FLORFINA MARCELINO, Manitoba Opposition Leader: ‘Recognition makes you more aware of responsibility’

Community News & Features Aug 11, 2017 at 3:50 pm

FLOR_M-soloBy Mila Astorga-Garcia

‘RISING UP TO LEAD’ is a very apt description accorded to Florfina Marcelino, interim leader of the New Democratic Party in Manitoba, when her official winning profile was published in Canadian Immigrant as one of Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC’s) Top 25 Canadian Immigrants for 2017.

From her humble beginnings as a small business owner, publisher/editor of a local community newspaper, and staff of a local college, Marcelino, a mom of five adult children, somehow attracted the attention of the provincial NDP leadership for her passionate community work with immigrants and newcomers, that she was approached to run as MLA in Logan, one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in Manitoba.

She won in that 2007 election to become the first racialized woman ever elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. Impressed with her early work in the legislature, she was appointed as Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism in 2009, and later Minister for Multiculturalism and Literacy, making her the first person of ethnic background to ever assume a cabinet position.

She was re-elected in 2011 and then again in 2016. In that latter difficult election when the NDP lost to the Progressive Conservative Party, after 17 years of leadership in the province, it was Marcelino who was asked to step up to the challenge to become the interim NDP leader, again a first for a woman of ethnic background.

Unflustered by her party’s electoral defeat, the feisty Marcelino is quoted to have vowed to make the new government accountable. As interim leader of the Official Opposition, she is quoted to have said: “(The NDP) is a party that will keep on fighting for what we believe is right, for our values, for our social justice goals to everyone…Watch out how we rise up!”

Following is The Philippine Reporter’s interview on her winning the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award:

TPR: How have you taken on this leadership challenge, as interim Leader of the Opposition especially that it came right after the Party had lost its many years of leadership in the legislature?

Flor Marcelino: Anybody going into this role of leader—would be facing enormous challenges. The NDP lost power after four terms in office. It was a tough defeat characterized by warring factions within the party itself. It is not easy to be effective Opposition to the Conservatives and their crippling, ideologically-driven austerity measures when we have fewer resources–financial and personnel-wise. It is definitely not easy to be effective Opposition when there are factions within your own party. I, as a first-generation immigrant woman in this position faced the additional challenge of expressing myself in the English language in forums like debates and media scrums. I was belittled in the local press and by members of my own party who openly discussed my supposed deficiencies as a leader–even before I was voted in. I did the best I could despite these criticisms. Certain caucus members rallied around me and stepped up, speaking to the Press and in the House. Whatever deficiencies I have in the public speaking realm I tried to compensate with working diligently over years of proven dedication and service to the party and my constituents. I believe this is what earned me enough respect and recognition to get by.

TPR: What would you consider to be your greatest achievements within this time period as interim leader of the Official Opposition?  What were the biggest challenges?

FM: I consider it an achievement (which also became the biggest challenge) having kept our elected caucus (only 14 of us) and the fractured party together. I had more supporters within the caucus and the party who helped me achieve this goal. I had to lead the official opposition party in making sure we are doing the critical job of keeping the government accountable to the people of Manitoba. I had to provide direction to a much reduced staff on how legislation, research and communication should proceed to carry out these responsibilities. All of this was happening while I was fully aware there were those in my party and in the general public who were not happy when I was voted the interim leader by my caucus, endorsed by the provincial executive members, and eventually affirmed by the provincial council. I am fully aware that in my party there were some members who had wished to see me gone and replaced soon enough—even before the planned leadership convention date in September 2017. But I survived to finish my interim leadership term.

TPR: You had mentioned in an article published in the Canadian Immigrant Magazine that you are not seeking the party leader position on a permanent basis?  Why is this so?

Flor Marcelino At a recent Powwow celebration in the Logan Constituency.

Flor Marcelino At a recent Powwow celebration in the Logan Constituency.

