Gabe Garfinkel is running for the B.C. Liberal nomination in Vancouver-Fairview. (photo from Gabe Garfinkel)
Gabe Garfinkel says he has the combination of youth and experience that makes him an ideal candidate for the B.C. Legislature.
Garfinkel recently announced his candidacy for the B.C. Liberal nomination in Vancouver-Fairview. The 31-year-old former assistant to Premier Christy Clark added that representing the Jewish community is an important part of his reason for running.
Garfinkel attended Vancouver Talmud Torah elementary (as did both his parents) and Prince of Wales secondary before obtaining a BA in political science at the University of British Columbia. During his time at UBC, he did a semester at Hebrew University and says Middle East issues have long been an area of interest.
His first job after university emerged out of a volunteer position. The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), for which he had volunteered as a student, hired him as outreach coordinator, based in Toronto. CJPAC is a national, independent, multi-partisan organization that aims to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians in the democratic process and to foster political participation.
“I was the guy that was going into community groups, to community centres, to high schools, to summer camps, to campuses, to Hillels across the country and essentially telling them why they should get involved in politics,” Garfinkel told the Independent. “I was selling a few different programs, but what I was really doing was [building] up an army of hundreds of Jewish community members across the country that were in most cases in high school or university and giving them a voice and a vehicle to represent their own community’s interests in government.”
When he returned to Vancouver, Garfinkel followed his own advice. He walked into the campaign office for federal Liberal candidate Joyce Murray and volunteered. After the election, the MP hired Garfinkel to work in her constituency office.
“I saw firsthand how hard an MP can work and how an MP can make a difference in their constituents’ lives,” he said.
Garfinkel volunteered on the successful campaign of Margaret MacDiarmid, who was elected MLA for Vancouver-Fairview in 2009. She went on to serve in several portfolios in the B.C. Liberal government, including labor and education. MacDiarmid was defeated in 2012 by New Democrat George Heyman, who Garfinkel will be up against if he wins the Liberal nomination. (The Independent will invite all Jewish candidates in the election, which includes Heyman, to be interviewed and profiled.)
Garfinkel also volunteered on the leadership campaign of Clark, who went on to become premier.
“I was drawn to her because I saw the energy and charisma she could bring and the care she had for people,” he said. “I helped put together her youth campaign and young professional team. I played a small role in helping her win and it was great.”
When Clark became premier, Garfinkel served as executive assistant and advisor to several cabinet ministers before being called to the premier’s office and offered a job by Clark. He was the premier’s executive assistant until the 2012 election, when he left government to work for the party. He was on the campaign staff that oversaw the B.C. Liberals’ stunning come-from-behind victory that gave Clark her first full four-year mandate. His role in the election was working with multicultural communities and media.
After the election, Garfinkel returned to the premier’s office as director of community and stakeholder relations.
“The government does so many things and my job was to bring along stakeholders in all these decisions, and making sure that the decisions were being made not from the lens of the government, but from the lens of the people they affected the most,” he said.
In 2013, Garfinkel joined FleishmanHillard, an international public relations and marketing firm. He developed a particular interest in health policy and worked for health-care clients in the nonprofit and private sectors at FleishmanHillard and, since leaving that company, as a self-employed consultant.
He also has gained experience in small business.
“Just over a year ago, I realized that my dad’s business needed some help,” he said. Both his parents, Sandi Karmel and Larry Garfinkel, are social workers, but his father left social work to start Native Northwest, which creates products featuring the works of local First Nations artists.
“It’s been a really great experience helping him run a small business,” he said. “I have such a great time because you never know what’s going to hit you every day and you never underestimate the sheer amount of small hurdles you need to get by in running a business.”
While his new candidacy has required him to take a leave, Garfinkel was until recently on the allocations committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and also sat on the Local Partnership Council for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. He still volunteers for CJPAC, speaking to groups, usually young people, about the political process, and he is a longtime volunteer for Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
“It’s been important to me because we have a very close family friend who has the disease and for years I’ve been fighting internally for government to help make changes, and now I took that advocacy outside of government,” he said.
In addition to general awareness, advancing the cause of cystic fibrosis includes promoting organ donation and access to life-saving medications.
“Christy Clark’s government has been able to make a lot of positive changes on the organ registry,” Garfinkel said. “There are more avenues for people to sign up and be an organ donor.… It’s a lot easier now than it used to be.”
Nonetheless, he said, there remains a long way to go to increase the number of donors.
Garfinkel was formed by the Jewish community, he said, and has been deeply influenced by his grandmothers. While both his grandfathers passed away when he was young, Garfinkel cites his grandmothers as models of community engagement. His late paternal grandparents, Marsha and Israel (Izzy) Garfinkel, were members of Schara Tzedeck, while his maternal grandparents, Ethel and the late Jonah (Johnny) Karmel, were Beth Israel members. Ethel Karmel was a leader in the preservation of the Cambie Heritage Boulevard, lobbying successfully to have the Cambie Skytrain route go underground, and is an artist with an upcoming exhibition (see Community Calendar for details).
His grandparents’ and parents’ models of community service, he said, helped make him the person he is.
“You understand the interest of looking out for other people, you understand the importance of tikkun olam,” said Garfinkel, who also credits summers at Camp Miriam for building his Judaism and social conscience.
In his race for the nomination, Garfinkel said he is relying on his experience drawing people into the political sphere.
“My background’s in engaging people into the political process so they can have a voice,” he said. “In many cases, it’s been the Jewish community and young people, but also multicultural and new Canadians, where there is some kind of disconnect between them and the government that’s supposed to represent them.”
His candidacy is resonating in particular with young people, he said. In many cases, young people are asking him basic questions about the political system, which indicates to Garfinkel that they feel alienated from it.
“People don’t feel represented,” he said. “First and foremost, I want to make sure people have a voice and I want to fight for them in Victoria.”
His own experience is similar to that of many his age, he added.
“I have a small apartment in the riding and I’m afraid that a bigger place nearby is already out of reach,” he said. “I see transportation and transit as really important because it allows people to spend more time with their families and it protects the environment.”
The riding of Vancouver-Fairview runs from False Creek to 33rd Avenue between Main and Granville, and also includes areas west of Granville from Cornwall to Fourth Avenue east of Burrard, and east of Arbutus from 4th to 16th.
“I think there’s a general consensus that this is a great neighborhood to live in, but it’s not always easy to live here,” said Garfinkel. “If you look at things like housing affordability, it’s something that affects a lot of people here and a lot of future generations as well.”
The election is slated for May 9, 2017, but first Garfinkel has to win the B.C. Liberal nomination. The date for the nomination meeting has not been set and, therefore, neither has the deadline for joining the party in order to vote at the meeting. Garfinkel expects the meeting to be called for January, which means the membership cut-off will be in the coming few weeks.
He believes his comparatively young age combined with his experience in government is good preparation to be an MLA.
“I thought maybe I should wait until I’m older and have more money in my bank account and a longer resumé, but I realized that I have energy now, I have the desire now and have some really great experience I can bring to the table,” he said. “I’m ready.”