First woman to be elected seeks third term


An immigrant’s journey to politics

By Ted Alcuitas

It was a bizarre twist that first catapulted Flor Marcelino to the political stage in 2007 for the NDP, making political history as the first woman of colour to be elected to a provincial legislature.

Today, after two successive terms, she is seeking another term in a political climate vastly different from 2007.

His brother-in-law, Ted Marcelino, is seeking a second term in the Tyndall riding.

The then relatively unknown Marcelino was ‘minding her own business’ and in semi-retirement on a fateful afternoon in May when three NDP representatives unexpectedly showed up.

“Then they asked me if I wanted to be the NDP candidate. They told me that they would help me secure a $20,000 loan for campaign expenses and provide me with an experienced campaign manager. I asked for some time to think it over but they gave me only one hour to decide,” she recalled the day in a Toronto speech in 2011.

The New Democrats were in a tight spot. Days before the election, their candidate, Filipino Angie Ramos suddenly resigned citing health reasons.

Before the election call, incumbent New Democrat MLA Conrad Santos, dropped out due to allegations of illegal membership sign-up. Days before, another candidate Joe Chan, was disqualified for improper disclosure in his nomination papers. Both run as independents.

Jose Tomas, another Filipino, run for the Progressive Conservatives.

Santos, who made political history as the first Filipino to be elected to a provincial legislature in 1981 died recently on February 29.

Marcelino, a neophyte, won handily and went on to cabinet positions – first, as Minister of culture, heritage, tourism and multiculturalism and Minister of Multiculturalism and Literacy in her second term.

The second of six children and the oldest daughter, she was 10 when her father died. She was forced to work to support the family.

“It defined my character,” she says. “I wouldn’t be who I am if I had had a privileged life.”

She cut short her journalism studies and immigrated to Winnipeg in 1982 with husband Orlando and two children.

“…It was definitely a hand-to-mouth existence-in Tagalog, it was “isang kahig, isang tuka.,” she recalled their first few years.

“Within our first year here, I was pregnant with our third child, I was working as a secretary at a garment factory. My husband, Orli, (who had a degree in Fine Arts) had two part-time jobs as a dishwasher and as a security guard (a security guard with no gun–he always points out–only a walkie talkie)”.

She says they were “ not overly political or activist in Winnipeg at that time.”

Marcelino made history as first woman of colour to be elected.
Marcelino made history as first woman of colour to be elected.

She got involved in “small-P” politics through her church involvement but her daughters encouraged her to make the leap to “big-P politics” where she could do more for the community.

“This is what I’m guided by. Where I have compromised my previous activism work is on time spent on it: life in politics takes a sheer toll on personal time and energy. So I try to compensate by using my current position to shine a light on issues and to connect people to one another. Luckily, I am surrounded by others that have taken on important tasks that need to be done in our community.”

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