FM: Since the 1960s when the NDP first became a dominant force in Manitoba politics, EVERY single leader elected by the party has gone on to become the Premier of Manitoba. I am not looking to be the next Premier of Manitoba but I will help elect that person.

TPR: You have consistently articulated your leadership position as one that always promotes inclusivity, fights for the marginalized, and seeks social justice. Were there times when this position was ever challenged within the party, the legislature, the community?  What had been your response?

FM: The NDP, compared to other Canadian parties, seeks social justice and fights for the marginalized so it has been a good fit for me and my family because the party is very much a vehicle where we can organize alongside others and work towards goals to further gender equality and workers’ rights etc. That being said, when the NDP is in power, it has had to govern on behalf of everyone and that has meant trying to balance social justice commitments with other priorities like balancing budgets. The Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, famously said (I’m paraphrasing) that everyone should have a turn at governing and at being governed. I’ve been on both ends–as a social justice activist and as a member of the Government. There is a difference in these roles. In Government, you are held responsible for the public coffers and spending these resources wisely and there are never enough resources to do all that is needed for the public.

TPR: As a FIlipino-Canadian who believes in upholding social justice causes affecting marginalized Filipinos in the Philippines, e.g. the Lumad, as their lives are being adversely affected by big mining companies, including Canadian companies, how are you able to manifest support in a way that does not negatively impact on your political position?

FM: When there has been conflict between my political career (due to my position as a Minister in the Government) and my personal beliefs that I hold dear, I was always prepared to walk away from my position as Minister. For instance, in 2010, a high-ranking staff member told me that because I was a Cabinet Minister, I could not sign a statement of support to an organization in the Philippines fighting for rule of law, fighting against extra-judicial killings. I told my special assistant that I would be prepared to resign my post as Minister and just sit as a backbencher if by doing that I can support a cause I believed in.. Eventually, after the Premier learned of this situation, I was allowed to write the letter of support and thus, I did not have to resign.

TPR: What are your plans?

FM: Currently, the Manitoba NDP is gearing up for a leadership race so we are busy working on that. Once a new leader has been chosen, I can better focus my considerable energy on my constituency which is located in Winnipeg’s downtown. And then there is a lot of work to do while in Opposition, holding the current Conservative government to task for the way they are slashing away at our social safety nets, closing hospital emergency rooms, discriminating against newcomers etc. And then before you know it, it will be time to organize and win the next provincial election.

TPR: What does this new recognition mean to you?

FM: Public recognition like this makes me more keenly aware of the responsibility that I have to do my best to serve others while I can. I have always tried my best to walk the talk—my actions should reflect the words I say.

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FMarcelinoSuccess is devotion to save others

By Flor Marcelino

Good evening distinguished guests. I am humbled and honoured to be chosen as one of the recipients of RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards of 2017.  Thank you RBC and the Canadian immigrant magazine for hosting this event.

I am also grateful for the hospitality and compassion of the Indigenous peoples for allowing the first European immigrants to settle in Canada which later led to welcoming immigrants like us from all over the world.

I dedicate this award to migrants and first-generation immigrants in Canada who are facing the pressures and insecurity that come with moving to a new place. To them I say, honesty, work ethic and steadfast determination will pay off with a better life for themselves, their families and friends here in Canada.

I sincerely thank my nominator, Joanne Viviezca, family members and many friends. They have encouraged their wide network of contacts through social media to cast online votes for me.

My husband Orli and I have been in Canada for 35 years. It hasn’t always been an easy journey becoming a Filipino Canadian, but here we can fight for our freedoms and values without being persecuted. Here, it’s a more even, playing field. In Canada, we can provide a decent life for our families through hard work.

In my experience, success means getting up after overcoming hardships and failures. Success means making new friends, maintaining old friends and being a good friend. Success means devoting myself to the service of others. Success is hollow without seeing our families and our communities uplifted.

I would like to offer my congratulations to all the Immigrants being honoured, for their valued contributions to Canada, the country we now call home. Thank you.