After fighting a tough campaign with volunteers meeting on the streets, Vancouver 1st candidates Ken Denike and Sophia Woo won't be returnning to the school board.
Woo placed 18th with 35,011 votes and Denike placed 19th with 31,545.
“We were the opposition voice,” said Woo. “Those who kicked us out won big.”
“The smaller parties and groups got squeezed out,” said Denike, who was worried about slate votes this election. “I’m concerned for the areas we’ve lobbied for... The last group these last three years has been taking a very arrogant view of the world. The chair has in no way acted like a chair.”
Denike and Woo were often the only trustees voting against the majority Vision Vancouver school board. They have advocated for a group of Chinese parents to work with the DPAC, more support for students and substance abuse and more conversations regarding the sexual orientation and gender identities policy.
Many critics of Denike and Woo called them homophobic following their expulsion from NPA on the policy, but they argued they were misunderstood and the accusations were “ridiculous.” Denike and Woo said they wished for more time for parents to digest the policy.
Despite the results, Denike and Woo were pleased with their campaign.
“We were principled throughout and we always followed through,” said Denike. “We tackled topics politicians should be very wary of, but you gotta live with yourself. We did what we thought was right.”
The evening began as Denike and Woo were greeted with cheers by a group of about 40 supporters gathered at Chinatown’s Floata Seafood Restaurant to await election results.
Denike and Woo intended for the event to show their appreciation to the 200 volunteers. While campaigning, some were met with drivers who rolled down windows to give them a thumbs down and even passersby who spat on them.
Denike called it a “real disappointment” for the new Canadian volunteers who were campaigning on their behalf for the first time, but is pleased with the support.
“It bodes well for the future,” said Denike.
They ran what they called a “kitchen campaign” but had difficulty competing with what Denike called the “machinery” of larger parties like Vision Vancouver and the NPA.
The supporters at Floata consisted mostly of Chinese parents and children, many of whom have followed the controversy of Denike and Woo’s expulsion from the NPA closely and have attended many school board meetings.
Regarding the orientation and gender policy, parent Ashling Li said some Chinese parents weren’t upset because they were homophobic. She said they just didn’t believe personal and sensitive matters such as these should have been out in the open before being talked about at home.
“They shouldn’t have singled it out as a gender issue,” Li told the Courier in Cantonese. “Each child is unique in their own way, but parents generally love their children... On the transgender policy, there just wasn’t enough discussion.”
Li hoped school board controversies encouraged parents to vote, especially those new to Canada.
“If you don’t vote,” said Li in Cantonese, “the politicians won’t know your needs.”
Denike and Woo have been known for being advocates of Chinese parents, but parent Anda Yau believes they represented a voice for frustrated parents who feel they have been ignored at open school board meetings.
Yau has attended almost every open meeting and was upset when she said her submitted questions were either ignored or modified when read.
“Vision doesn’t have ears,” said Yau. “They only have hands and mouths.”
She empathized with Denike and Woo for occasionally being the only opposition and said she supported them for their sincerity.
Denike and Woo were a very public team, supporting each other in candidate statements, had their names paired in ads and were almost never seen apart at events. The Courier asked how this teamwork started and Denike and Woo thought back to Vancouver city councillor Don Lee, who served in 2005 to 2008.
When Lee was in his final stages of cancer, Denike wanted someone who could play a similar role working with Vancouver’s growing Chinese community. A Richmond trustee introduced them to each other.
The past term required their cooperation to face the majority board.
“We were the opposition,” said Woo. “We needed to second each other.”
“We work together well,” said Denike.
When asked if they would run again, Denike and Woo said they would take the next six weeks easy.
“I don’t know if I’ll miss the night meetings,” said Denike.
A group of about 10 parents who remained until the end of the evening thanked Denike and Woo for their work.
“For the kids,” said one.
Added another, “We still have a lot to do.”