Pinay Canadian wins third term as Councillor in Whitehorse, Yukon

Community News & Features Nov 9, 2018 at 5:47 pm
Councillor Jocelyn Curteanu: More minority  representation needed in political office

Councillor Jocelyn Curteanu: More minority
representation needed in political office

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

Being a city councillor at Whitehorse, Yukon isn’t easy.

Jocelyn Curteanu, 48, who was recently elected for a third term, juggles the part-time councillor position with a job at CanNor (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency). And she’s also a mother to her four children: Jordan, 27, Brendan, 20, Sheridan, 16, and Jaidan, 11.

But it was a decision that she felt needed to be made.

When UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) tried to get Whitehorse’s council to join a coalition to combat racism, Curteanu was surprised by the push back.

“There was resistance,” she recalled. “It opened my eyes.”

When she was elected in 2012, Curteanu certainly brought the much-needed diversity in a city council that was mostly made up of life-long Yukoners, most of whom were Caucasian or retirees.
It was a timely move, too.

Whitehorse and its surrounding communities were seeing an influx of newcomers, many of whom were Filipinos arriving under the Yukon Nominee Program, one that allows employers to recruit workers outside of Canada.
These workers who then brought their families to Canada after a few years ended up creating a thriving community of Filipino-Canadians. Due to the network of support systems, Curteanu said that the program has resulted in about an 80 to 90 percent retention rate, with families choosing to call Whitehorse their home.

With husband Marius and children Brendan, Jordan,  Sheridan and Jaidan.

With husband Marius and children Brendan, Jordan,
Sheridan and Jaidan.

Originally from Quezon City, Curteanu moved to Canada in 1976 where they settled in Toronto. But the family missed home and being surrounded by relatives. So in 1982, they moved back to the Philippines for three years and lived in the family-owned residential compound. When her grandfather passed away, the family moved back to Canada, eventually living in Vancouver. Then, at the age of 19, Curteanu married her high school sweetheart Marius, who had immigrated from Romania.

Jobs, university and Marius’s family would see them bouncing back and forth from Vancouver to Prince George. In 2003, Curteanu, who worked for the Canada Revenue Agency, was assigned to a satellite office in Whitehorse where she felt an instant connection with the quaint city.

“I remember walking downtown and the architecture was back from around the gold rush era so it was very unique,” she recalled. “Despite the cold climate, people here were so warm and hospitable. The was a sense of community we didn’t have in the city.”

They initially settled in Riverdale, a subdivision where most of the Filipinos lived.

“I had people knocking on our front door, introducing themselves and giving us Filipino food,” she said, “Within a week, I probably knew everybody around the block.”

A few years later, Curteanu was reassigned in Alberta, once again uprooting her growing family. Soon, she and her husband realized that they couldn’t handle the bustle of living in a big city and missed the feel of a smaller town. So they moved back to Whitehorse, this time settling on a three-acre property in Cowley Creek.

During campaign season, Curteanu’s involvement in the various communities in Whitehorse also worked in her favour. She made an extra effort to attend more events where she met Whitehorse residents. She added that social media was a key component in her campaign.

With Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis on Philippine Independence Day 2018

With Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis on Philippine Independence Day 2018

She didn’t, however, go door-to-door because, as an incumbent, she would be obligated to look into each resident’s criticisms, putting added pressure on municipal resources that are already stretched too thin.
To date, Curteanu said that she was most proud of the community’s relationship with two First Nations communities: the Kwanlin Dün and the Ta’an Kwäch’än, whose traditional territory is within Whitehorse.

But there are also the growing pains that an expanding city like Whitehorse needs to address. Issues like overburdened city resources, homelessness and rising housing costs are at the forefront of Curteanu’s agenda. With minimum wage at $11 an hour and the cost of a one-bedroom apartment between $1,200 to $1,500, she said, “It can get really expensive for folks making minimum wage.”

And among new immigrants, there’s the issue of getting their credentials recognized.

“[For example] they have a law degree and they come here and have to start from scratch,” she said. “It’s a challenge.”

There are also ongoing projects like Yukon College’s planned transition to Yukon University in 2020. Curteanu, who sits on the college’s Board of Governors, explained that the shift will hopefully minimize the need for students to move away for university.

There’s certainly plenty of work to do. But the one thing that she emphasizes is the need for more minority representation in political office. Curteanu attributes it to minorities feeling too intimidated by the role or simply being too busy, working multiple jobs to send money back home.

She said, “I’m hoping that, doing what I’m doing now, it will make visible minorities and immigrants realize they can do this.”