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Tofino Councillor Andrea McQuade on Local Politics, Slinging Noodles and Community

Tofino Councillor Andrea McQuade on Local Politics, Slinging Noodles and Community

Member of the District of Tofino Council, self-proclaimed noodle slinger, and sport-fishing record holder, Councillor McQuade (or simply, Andrea), is eloquent, intelligent and welcoming. We sat down together in her recently completed float home to talk all things local politics, competitive sport fishing, and life in Tofino.

What do you do in Tofino?

I’m a waitress and I’m also on council. 

“Waitress” doesn’t really do it justice, can you elaborate?

Okay, I am an owner-operator of Kuma [Tofino] and I’m also a member of the District of Tofino council. I’m a girlfriend, step-mom and friend—not in any specific order.

What drew you to Tofino?

I came for love. You know, I wish that I had a better story, but I met my partner Josh fishing on the East Coast. He has considerable roots here, and when we met, he said, “If you think the fishing is good here you should see where I’m from.” I took the bait. But yeah, we met in Nova Scotia and we fished together in BC, and in Nova Scotia, and then very competitively in Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica before landing full-time in Tofino.

What does “very competitively” entail?

We were hired by long-time clients to crew, along with four others, a 60-foot sport-fishing boat with the goal to break the calendar year marlin catch and release record. It was previously set at 422 [marlins] in a calendar year and we broke it at 848. We fished almost every single day for two years. It was really, really early mornings and late nights—about 350 miles [563 kilometres] offshore generally, for five days at a time. Then we’d come back and hit the dock; I’d throw the laundry into a cab to take it to get washed, do a grocery shop, and start cooking dinner as we left the dock–sometimes it would be less than 24 hours between docking and pulling back out. It was a lot of hard work. I spent the majority of two years no more than 60 feet from my partner; my heartstrings were very tight and now they stretch a little farther, from 120 feet sometimes [editor’s note: the footprint of their float home is roughly that size] to across the country. It was one of the turns I never anticipated my life would take, to be part of that in any way, much less with my partner. You travel across oceans and countries and customs and airline flights and bad days and good days and mechanical issues. It was crazy; it is something that I think I still process to this day.

So you’ve got a few careers under your belt. What else have you done?

I worked in bars while I was in university, and later in a cardiac rehab facility, teaching old people how to have sex again because nobody wanted to teach that class. I was a switchboard operator, a tree planter, worked in the oil field and for Telus for a little while. Then I moved to India. My parents were living there and I worked in the Canadian consulate in Political and Economic Affairs, doing research and shuffling papers. Then I moved to the East Coast and met my partner shortly thereafter.

That’s pretty diverse—what was your upbringing like?

I was born in New Brunswick. My dad was in the Air Force and my mother was a nurse. I had these really amazing “yes” parents who moved all around Canada and overseas—Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, England, India, Mexico City. My mother had three kids and a husband in the Canadian Armed Forces who would be gone a lot and she never missed a beat. She was flawless. We would move somewhere, the moving truck would arrive, and my parents would have the pictures on the walls the next day and it would be like, “We are here.” We were such a unit as a family and so grounded, it didn’t matter where we were. The mentality was, “We’re here together and the pictures are up, this is home and we’re surrounded by it.” I think it’s a particular skill; my sister and I both walked into life and rooms with our hands out like, “Hi, we’re ready to make friends.” Always hungry for more.

When you decided to run for council, was it something you’d been thinking about for a while?

Yeah, to an extent. Politics has always been at the back of my mind. Running municipally had been suggested to me a couple of times. I have an underlying and deep interest in both American and Canadian politics—I think it’s been latent for a while but my sister is involved and so is my dad. Having people around me telling me, “Yes you should run, and we are here [to support you].” I had a group of women coalesce around me that, for one, I wouldn’t have been elected without, and two, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do the next right thing. They were like, “We’ve got this—you think it and we’ll do.” It makes me teary to this day. 

It was crazy the people who showed up, who were prepared to knock on doors, sell T-shirts, edit my writing, make me a logo—it was wild and cool and amazing to create a space and have this group of people ask you, “Okay, what do you think about this?”, and in a way, force you to do those things. In the background, my sister (who works in politics) was there carefully reminding me, “Don’t start on this path without a set idea of who you are and what you believe in. Don’t think that along the way you will develop that. Because people see right through that.”

It’s showing up in front of people to say, “This is what I believe in, and I’ve given it thought—I’ve given it thought for a long time.” You can have an opinion about parking and you can have an opinion about business licenses and dark skies policy, but they all have to be informed by your experience and your beliefs. And by this age, hopefully those have formed. But to translate your basic understanding of what parking should look like in a municipality as small as ours, and take into account all the things you believe about accessibility, environmentalism, tourism—all of those things go into a conversation with somebody who lives here and can’t find a parking space in front of the Co-op, and all they need to pick up is milk but it’s August. It’s a crazy conversation to try and have. One of the things that I’ve learned is that it’s best not to say anything most of the time; you learn so much by listening and how much your opinions and your information can change because of that.

