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NDP executive makes northern connection

Pam Sihota is a newly-appointed member of the NDP executive. - Anna Killen
Pam Sihota is a newly-appointed member of the NDP executive.
— image credit: Anna Killen

Politicos across Terrace, the province, and Canada have a myriad of theories of what went wrong for the NDP in last year's provincial election.

But while many pondered from the outside, Terrace's 28-year-old Pam Sihota got an inside look as a newly-appointed member of the NDP executive and one of five people in the party plucked to be a member of a panel tasked with looking at what happened last May.

What happened can't be boiled down to one thing, she said.

“It's just not any one thing that we can point to – we couldn't go, ah, Kinder Morgan, that's it! – there were just so many factors,” she said. The report lists 41 recommendations, with Sihota noting polling was a big issue, as was voter apathy and typical NDP supporters not voting because they thought an NDP win was a sure thing.

But she does have some ideas on how the party can grow going forward – improved communication and engagement being the main one, not only between the party higher ups and its members, but between the rural areas of the province and the urban areas.

Sihota, who clarifies she has no relation to NDP past-president Moe Sihota (“Not related, there's a billion of us in India, come on!”), has been tied to the NDP for the majority of her adult life – Nathan Cullen was the first person she voted for at 19 before taking a break from B.C. to take her undergrad in Alberta.

When the 2009 provincial election came around, she was back in Terrace and became heavily involved with Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin's campaign and attended her first NDP convention.

“That really solidified my involvement with the NDP and me realizing that this is the party that best reflects who I am, my values and my political leanings,” she said.

Then it was back to school – this time studying law in England – but she eventually made her way back to Terrace, where she's converting her degree, working at a local law office, and planning to article next year.

Being back in Terrace, she resumed attending local NDP executive meetings and helping out with Austin's re-election campaign.

Austin was glad to have her back – he hadn't expected her to return, saying “usually when people go away to get law degrees they don't come back to their small town beginnings.”

“Her values are very much in the right place,” he said. “It's a real honour having her coming on to our executive.”

It wasn't hard for Austin to give her a positive reference when the NDP approached him about Sihota as a potential member of the post-election panel – he noted her critical, analytical mind, and also pointed out that it would be great to get the perspective of a rural area and of the younger generation.

“It's nice to have the next generation of people thinking about politics,” he said. “I think a lot of people just get busy with their lives and don't spend a lot of time getting involved in the day to day running of politics and public policy issues, and here's somebody who's got a really well trained mind who is active politically. It's great, I'm thrilled to have her around and I learn lots from her because she's able to connect me to what the next generation is thinking about.”

Sihota spends a lot of time thinking about how to better engage her peers in politics, and that's one of the issues she wants to focus on as a member of the executive.

“I think sometimes, as young people, we forget,” she said. “We know and we do care – it's not like we don't care about things like taxes, education – but it's not until we hit our 30s that it really (begins to sink in).”

But the sooner youths get engaged on those issues, the better, she said.

“It actually does make a difference – I know it feels like it doesn't make a difference, but if we don't engage and we don't get out, then how can we instigate change?”

She recognizes that the way her generation engages is wildly different than the past – the message needs to be communicated within minutes, and while people are discussing ideas on social media that doesn't necessarily translate into direct political engagement.

“How do we get you from tweeting articles, tweeting your opinion, posting stuff on Facebook and liking it, to actually putting on your coat and walking out the door and casting a ballot,” she said.

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