Naomi Yamamoto named Minster of State for Intergovernmental Relations
Rookie MLA Naomi Yamamoto has been named the new Minster of State for Intergovernmental Relations, only a short time after becoming the first Japanese Canadian to be elected MLA in British Columbia.
Yamamoto’s election-night victory came on the 60th anniversary of Japanese Canadians first getting the right to vote in BC. Her father, Masanobu Yamamoto, a nisei who was not given the right to vote until he was 22, was on hand to see her victory speech.
Yamamoto’s parents were both sent from Vancouver to internment camps in the Kootenays—her mother to New Denver and her father to Lemon Creek. The families’ fishing boats, homes, and possessions were seized by the government.
BC’s laws weren’t changed until 1949, when the franchise was extended to all Japanese Canadians—one of the last groups to be excluded. The year before, Canadians of Asian origin acquired the right to vote federally and Japanese Canadian war vets could vote starting in 1931.
Yamamoto beat two political heavyweights — Don Bell and Jennifer Clarke — to earn the BC Liberal’s nomination for the North Vancouver-Lonsdale riding and then defeated defeat long-time District of North Vancouver politician Janice Harris who was running for the NDP.
The final tally was 9,710 votes for Yamamoto, 7,252 for Harris, 1,632 for Green Michelle Corcos, 791 for BC Conservative Ian McLeod 388 and 224 for Reform’s Ron Gamble.
The North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA takes over the ministry of Intergovernmental Relations from West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre, who has served less than a year in that position. Yamamoto’s position will have her working closely with inter-provincial agencies, the federal government and governments in the U.S.
A feature in the Georgia Straight asks the question, why have so few Japanese Canadians gone into politics?, singling out that federal minister of international cooperation, Bev Oda; former Richmond city councillor Kiichi Kumagai; and former Ontario cabinet minister David Tsubouchi as being among the few elected officials of Japanese descent.
As the article points out, this is in spite of Statistics Canada’s finding that, as a group, Japanese Canadians have outpaced other groups in education. For example, 28 percent of Japanese Canadian adults have a university degree, compared to just 15 percent of the general adult population.
Yamamoto is a cofounder of the graphic design firm Tora Design, and the president of the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.