Canada

Who is Rechie Valdez, first Filipino woman in the Canadian Cabinet?

Michelle Abad

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Who is Rechie Valdez, first Filipino woman in the Canadian Cabinet?

RECHIE VALDEZ. Rechie Valdez, as Member of Parliament, attends the unveiling of a Jose Rizal monument in Brampton's Dr. Jose P. Rizal Park in a photo released on June 23, 2023.

Rechie Valdez' Facebook page

This is the second time Valdez made history in Canadian politics, as she was also the first Filipino woman to be elected Member of Parliament in 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino-Canadian Rechie Valdez was sworn in as Canada’s Minister of Small Business on Wednesday, July 26, becoming the first Filipino woman to be appointed to the Canadian Cabinet.

It was an emotional oathtaking for Valdez, as she paid homage to her heritage by saying “Mabuhay” before taking her oath. She wears a barong tagalog on the official Cabinet website.

This is the second time Valdez made history in Canadian politics, as she was also the first Filipino woman to be elected Member of Parliament (MP) in 2021. She was MP of Mississauga-Streetsville when she was appointed to the Cabinet.

Here are some things to know about Valdez.

Entrepreneur, community advocate

Valdez was born and raised in Zambia, a country in southern Africa, to Filipino parents Zosimo and Normita Salazar. She immigrated to Canada with her family in 1989 when she was nine years old. 

Prior to entering politics, Valdez owned and operated her own small baking business called Chietopia. The self-taught baker co-founded a Filipino fusion line of pastries stocked in two national Asian grocery chains in Mississauga, a city neighboring Toronto.

She hosted television show Fearlessly Creative that shared stories of entrepreneurs, artists, and creators.

Valdez also spent 15 years of her career as a corporate banker, where she developed her skills in change management and strategic initiatives. 

“No matter what I ended up choosing to do in my career path, whether that’s corporate banking, or running my own small business as an entrepreneur, no matter where I ended up, I always gravitated towards participating, organizing, or creating spaces to build community,” she said in a CTV News report.

Among the initiatives she has pushed are women entrepreneurship programs, sports events, and bringing together “like-minded” people. 

In her community organizing work, Valdez realized that there was “so much power” in having communities collaborate and learn from each other.

“As I thought about the opportunity of going into politics, I realized that I get to ultimately do the thing that I love to do but at a much larger scale,” she said in the CTV report.

Political career

In the 2021 election, Valdez’ campaign focused on fighting climate change, investing in women entrepreneurs, advancing measures addressing the gender pay gap, healthcare investment, and supporting first-time home buyers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

She ran under the banner of the Liberal Party and won as the representative of the riding (equivalent of a legislative district) of Mississauga-Streetsville. 

Her victory ended a 17-year dry spell of a Filipino presence in the Canadian House of Commons – the last being Rey Pagtakhan who won the seat representing Winnepeg-North in 2004. Pagtakhan was also the first Filipino to be elected to the Canadian Parliament.

As MP, Valdez was a member of the committees on veterans affairs and agriculture and agri-food. From 2022 to 2023, she was part of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, and the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association.

Valdez sponsored the bill seeking to establish a national women’s entrepreneurship day. It reached its first reading in the House of Commons in November 2022.

She jointly seconded the bill seeking to establish a national indigenous teachers day, and another bill looking to create a national framework on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Close to Filipino roots

Valdez has kept in touch with her heritage, attending festivals and gatherings of the Filipino community.

She has also used her platforms to promote Filipino restaurants all over Canada.

In June 2022 and 2023, Valdez, clad in barongs both times, raised Filipino Heritage Month to her fellow MPs at the House of Commons.

“Filipino Canadians have made tremendous contributions to this great country. It is an honor to stand here on behalf of nearly one million Filipino Canadians to mark this momentous occasion…. This month, I encourage everyone to learn more about our rich Filipino heritage, culture, and traditions – not to mention food,” she said on June 1, 2023.

Maligayang Buwan ng Pamanang Pilipino (Happy Filipino Heritage Month),” she said. 

Valdez also attended the 2023 Philippine Economic Briefing in Toronto on July 13.

Valdez is married to Christopher Valdez. They have two children, Kyle and Cassidy. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.