Patti MacAhonic may be a political novelty as the first Chamber of Commerce official in B.C. to run for nomination as an NDP election candidate.
But she won’t be the Chilliwack chamber’s executive director long, if she wins the party’s nomination Jan. 19.
MacAhonic will take a leave of absence until that time, but she is asking the chamber board to “reconsider” the denial of her request to extend the leave until the May provincial election, if she wins the nomination.
“I’m not trying to be unreasonable,” she said, but it’s a “matter of principle” since past chamber employees and directors have run for office or worked on political campaigns.
Without the board’s approval of an extended leave, MacAhonic will be without a paycheque for at least four months.
Chamber president Kevin Gemmell said it was “simple math,” not politics, that determined the board’s decision, and that MacAhonic would be asked to resign no matter which political party she represented.
“We can’t live without somebody in the big chair for a period of four months,” he said Monday. “It’s not a political issue, it never got to that point.”
City councillor Sue Attrill, who was the chamber’s executive director when she ran for election in 2008, said a policy was introduced after she won her council seat that prevents chamber employees and directors from running for public office or working for a political candidate.
“I worked (as executive director) for several months before I decided on my own to resign,” Attrill said, because she felt pressured “to vote in certain ways” on matters that came to city council.
“Sometimes you can’t have two masters,” she said. “Integrity is everything.”
But she declined comment on MacAhonic’s request for an extension because she didn’t know all the details.
MacAhonic said she would “of course” resign her chamber job, if elected MLA.
Dennis Adamson, Yale area director at the Fraser Valley Regional District, is also running for the NDP nomination.
Although he does not live in the Chilliwack riding, Adamson says he has become very familiar with the issues in Chilliwack after winning two consecutive terms at the FVRD board.
A popular politician in the Hope-Yale area, it’s not clear how much of Adamson’s political support would carry over into the Chilliwack riding.
MacAhonic said she will be asking NDP party members to nominate her based on her experience with health and conservation organizations, and her “lifelong commitment to social democracy.”
“I’m a seasoned leader at the executive and director level,” she said, as the first woman to lead the BC Wildlife Federation and as a key player in getting legislation changed for survivors and children of workplace fatalities.
MacAhonic’s husband was killed in an industrial accident when she was 29 years old.
“Grief-stricken, she somehow pulled herself up by the bootstraps,” said Orion Engar, who introduced MacAhonic at her Monday morning announcement.
“This is one tough woman,” he said.
MacAhonic said the NDP is “well-positioned to win the province” in the May election and “we want Chilliwack at that table.”
Although the riding has been a BC Liberal stronghold for many years, she described Chilliwack at a “progressive community” that recognizes the need for change in Victoria.
“Our decisions will have a lasting impact on future generations, more than ever before,” she said, and “people, the planet and profits” need to be considered in making those decisions.
“We need to consider all three equally in making decisions,” she said, and “diversity” will be needed to arrive at decisions that benefit everyone.
“We need people who think in ways different from each other,” she said. “We need them at the table — and sometimes that’s messy — but that is when we come up with things that work for everyone.”
MacAhonic believes her business savvy and environmental background is the right mix for the new political era that seems to be emerging.