East of Blanca: UBC PhD candidate aims to bring social justice background to Vancouver city council

Taq Bhandal, a UBC PhD candidate at the Social Justice Institute, is making a bid for one of ten spots on Vancouver City Council in the upcoming October municipal election.

Running as an independent candidate, Bhandal focuses her platform on improving housing affordability, transportation planning, access to childcare, social equity and environmental practices.

“What we need in the 21st century … is a diversity in the world views that are presented, so that this amazing wealth of a city that we have can be shared equitably across all the people who have lived here since time immemorial, or just arrived here yesterday,” she said.

Particularly relevant to UBC students, Bhandal plans to advocate for the Skytrain expansion to campus and increased “supply and access to affordable rental housing.” She also stresses the importance of environmental actions, such as “replacing all city garbage cans with multi-stream [bins]” and “drawing on Indigenous and global approaches to resource conservation.”

“Students should show up to vote for the sake of [the earth], to support the growth of something that supports us all to grow,” she said.

“There are so many things need to be tackled by City Council in the next four years.”

For Bhandal, the motivation to enter municipal politics comes from her education and work on social justice issues, as well as her “[passion] about institution building.” She is currently researching health inequity and working with a health education program at Vancouver Women’s Health Collective called Menstruation Matters.

“So any institution that I join or am a part of, I want to make it like a healthier, more positive place to just be and exists … And then I’m at the Social Justice Institute, so I study societal structures, capitalism, patriarchy settler colonialism so I’m obviously thinking about the context that I live in all the time,” she said.

“And politics is a huge piece of that and who's in power …”

At the same time, she acknowledged that balancing campaigning with school can be stressful, especially as an independent candidate.

But Bhandal and her campaign Manager Sampath Satti — a masters student in applied sciences who is helping with campaign logistics and supplementing her knowledge of municipal politics — agreed that campaigning has also been a positive experience.

“It’s been a really important experience for me to get engaged in politics at such a micro, local level,” she said.

“For the most part, all the people I’ve seen on the campaign trail are really dedicated high energy folks who want to genuinely improve the city and that’s what making it such a positive experience for me.”

In particular, they hope to engage student with more debates, public campaign around the bus loop in October and giving students information on how to vote. Encouraging young voters — which have generally seen a low turnout at municipal elections — is a major goal for Bhandal’s campaign.

“If people see a lot of votes of young people coming out to vote, they will change their messaging accordingly — platforms will feature more issues pertaining to students,” Satti said.

Bhandal also reflected on the history of her ancestors gaining voting rights as an important for reminder for her and everyone to act on their civic duty.

“For me, as a woman of colour, my ancestors did not get the right to vote until the 1940s,” she said. “… Anybody can look back on their own ancestral history and see that right now we are in a time where we have them most agency and ability to say what happens in our political and institutions.”