MLA Michelle Stilwell is pictured above on the May 2013 night she won election as MLA for Parksville-Qualicum. With Stilwell is her husband Mark, right, and son Kai.

EXCLUSIVE: Stilwell will seek second term

The Parksville-Qualicum MLA is the last of Premier Christy Clark's cabinet to announce her intentions for the May 2017 election

Michelle Stilwell will seek a second term as MLA for Parksville-Qualicum in the May, 2017 provincial election.

Stilwell is the last of Premier Christy Clark’s cabinet to announce her plans.

“I needed to ensure that if I was going to run I needed to give it my best,” Stilwell told The NEWS on Wednesday morning. “It wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly.”

When she won the constituency for the B.C. Liberals in 2013, it was Stilwell’s first experience running for public office. She was immediately named as caucus chair and parliamentary secretary and within 18 months had a cabinet position as minister of social development and social innovation, which includes responsibility for government programs related to people with disabilities (PWD).

Married with a teenage son, Stilwell, 42, also managed to train for and compete in the Rio Paralympics last month, where she won two gold medals in wheelchair racing. She has earned seven medals in the Paralympics, six of them gold.

“Michelle Stilwell is a champion in every sense of the word,” Clark said in a statement provided to The NEWS on Wednesday morning. “A Paralympian, a mom, a cabinet minister and a fighter for her

community. Around the cabinet table and in caucus, Michelle has been a tireless advocate for Parksville-Qualicum, always ensuring that the views and needs of her constituents are heard. I am so pleased that Michelle has decided to run again in 2017. Her community and our province will be a better place for it.”

Stilwell spoke about her decision-making process in the last couple of months.

“Since Rio, I’ve received a lot of positive encouragement,” said Stilwell. “As minister, I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made on behalf of people with disabilities. And we have the most comprehensive social safety net of all provinces.”

Along with that positive encouragement, Stilwell is also the target of harsh, sometimes personal, criticism from people with disabilities.

“There are always going to be people who want government to do more,” said Stilwell. “The personal attacks perhaps I wasn’t expecting, but apparently it comes with the territory.”

Fresh from the Union of BC. Municipalities annual conference where Parksville wasn’t one of the communities singled out to receive additional infrastructure funding, Parksville city Coun. Kirk Oates said Wednesday he would like to see more from Stilwell.

“I’d like to see a gold medal performance in Victoria like the gold medal performance in Rio,” said Oates.

Stilwell spoke publicly in recent days about the challenges of juggling life as a mother, wife, MLA, cabinet minister and world-class athlete. On Wednesday, she spoke about her discussions with her husband around this decision to run for office once again in May.

“Mark is 100 per cent supportive,” said Stilwell. “He’s probably the one who encouraged me the most. Mark is the most amazing husband I could ask for. He makes it possible for me to do the job that I’ve done.”

Stilwell listed a number of issues she said she has championed for both people throughout the province and in Parksville-Qualicum, including the single parent employment initiative, affordable housing like the Kingsley project in Parksville and the addition of palliative care beds at Trillium Lodge.

She also said she an announcement about an extreme weather shelter this winter for the homeless of  Parksville Qualicum Beach is “something that will come out in the next few weeks.”

Stilwell won the Parksville-Qualicum constituency with more than 50 per cent of the vote in May of 2013.

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