10 years since her life came crashing down, Vernon-Monashee's new MLA offers example of resiliency | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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10 years since her life came crashing down, Vernon-Monashee's new MLA offers example of resiliency

Harwinder Sandhu
Image Credit: submitted:FACEBOOK Harwinder Sandhu
November 09, 2020 - 5:51 PM

It's almost 10 years ago to the day that newly-elected Vernon-Monashee NDP MLA Harwinder Sandhu lost her husband.

Living in Northern B.C. and in her 20s with two young daughters, Sandhu's world was instantly turned upside down.

"There was so much anxiety and uncertainty," Sandhu told iNFOnews.ca. "There were times you think, 'Is life even worth living with all the challenges you face?' Then I looked at my daughters and thought, it's my responsibility to give them a safe and secure future."

Now, Sandhu has remarried, had a son, and just been elected to the B.C. legislature.

The 10-year anniversary of her first husband dying of cancer, her daughter's birthday, and her election victory have all collided within a few days.

"Yesterday was quite an emotional day," she says of the day she learnt she'd won the seat by 424 votes.

Her victory ends an 11-year stint for Liberal incumbent Eric Foster and put her as the first NDP candidate to represent the riding in more than 30 years.

"It feels great," she says. "I'm so excited, and more importantly my heart is still filled with so much gratitude and joy."

Her win is a case of third time lucky, having run for the NDP provincially in 2017 in Kelowna-Mission, and federally in the North Okanagan-Shuswap in 2019. Her previous races weren't remotely close, and she came in a distant second and third place respectively.

So what changed this time around?

"This is the question everybody is asking, including us," Sandhu says. "We can only speculate, (the) voters can tell us."

From her experience, she says people were happy with Premier John Horgan and the NDP government.

Sandhu was born into a farming family in India and moved to northern B.C. 20 years ago. In 2012 she took a job as a registered nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital and moved from Terrace to the Okanagan.

She says her advocacy for others led her to want to get into politics.

"I had a desire to go to the decision-making body, and I realized every decision at every government level that has been made affects you directly as a taxpayer, as a voter, as a resident," she says. "So I started to look more and more in policies and the NDP policies resonated."

Sandhu cites affordable housing, healthcare, seniors care, and daycare as key issues in the riding, along with the pandemic.

"The hot topic right now with the COVID pandemic is the community economy and ... (the) small businesses industry because they're all the backbone of our economy," she says.

While she refrains from making a prediction when asked what concrete achievement she would make in the next four years, she says she'll be advocating for a treatment centre for mental health and addiction in the Okanagan, as she has done in her previous campaigns.

While Sandhu has never been an elected politician before she says she's not nervous.

"Working in healthcare for a decade and a half, each day you hit the ground running," she says.

Working in healthcare is full of unpredictable situations where you're held to a higher standard. She sees being a politician is likely to be much the same.

As a priority, she says she'll start by talking to the different municipalities and chambers and asking them about the issues they face.

She speaks of unity and that she's determined to represent everyone in the Vernon-Monashee riding, not just those who voted for her.

While Sandu is the first NDP candidate to represent the riding in decades and the first female MLA in almost 20 years, she's also the first woman of colour to hold the position.

However, she doesn't bring it up.

"I haven't mentioned it," she said. "One reason is that I'm a proud Canadian."

While Sandhu said she a proud of who she is, she didn't want to be accused of playing the race card.

"I wanted to put myself out there with the party policy and who I am as a person," she said.

That doesn't mean it was easy.

"I was told 'are you crazy you're running for the NDP in this riding and for being a woman of colour,'" she said. "I was told that many times throughout my three campaigns."

Regardless of that preception, she came through and managed to get the winning ticket.

"I had that faith... I'm proud of people... (and) I'll be focusing on all of Vernon-Monashee," she adds.

Correction: This story was updated 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, to clarify Harwinder Sandhu came second in the Kelowna-Mission provincial election in 2017.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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