A talk with first Fil-Canadian MLA

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Friday, July 4, 2014


I ONCE described my friend Ronald Carcellar as “the best mayor Poro never had.” He was councilor of Poro, one of the towns in the Camotes group of islands, then went one step up by becoming vice mayor.

But he couldn’t be mayor after that because that position had been reserved for that town’s politically dominant clan. He couldn’t dream of becoming congressman in the fifth district where Poro belongs because that post has been reserved for the Duranos.

He was already lost in a political limbo, sort of, when he decided to immigrate to Canada.

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Ronald is back in Cebu for a visit and he, together with his wife, introduced me to Mable Elmore, a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) of the province of British Columbia in Canada. Mable has been in Cebu for a few weeks before Ronald arrived for a visit to the hometown of her mother, a Tabotabo from Tuburan town.

Mable, a member of the opposition New Democratic Party, became the first Filipino-Canadian to be elected member of the British Columbia legislative assembly in 2009.

She served for four years and was re-elected in 2013. Unlike members of the Cebu Provincial Board or the House of Representatives, MLAs in British Columbia don’t have term limits.

It turned out Ronald put to good use his experience in the Poro elections to help Mable win in her reelection bid as MLA last year. Elections in Canada, though, aren’t like those in the Philippines. “We don’t use guns, goons and gold,” Mable said.

Among the current concerns in Canada is its temporary foreign workers program, which allows the hiring of foreigners to fill up jobs that Canadian workers could not fill.

The program has benefited a number of Filipinos. Among the biggest employers of temporary foreign workers, also called guest workers, in Canada are fast-food chains like McDonalds.

The program, though, is under fire from Canadian workers who feel threatened by the increasing use by firms of temporary foreign workers. An assistant manager of a McDonalds’ franchise in British Columbia, for example, complained that she was let go of her job because her boss said foreign workers, mostly Filipinos, were better workers.

Mable prefers to view this conflict in the context of workers’ rights and welfare and not between Canadian workers and temporary foreign workers. Indeed, both Canadians and foreigners should unite to further improve the working conditions in Canada.

One other concern Mable raised in is the presence in her country of illegal workers, which include Filipinos. They are the Canadian version of the United States’ tago-nang-tago (TNT) Filipinos. She calls this as another version of human trafficking.

Interestingly, she noted, illegal recruiters that victimize Filipinos are usually fellow Filipinos also.

Mable favors the entry to Canada of permanent residents because they acquire rights that are not accorded to, say, temporary foreign workers. But for Filipinos, the ideal is for the Philippine economy to develop so the country’s version of a diaspora would end.

But we all know that economic growth cannot be sped up. Worse, governance in the Philippines is hampered by partisan politics and widespread corruption in the bureaucracy. Mable said she knows this to be a concern also of the Filipino community in Canada. “They also want to help,” she said.

After my talk with Mable, I was impressed some more by the political setup in Canada. Mable is not only a Filipino-Canadian but represents the causes her party is advocating. She is unlike the trapos that Philippine politics have been churning for decades now.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 05, 2014.

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