She's been called Obama's "secret (Vancouver) weapon" for her work on viral videos that garnered millions of views during the 2012 U.S. election. She's been praised for uniting people across cultural and political lines. After eye-opening journeys to Israel, Russia and the Ukraine, her high-octane career took her to Washington, D.C. and then back to Canada where she's emerged as a formidable organizer in progressive politics.
Meet Mira Oreck, the Vancouverite working for Premier John Horgan as director of stakeholder relations for the Province of British Columbia, a 39-year-old dynamo.
Vancouver roots, global experience
Her older brother, who is 15 months older than her, inspired her to become a feminist early on.
“It was very obvious to me that he was treated differently than I was," she says. Thanks to his interest in sports and her desire to prove herself his equal, Oreck was, at one point, the only girl on an all-boys hardball team.
Leadership comes naturally to her. As a teenager she was involved in Jewish youth groups, which sent her to summer camp with kids from all over the West Coast and on frequent trips to New York and New Jersey. By 17, she was president of the United Synagogue Youth for the Pacific Northwest Region. “I think that's part of what seeded my interest in governance and community and politics.” Her family was also involved in the Jewish community and a great uncle on her father’s side was very involved in the formation of the now-defunct Vancouver political party TEAM.
“My parents have always been open and curious,” she says. “They get involved in everything I’m involved with.”
Oreck studied sociology and women’s studies at McGill, taking a year at the Hebrew University in Israel, which included a fellowship in Russia and the Ukraine in 1999.
After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for Friends of the Earth, an environmental group.
“I didn’t really understand that I was attracted to politics, but I found Washington, D.C. to be a very interesting place and I was drawn to it,” she says.
She was there during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and that tragic day was enough to make Oreck decide it was time to return home. She relocated back to Vancouver, her hometown, and started working for the Rainforest Solutions Project.
A "relentless" energy and passion for politics
Once back home, Oreck made her move into politics. She was in her early twenties when she was asked her to involved in a political campaign for a first-time candidate.
That candidate was Gregor Robertson, the current mayor of Vancouver, and Oreck spent the next year on his 2004 nomination race when he was vying to become the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Fairview.
“We had a really nice connection. Neither of us had been involved in politics before,” Oreck says. “It was a great experience for me. It was as grassroots and door-knocking and local as it gets.”
Robertson describes Oreck's energy as "relentless" from day one.
"We had great chemistry right away," Mayor Gregor Robertson remembers. "She's a dynamo and learns fast and is so talented with outreach and engagement and communication. She's so plugged in."
Oreck worked for Robertson as a constituency assistant after he was elected, a job she recommends as an excellent way for people to learn about a community. Later, she returned to work for him during Robertson's 2008 campaign for mayor. On the job, Oreck makes sure people who might not otherwise be engaged with government and politics are connected and included.
In a Vancouver Sun article, the mayor's chief of staff, Mike Magee, remembers she was "critical" to Robertson's successful run for mayor in 2008, building important relationships in the Jewish and South Asian communities. “Some of those relationships that we have now, which are very, very deep ... really started with Mira paving the way,” he said.
Arts and culture, a perfect fit with politics
Oreck got married this summer to Stepan Vdovine, who she got to now while door knocking in the early days of her work for Vision Vancouver. The couple has a two-year-old son named Zev. As a mother of a young child, she brings attention to the party's plan to make childcare more affordable and accessible, and highlights the strong emotion people have on the issue.
While on maternity leave, Oreck joined the board of international performing arts festival PuSh where she is now president. It's a fit, she says.
“I don’t know if she wakes up with a smile, but it certainly seems that she does," Norman Armour, co-founder of PuSh says about Oreck. "She astounds me, how she faces the world. She is a beautiful collaborator and a wonderful person to work with — a remarkable individual."
She has also worked with the Jewish Congress Pacific Region, Make the Road New York and the Broadbent Insitute. Oreck completed a master's degree in urban policy at The New School in New York City, a university that aims to develop “students who will have an impact on the world and solve the most pressing social issues of our time.”
Pro-Obama videos gain Oreck notoriety, connections
Getting people engaged social issues has long been Oreck's gift, as she demonstrated in the U.S. presidential election.
During a stint as vice president of New York-based Moore + Associates, Oreck was responsible for two of the most widely viewed videos of the 2012 Obama campaign.
Let My People Vote starred Sarah Silverman, the famous stand-up comedian and actor. The video focuses on voter suppression efforts aimed at vulnerable populations and got more than 3 million views on Silverman's YouTube channel.
Silverman later endorsed Oreck in her bid for a federal seat running under the NDP banner.
“We’ve kind of stayed in touch,” Oreck says. "Silverman is a very generous person, who knows more about policy than most. She is very smart and deep into issues.”
Oreck lost to the Liberal party's Jody Wilson-Raybould, now Canada’s minister of justice.
But Oreck doesn't rule out another run for office.
Armour thinks a win is inevitable. “I think she will be an incredible public servant. I think she will be extraordinary in that way, whether it’s at the civic, provincial or federal level," Armour says.
Robertson says the sky's the limit for Oreck.
"She has excelled in every challenge she's tackled. There is a world of opportunity ahead of her."
Tracy Sherlock writes about B.C. politics for the National Observer. Send story tips to [email protected].