little person, and you’re trying to make them grow as big as they can be.”
After her win, Ansari sent her thanks to New West.
"I'm humbled and excited and ready to get going," she said.
Ansari was emotional when she arrived at the Team Cote victory party at Wild Rice Restaurant.
“My mom, when she heard, she tried to give me her earrings because she was like ‘this is such an amazing day,’ and she was so blown away she instantly wanted to give me an heirloom and then I had to tell her ‘no’ and then she cried, but I didn’t cry until now," said a tearful Ansari.
Ansari was joined by Gurveen Dhaliwal, who polled in third place behind fellow newcomer Dee Beattie.
Dhaliwal said it's an exciting time for school board, given the number of female winners.
"THERE'S SO MANY WOMEN!" an excited Dhaliwal told the Record.
Dhaliwal said, as a woman of colour, it's particularly important to her to be able to connect with a diverse community - for example, being able to talk to residents in Punjabi about issues such as SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) education, and help them to feel connected to the school district.
“When I speak to somebody in Punjabi, and I’m able to communicate the complexities of SOGI in a language they understand, then they feel connected to the school system and it’s so exciting.”
In perhaps the biggest shift of the night, the gender balance on school board has shifted dramatically in favour of women. Incumbent Mark Gifford was the lone male to earn a spot on the board, ending the night in fourth spot, followed by his running mate Maya Russell – the last Team Cote candidate.
The final two school board spots were taken by Danielle Connelly of the New West Progressives in sixth spot, with returning trustee Mary Lalji, the sole independent to make it into office, snagging the seventh and final spot.
Connelly said she took inspiration from her mother, who was behind her all the way.
McEvoy said the outcome made a big statement about representation in politics.
“It’s a big vote in favour of women in politics and diversity,” he said. “I think people want diversity, I think people want more women in politics.”