Election campaigns can be brutal on a candidate and, at times, the candidate’s family.
But Nechako Lakes NDP candidate Anne Marie Sam faced an even tougher battle this spring. A mammogram in March revealed she had breast cancer, the diagnosis coming just as the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
“When that happens it changes everything,” Sam, 47, said last week in recounting the events of the spring.
In Victoria where she was working, Sam quickly had to focus on herself and her health and for what would come next.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown meant she faced surgery without the support in person of her family.
“The lockdown … that was an extra challenge,” said Sam.
Surgery was successful and was followed by chemotherapy and radiation with Sam being declared cancer-free as the spring turned into summer. Despite it all, Sam said she was determined to pursue her candidacy for the Nechako Lakes riding.
“I knew I could do it. I had a lot of support from the party and the leader, John Horgan. I had made a commitment. This was something I knew I could do,” she said.
Sam added that like many people, she was caught offguard by the election call.
“I had been expecting it next year, next October,” Sam said of the agreement between the NDP and the Green party in which both had committed to keeping the legislature working until then.
This will be Sam’s second bid for elected provincial office. She also ran against BC Liberal incumbent John Rustad in the 2017 provincial election, placing second with Rustad taking a clear majority of 52 per cent of the vote.
Although defeated in that election, Sam, in one sense, followed Rustad’s footsteps in Victoria. That’s because Rustad was the BC Liberal for aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister from 2013 to 2017. When the NDP replaced the BC Liberals in government, Sam then took a job as the senior ministerial assistant in the renamed indigenous relations and reconciliation ministry.
Now on leave from that job, Sam said the three years she spent in that ministry have given her invaluable experience in not only the inner workings of how the government operates when it comes to deciding policy but through travel connected to her work, the experiences and situations indigenous people face within the province.
“I got to meet a lot of people,” said Sam as she worked on issues such as placing the the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within the context of provincial government legislation.
She was also surprised, in travels through the region particularly, by how many people knew her parents and her grandparents.
“It really is a small world,” she added.
Sam’s first experiences with elected office date back to a term as a school trustee in her home area of Fort St. James and as a councillor for several terms with her home Nak’azdli band.
Raising a family of three children during the same period, Sam said matters such as child care availability and education challenges within the north brought forward by others heightened her sense of community issues.
And that connection to communities within the area heightened in the 2000s through the increased presence of large industrial projects in the north.
“There was concern that a lot of things weren’t being brought up such as impacts on communities, the need to preserve and protect our values — and not just with indigenous communities, but all of the communities,” said Sam. “I thought that this was something that was needed.”
It wasn’t until Sam took a phone call from Carole James, a senior NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), in 2017 that she began thinking about provincial political office and how her school trustee and band council experience could be further reflected.
First elected in 2005, a former leader of the provincial NDP and with a spouse from Burns Lake, James spoke knowledgeably about the north and what it would take to run provincially.
“She really encouraged me,” said Sam of James who noted that more women were needed in the provincial legislature. “She talked about the impact on your family, the travelling, what an MLA can contribute.”
It set the foundation for the 2017 election and now this one with Sam saying she’s more than ever committed to the riding and to its people.