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New MLA follows in the footsteps of New West leaders

Jennifer Whiteside has taken on one of the biggest portfolios in cabinet, but she hasn't lost sight of the fact that she's there to serve New Westminster
NDP women
From left: Anita Hagen (MLA 1986 to 1996), Dawn Black (MLA 2009 to 2013; MP 1988 to 1993 and 2006 to 2009) and Judy Darcy (MLA 2013 to 2020) are among the New Westminster NDP politicians in whose footsteps Jennifer Whiteside (far right) is following. Record files/contributed

Judy Darcy. Dawn Black. Anita Hagen.

Those are the women Jennifer Whiteside names as she talks about the New Democrat MLAs in whose footsteps she’s now following.

As the newly elected provincial representative for New Westminster, Whiteside cherishes the city’s tradition of female leadership.

“It’s a real privilege to follow in the footsteps of such leaders and advocates for our community,” she said during an interview with the Record Monday. “It’s a huge honour to serve as the MLA for New Westminster. We have such a vibrant and caring and strong community.”

Whiteside made provincial headlines last week when she was sworn in as education minister in Premier John Horgan’s new cabinet – a bit of “kismet,” she suggests, given that Hagen also served in the same post (from 1991 to 1993, under then-premier Mike Harcourt).

 But, even as Whiteside dives in to her ministerial work, she’s not taking her sights off the fact that she’s been elected to serve the citizens of New West.

She highlights issues she heard from residents during the campaign: the need to address housing security and affordability, the need for more mental health supports, the need for child care.

“We’ve made significant investments in child care in New Westminster, but there’s certainly more that we need to do,” she said.

Whiteside is looking forward to working with municipal council on issues affecting the local community – something she said is particularly important right now as the province copes with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All levels of government need to be working together,” she said.

Times are challenging now, but Whiteside is full of hope for the future – thanks to the young people of the city.

“My experience on the campaign trail was that, really, the kids were such a pleasure to interact with,” she said. “They organized great all-candidates events; they asked really good questions. They really left me with such a feeling of hope for the future. This is a really smart generation that’s coming up. They’re really smart, insightful, compassionate; they have a real concern for their community, for each other.

“A big part of our job is to make sure that we make space for them and make sure that we protect their future, so that they have the opportunities that they’re going to need as they move through school and start to build their lives.”

Whiteside herself will be working part of the time from Victoria, as a new legislative session gets underway Dec. 7, and part of the time in New Westminster – but her office will be here to serve.

The constituency office is operating virtually right now, Whiteside noted, as the search is on for a new office space. They’re getting phones and email addresses up and running to make sure citizens can reach them, Whiteside noted.

And she’s reaching out to local organizations to find out what they need from her and the provincial government.

“I’ve been in touch with many of our local service organizations,” she said. “We’ll be doing definitely more reaching out to folks in our local small business community, in our social services sector, to talk to folks about their priorities and what we need to be working on particularly in our community.”