Bhutila Karpoche made history Thursday night, becoming the first Tibetan ever elected to public office in North America.
The rookie NDP candidate looked destined to win the Parkdale-High Park riding by a wide margin, as she held a commanding lead with just a handful of polls reporting. The final vote tally was not available at press time.
Big cheers went up from a large crowd of Karpoche’s supporters at The Rhino bar on Queen St. W. when Karpoche’s win was declared. Parkdale-High Park has been in NDP hands since Cheri DiNovo won a by-election for the riding in 2006. DiNovo won three more terms before leaving politics earlier this year to become minister at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts.
Before the election she told the Star she was “really, really happy to have passed the torch to Bhutila.”
Karpoche spent eight years working for DiNovo, first in her constituency office and more recently as her executive assistant at Queen’s Park. DiNovo had wanted to add a Tibetan speaker to her staff to better liaise with Parkdale’s large Tibetan population, so she asked organizers with Students For a Free Tibet if they knew anyone who might be interested. Karpoche arrived and quickly became indispensable, DiNovo said.
“She knows Queen’s Park and she’s way ahead of the game in terms of what I walked in there with.”
Karpoche, 34, moved to Toronto from Nepal when she was 18, settling into Parkdale, where she became a community organizer. She is fluent in four languages — English, Tibetan, Nepalese and Hindi — and is a PhD candidate at Ryerson University in public health policy.
Karpoche said the most important lesson she learned from DiNovo was how to advocate for constituents. “That’s your number-one job,” she said. “Regardless of who’s in power.”
DiNovo was highly regarded for her bipartisan and tripartisan efforts at Queen’s Park, where she passed the most private-member’s bills and three-party bills in Ontario’s history.
Also running were Liberal Nadia Guerrera, Adam Pham for the Progressive Conservatives, Halyna Zalucky for the Green Party of Ontario, and Matthias Nunno and Jay Watts for the Libertarian and Communist parties, respectively.