MLAs Melanie Mark and Jodie Wickens join NDP leader John Horgan to receive the oath of office after winning by-elections on Feb. 2.

Third person of Nisga’a heritage takes seat in B.C. legislature

Melanie Mark won seat in Lower Mainland byelection for the NDP

By Tom Fletcher

The staid rules of the B.C. legislature were relaxed Feb. 17 for a ceremony where Nisga’a Nation dancers welcomed the first female First Nations person to serve as an MLA.

Elected to represent Vancouver-Mount Pleasant Melanie Mark is the third Nisga’a member to be elected to the B.C. legislature, after Frank Calder in 1949 and Larry Guno in 1986. She won a by-election for the NDP on Feb. 2 and was sworn in along with Jodie Wickens in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, who becomes the youngest member of the current legislature.

Current MLAs Carole James and Marc Dalton are of Métis heritage.

Cameras and smartphones clicked in the usually restricted public gallery as legislature clerk Craig James administered the oath of office to what he noted were the 915th and 916th MLAs to serve since B.C. joined confederation in 1871.

James drew sustained applause when he said the 85-seat legislature is now 38 per cent female, “the highest level of representation to ever sit in a Canadian legislature.”

Deputy clerk Kate Ryan Lloyd described the first election in B.C., after which 25 MLAs were sworn in by Judge Matthew Begbie after a vote with no organized parties and no secret ballot.

“In many electoral districts, a simple show of hands or an open book recording the polls sufficed,” Ryan-Lloyd said.

“At that time there were only 3,000 registered voters in the province of British Columbia, who qualified by being white male British subjects who had met certain property and residency requirements.”

James reminded the new MLAs they are two of 85, representing a population of 4.6 million people.

“Together your presence is a demonstration of how the legislature continues to evolve in reflecting the diversity of our province,” he said.

Tom Fletcher is the Black Press correspondent in Victoria, B.C.