Local News Eye is profiling the candidates in the BC provincial election May 9.
She has lots of letters in her name, Lori Iannidinardo likes to say, but there are no formal ones after it. In a job interview years ago, when asked about her degrees and credentials, the mother of four said that the only letters she’d earned where MOM. “You’re hired,” said the interviewer, and for the next two decades Iannidinardo coordinated the Cowichan Community Kitchens initiative, working with low-income families on how to cook nutritious meals on a budget.
She won’t be cooking too much this spring. Last month, Cowichan Valley NDP members voted for Iannidinardo as their candidate in the upcoming May 9 BC election.
Elected to the Cowichan Valley Regional District in 2008 as the director for Cowichan Bay, Iannidinardo has been a vocal critic, especially about the environment. Most recently, she introduced a motion at the CVRD – passed unanimously – to oppose any LNG developments in the wake of Steelhead LNG’s plans in partnership with the Malahat Nation to locate a floating liquefaction plant at Bamberton. The move resulted in a harsh letter from the company, following by a CVRD statement suggesting it had acted too quickly, and in the future it would “give appropriate consideration to any land use application.”
Born in Regina, Iannidinardo came to the valley with her family in the 1960s. Her father worked as a printer locally before joining the Queen’s Printer in Victoria. She was a motherly sister to her five siblings, and it was a role she would reprise after her early marriage.
Iannidinardo, 57, opted to be a stay-at-home mother, the kind whose home was informal headquarters and hangout for many neighbourhood kids as well as her own. She and her husband produce most of the family’s food on their half-acre property. Tony, a retired logger, is also a hunter who makes his own prosciutto. “I married somebody from Italy. Their whole lives are about food,” she said.
While she says she had no intention of ever going into politics as a young woman, Iannidinardo was a fierce advocate for her kids. She proudly mentions they are all university graduates and calls them “fabulous.” She began working as a teacher’s aide and volunteering on parent committees. It was an attitude that started her down the path towards community service and eventually politics. “Because my husband had a living wage job, I felt the urge to give back in every way,” she said.
For a decade she was on the consultative committee to plan the new Frances Kelsey secondary school, and it was this project that gave her an insight into political decision-making. “It was very unpopular at the beginning because it was new,” she said. Iannidinardo appreciated the self-paced option in addition to the traditional high school in the region. “It was a school that I would have liked to have gone to,” she admits (two of her kids attended). “It really inspired me. That’s when my political career started. As the president of the parents group, I had to balance what was unpopular with what deserved to have a chance.”
As well as environment, education and social services, Iannidinardo’s advocacy interests include labour and recreation. She likes to take a balanced view. “I can see all sides,” she said. “I am an environmentalist, but we need jobs. I sit down all the time with people who can’t afford to eat.” Raw logs? She says we should be making pellets for cleaner-burning pellet stoves. A new weir? Absolutely. She sits on the Cowichan Watershed Board and has pushed to clean up Cowichan Bay, but recognizes that it is a working harbour.
Developing a walkable and accessible network of parks and trails is another passion. After she went to protest a development in her neighbourhood, the parks department handed her the files, suggesting she become the community secretary. “I jumped on that,” she said.
The cut and thrust of party politics is new for her. Some long-time NDP supporters argued that she hadn’t paid her dues by working behind the scenes for the party. In response, she says although she supported the NDP, she was purposely non-partisan at the CVRD board level as a way to improve teamwork amongst the directors.
Making an election bid by moving from the regional government to the provincial one is a natural shift, says Iannidinardo, who has worked closely with officials (“getting them to do their job,” she says, sounding like a mother) on transportation and environment issues. “The ministries have not been supportive of the resources we need. The government has to change. If I want to make a difference I have to go to another level.”
Workplace safety is another focus of her energy. She observes the National Day of Mourning in April dedicated to people who have died in the workplace. “I deliver my work boots and two dozen roses every April 28,” she said, adding that loggers years ago always looked after each other but industry changes to more contracting out led to a 2005 spike in forestry deaths to more than 40. She joined a group of women that founded the Vancouver Island Logger Safety Support Group to protest the situation.
Iannidinardo has taken Polonius’s classic line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “to thine own self be true,” as her personal credo. She will be continuing her duties at the CVRD, sitting across the board table from two other directors – Sonia Furstenau and Ian Morrison – who are running in the next election as well. Whatever the political level, she says, she plans to fight for causes with a tiger-mother tenacity.