Don’t be fooled into thinking Maurine Karagianis is going to ride off into the sunset once she retires from her position as Esquimalt-Royal Roads MLA in 2017.
While the 66-year-old politician is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren, focusing more on home beekeeping and getting out more often in the kayaks with husband Todd Gray-Owen, there are plenty of causes and activities that she expects to remain passionate about.
“I don’t want anyone to take this as I’m pulling the shutters down and disappearing,” said Karagianis, who made what she called a difficult announcement last week that she would not run for the NDP in next May’s provincial election.
Having served in various critic roles for the party in her 11 years as an MLA, not to mention her nine years on Esquimalt council, she has become immersed in many issues.
“When you are in opposition and have a critic portfolio, it’s your responsibility to know as much or more than the minister knows and how it impacts the community,” said Karagianis, whose constituency includes all of Colwood and View Royal.
Her current role as opposition “spokesperson” for women, seniors and early childhood development has seen her continue the NDP’s fight to achieve universal child care, work to help marginalized women achieve financial security and bring light to the issue of elderly parents caring for developmentally disabled adult children, among other things.
“As a critic and an opposition member, you do have the capacity to get much more involved and have deeper relationships with people affected by government policy,” she said, noting that ministers don’t get a chance to become as close to the issues.
After more than 20 years in public life, this hard-working MLA said she’s ready “to embark on some new adventures while I’m still healthy and still have energy.” No doubt she’ll be in demand to assist community groups on projects related to her various legislative assignments, but she acknowledged that her family has taken a back seat to the demands of the job over the years. “Now I’ll have the time and the freedom to be able to pick and choose opportunities that come up.”
Optimistic about the NDP’s chances of forming government next year, and still very dedicated to work toward that goal, she said the chance to work with leader and good friend John Horgan on other projects, as well as with the constituency association, may arise.
Horgan, nine years her junior in the legislature, felt “absolute sadness” when Karagianis told him of her decision, but also feels happy for her future.
“I refer to Maurine as my ‘bestie,’ we’ve been tight for 11 years,” he told the Gazette before boarding a plane in Cranbrook. “I’m not worried about losing a friend, I’m more worried about losing a colleague … We’ve served three terms together, we’re side-by-side neighbours with our ridings and our constituency offices work hand-in-hand to look after the residents of the West Shore.”
As NDP caucus whip, Karagianis’ role is to represent Horgan internally when he’s not around, an arrangement with which he seems pretty comfortable.
“When she says things, she’s not just making it up, it’s because she’s talked to me about it,” he said, noting that as friends and longtime colleagues, “she can almost finish my sentences for me.”
While he’ll have to keep the loss of a key MLA in the back of his mind – Karagianis is one of six NDP MLAs who will not seek re-election in 2017 – Horgan stressed that she’s not done yet.
“Maurine will continue to be the foundation of the caucus as the whip and her work on child care will continue,” he said. Aware this was a tough decision for his friend, with the prospect of a possible NDP victory calling to her, Horgan said Karagianis will continue to be a tremendous asset in the months ahead.
“By and large the campaign has begun,” he said, noting the prospect of a term in government was very appealing to her. While she won’t be part of any NDP victory, he added, “she’s going to work tirelessly to make that happen.”
For her part, Karagianis said she’s “incredibly grateful” to the community and her staff for being supportive over the years, noting that the outpouring of well wishes she’s received since her announcement has been “quite humbling.”
The former provincial civil servant has run for public office seven times since 1996 and been successful on six of those occasions. “That’s a lot of elections to have participated in and won,” she said, adding that’s the community putting their faith in her abilities. “It’s been a great privilege to serve.”