Shazad Shah is among 13 independent council candidates running for municipal office in Mission against the sole political slate, the incumbent Citizens for Responsible Municipal Government (CRMG), on Nov 15.
Though he has worked on other political campaigns, most notably Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert’s, this is the first time Shah, the only out gay candidate in Mission’s civic election, has decided to seek office himself.
The current council’s emphasis on keeping taxes low and making Mission business-friendly squeezes out the kinds of services needed to make a community vibrant, Shah contends.
He notes that the official community plan, which maps out what the town will look like over a number of decades, is due for an update, and he wants to ensure proper representation for seniors, youth and queer people.
“Since the valley is growing rapidly, and we’re having a lot people immigrate into our towns, we need to represent those people as best we can and look out for everyone’s needs, not just a select few,” he says.
The existence of the Fraser Valley Youth Society, a larger queer presence at the university and the successful staging of Abbotsford Pride have contributed to a changing social landscape for LGBT people in the valley, Shah suggests.
“Because we’re in the valley, we don’t have these niches that queer people will fit into, so we have to make friends with all kinds of people who identify as queer and diverse,” he says. “Moving from a big city, where maybe most of your friends are gay men, to Mission or Abbotsford, where there are not a lot of [out] gay men, you start to become friends with lesbians, trans people. It opens up your whole centre of knowledge and experience.”
Shah anticipates that this trend will help his run for council. Over the last three years, approximately 3,000 people have moved to Mission from larger cities, he says. “They’re bringing with them different ideas and different forms of culture and community, and that takes us to the next level of social interaction.”
“A lot of people don’t fall under the category of a husband, wife and 2.5 children with dogs, but that’s what a lot of the planning at the city council is based around,” he continues. He’d like to see support for different ideas about family and care structures and greater backing for the queer youth drop-in program, resources for immigrants and people with disabilities reflected more prominently in the official community plan.
On the campaign trail, Shah says, he doesn’t deny his sexuality, but it’s not the way he introduces himself to voters.
“I naturally assume that people know, and I get offended when people don’t know,” he says. “I still do live in a substantially Bible-belt community, so I’m trying to represent the minority as best as I can — people of colour, people with disabilities. Then as the conversation progresses and they were to ask what my views are, then I would come out and let them know.
“If the larger group of people — that is, the person at the door — is not okay with my sexuality, then that’s a personal story for me,” he says. “But I’m there to represent them, so I might bring up how I might best represent them at the municipal level.”
So far, he says, his sexuality has not become an issue. Rather, the response has been refreshing. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh wow, a new face and someone with new ideas.’ And because I’m so different, they’re embracing it substantially,” he adds.
While Shah sees queer rights as “somewhat of a hot topic,” he says he’s not sure that people who are against him would be willing to raise the issue.
“If it is a strike against me, I think of it as setting the stage for other people to run,” he adds, noting that the battle for queer rights and equality is ongoing. “We need to take it day by day, and this is just one of the steps that I need to take in order to create a properly represented community.”
Shah says no one is quite sure what the outcome will be Nov 15, but he sees the election as a good opportunity to make change.