The death of Frank Mitchell had a profound effect on the man he nurtured and guided to replace him as MLA for a riding that once stretched from Esquimalt to Port Renfrew.
Mitchell, who died on Sept. 15 at 95, was just 25 when he was elected MLA in the Esquimalt-Port Renfrew riding in 1951 as a member of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation – the predecessor of the New Democratic Party.
Having served as a paratrooper in the Second World War, Mitchell wasn’t one to give up, recalled colleague and longtime B.C. NDP politician Moe Sihota.
Mitchell, born and raised in Esquimalt, was re-elected in 1952 and following his defeat in 1953, was elected again in 1979 and 1983 as a member of the NDP.
Politics was a joint effort for Mitchell and his wife, Kay, Sihota noted.
Mastermminds and architects of a political army that never tired of knocking on doors, the couple built a foundation that helped elect former NDP Premier Dave Barrett, Sihota, Maureen Karagianis, Premier John Horgan and current Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean.
Dean read a statement in the legislature recently commemorating the couple’s numerous contributions.
“I would like to take a moment to thank Frank, Kay and the Mitchell family for their enduring commitment to the cause of social justice, fairness and equality,” she said.
Sihota said one of Mitchell’s many strengths was his commitment to his constituents.
“Frank was a great believer in the adage that ‘all politics is local,’” Sihota told Black Press Media.
“Frank often said that it didn’t matter if you weren’t 100 per cent successful in your advocacy, what mattered is that people knew you would apply your full effort to their cause. Folks in the riding knew that they could count on Frank to go to bat for them. His fingerprints can be seen on the many projects and causes he championed throughout the Esquimalt-Port Renfrew corridor.”
Frank and Kay laid the groundwork for the NDP’s domination of the riding for most of the past 50 years, Sihota said.
Mitchell, who was planning to retire in 1986, approached local lawyer Sihota about seeking the nomination following the 1983 election.
“I was surprised when Frank pushed me to run,” Sihota said. “He asked me to work with him by getting involved in municipal politics first so they could prepare for an orderly transition.
“We started working closely together, we were very much joined at the hip. I travelled up and down the riding with Frank for every meeting he attended to get up to up to speed on the issues. He was really helpful.”
Mitchell was also mindful of the fact that no one of Indo-Canadian ethnicity had ever been elected to a legislature in Canada.
“At the time, there were many, sadly, who felt that a person of colour could not succeed in a heavily Caucasian constituency, but Frank and Kay would have none of that,” said Sihota, who represented the riding from 1986 to 2001, including as a cabinet minister.
“He said just be yourself and the hesitation some people have will evaporate. Without their encouragement, that barrier would never be broken.”
Mitchell was predeceased by Kay, his wife of 68 years, in 2018 and survived by daughters Erin and Maureen, their spouses Chris and Glen, four grandchildren and countless friends.