But yeah, running for council had always been in the back of my mind. I am fortunate enough in this town to be surrounded by a group of women, and extremely supportive men, who, when I said, ”I think I might run for council,” said, “Yes, and we’ll…” It was wild. 

One of the women who supported your campaign is Kyle, who is also your business partner at Kuma. What’s your relationship like?

We’ve known each now for nine years and have worked together for at least six of them. I think she’s incredible. I don’t want to work with anyone else ever. There’s no point. She’s the other half of my brain. She will always think about the things I won’t think about and vice versa. It relieves so much decision fatigue because there’s a subset of decisions that Kyle will never have to make and a subset of decisions that I will never have to make.

She’s quite good at looking at things through the lens of profitability, so I might make a great cocktail, but she’s the one who’ll be like, “We have to cost it appropriately so we can keep making great cocktails.” A lot of time, the people who think like that get flack for not being creative, but they’re making it possible every day. She’s extremely creative about how we go about doing it. It’s crazy how well it works, it’s beyond anything I could fathom. 

Clearly the community also supported your political campaign #RunGirlRun—you won the election. How do you feel about being on council?

Municipal government is closest to constituents. As soon as you jump to provincial or federal, you can be so far removed from the people you serve and the people you’re supposed to represent. I serve our constituents noodles three days a week, and see them in the grocery store and on the dock. I am there and I hope I’m approachable—I really, really believe that’s all you have to be.

I think the most qualified people for municipal government are the people that are involved in their community and are passionate and thoughtful. It doesn’t require experience in the political realm at all. If you’re forward-thinking and interested in conversation and growth, I think anyone can do this job. There are so many voices in our community who I think would do so well on council.

Your day-to-day life exposes you to a lot of people, which must be helpful as a councillor.

I see my staff who are struggling to stay here. I see my partner who is a fisherman impacted on a provincial and federal level by things that are implemented in our municipality. It’s such a beautiful place to situate yourself to have an impact. It’s one of the top five things that I have done in my life. I have the most gratitude for it.

What are the other four?

Being a councillor, my relationship with Kyle, my partner Josh, and my family. 

That’s really nice. 

You know, I had indescribable luck last year. The things I love the most— Kuma and a political life—changed from being hobbies to things I’m paid to do. And I was like, I think this is what life is supposed to be. I think I’m doing it. I’m not going to say it too loudly, but I think it’s happening and I think this is it.

Last year was crazy. There were all these things: a house, an election, the restaurant. I also learned to drive standard, which was a whole other thing, and the one I was most shocked by. It was a terrifying couple of weeks for Tofino, I bet. During that time, I put a post on the Trading Post [the town’s community forum], and was like, “Thank you everyone…”  So many people were like, “Hey, I was walking beside you the other day! You looked like you were doing great!” This town is incredible. 

Your two full-time jobs (the restaurant and being a councillor) seem pretty far away from each other. How’s the juxtaposition going between those two worlds?

I think that they’re probably similar in more ways than they are different. If I’m doing my job on council well, I’m doing a lot of listening, as well as reading and managing expectations. If I’m doing my job at Kuma well, I’m doing a lot of listening and managing expectations. You have people that come into our town for four or five days, and they come for dinner and point out the lack of parking and the costs of this and that—things that people breeze in and experience for five days and then leave. And I have locals who sit down and want to talk about parking and cost of living and things that they have to bear for 365 days. Knowing that my restaurant is the bridge between, and exists only by virtue of the people who are here for five days and the locals who live here for 365 days, is a really weird place to be.

I love food and wine. I think the conversations we have around a table eating together are some of the most formative that you can have in life. And I think the conversations that we have sitting around at council—though we could have better food—are some of the most formative too. They’re not that different. I can take what I’ve learned at Kuma back to council, even if it’s just in passing. My life between the two is relatively inextricable. I don’t think I would be as good a councillor if I wasn’t a waitress.

I get to experience Tofino as a business owner, which has its own impacts and stresses. We are responsible for staff, and staff housing is not just this amorphous thing that I have to be concerned about. It’s a concrete thing that I worry about for people I care a great deal for and who work for me. It is a tangible thing that I work on in my day-to-day at the restaurant. And then look at policies and procedures and plans and zoning at council to try and translate my direct experience into something livable with all the input of the people around me. It’s great. I am just the luckiest. 

What’s next?

I want to go back to school, I think. Maybe public policy? Something municipal politics related. Then maybe a counselling degree. But I don’t know which one’s first? I would like to contribute in a more tangible way to our community outside of council. I think there’s a layer missing between being a waitress and a business owner and on council—there’s something in the very middle that I’m missing out on. I think that going back to school and doing something in the mental health field is something that I would really, really like to do. I think it would put me squarely in the middle and maybe tie everything together. 

Do you feel like the busiest person sometimes, with everything you have going on?

Oh man, I’m a monster, give me more. More, please! 

Learn more about Andrea’s work as member of the District of Tofino. And make sure to grab yourself a bowl of noodles at Kuma.

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