PROFILE: Bonita Zarrillo | NDP

Zarrillo is looking to take over the NDP-held riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam following MP Fin Donnelly announced his retirement late last year

Bonita Zarrillo is looking to keep her riding orange in what has been a traditional NDP stronghold.

Her bid to make the jump from municipal to federal politics comes after spending several years as a Coquitlam city councillor. 

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Who is Bonita Zarrillo?


Originally from Saskatoon; lives in Coquitlam

Worked as a computer programer, data analyst and job recruiter, Zarrillo has spent the last five years as a councillor for the city of Coquitlam

Zarrillo says she can pull off an NDP win by advocating for affordable housing, investing in transportation and opposing the Trans Mountain expansion project



Bonita Zarrillo
Bonita Zarrillo, NDP candidate for Port Moody-Coquitlam - MARIO BARTEL/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

Bonita Zarrillo In Profile

Back when Bonita Zarrillo first ran for public office in 2013 she saw a city of haves and have-nots: a dilapidated pool and busted playground in one Coquitlam neighbourhood, sparkling new facilities in another. 

Since then, the two-time Coquitlam city councillor has advocated for a dizzying diversity of causes, from anti-vaping and anti-cigarette butt campaigns to gender equity. She has a reputation as a voice of dissent on council, often taking adversarial positions on an array of issues.

“There's the overarching vision of the kind of world that you want to live in... and then there's the tactical things that are happening on the ground,” she said. “My single vision is equality.”

As longtime Port Moody-Coquitlam NDP MP Fin Donnelly’s tenure comes to an end, Zarrillo is counting on that message to resonate across her riding and carry her to Ottawa.

She says too much of the incoming housing inventory is destined for luxury homebuyers and the 500,000 affordable housing units promised by the NDP federally will go a long way to balancing things out.

Zarrillo said purpose-built housing — whether set up as a co-op or through GST exemptions to developers and owners looking to build or renovate — would be her first priority in alleviating the housing crisis.

Zarrillo says she has a long track record fighting for the environment. In her first term on Coquitlam council, she put forward a motion for the city to apply to be an intervenor in the hearings for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, something Zarrillo said she continues to oppose.

“I understand that we need to transition [from fossil fuels] and I understand that we do currently have a pipeline in the city of Coquitlam,” she said, “but I'm not interested in another 900,000 barrels of oil coming through. That expansion seems unreasonable and unrealistic based on what the future needs to look like.”

Originally from Saskatoon, Zarrillo started moving around the world after she graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in sociology. She bounced around several Canadian cities and took jobs overseas as a computer programmer and, eventually, a data analyst, mapping consumer behaviour for companies like Walmart. In 2010, Zarrillo moved back to the Tri-Cities and started a recruiting agency. 

Now, as she looks to higher office, her departure could leave a local hole. Zarrillo launched her bid for the NDP candidacy five months after she was re-elected to council. If she wins Oct. 21, the resulting municipal byelection is expected to cost taxpayers more than $140,000. But when The Tri-City News put this to the NDP candidate, she said she is worth it.

“In private business, we would always choose somebody — regardless of whether we had to pay to ship them to a different city or a different country — we would always choose the one with experience,” she said. “[Byelection cost] isn't on the on the minds of the taxpayers.”

Since the federal election campaign began last month, the NDP has seen little upward momentum in polls. With the party projected to lose a substantial number of its seats in Quebec and Ontario, Zarrillo said she sees the potential for a shift in the NDP centre of power out west. A weakened NDP, she said, can still hold a government accountable.

“How?” she said, circling back to her experience. “I’m going to do it by knowing the players that are involved, knowing what needs to be done. I'm not on the learning curve.”

Bonita Zarrillo in 3 minutes

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