How Rechie Valdez went from banker to baker to Small Business Minister

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Federal Minister of Small Business, Rechie Valdez outside her office in Mississauga on Aug. 18.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

In early 2020, Rechie Valdez made a decision. She would leave the banking industry, where she had worked for more than 15 years, to focus full time on her small business: baking desserts and wedding cakes.

“I freaked out my mother,” Ms. Valdez said. “I was able to let go of the corporate life, the job security and everything. I really wanted to believe in me and everything I built. It was very daunting and very scary. For most entrepreneurs, it is.”

A year and a half later, she made another leap of faith and put her name on a ballot. She was elected. And this summer, the rookie MP was named to cabinet as the Minister of Small Business, the federal Liberals’ first dedicated minister in that portfolio in four years.

Ms. Valdez sat down with The Globe and Mail at a bakery in Mississauga, near her constituency office. (She closed her own bake shop when she got into politics.)

She steps into her cabinet role at a critical time. Small businesses in many sectors struggled to survive pandemic lockdowns. The taps of federal aid were turned off last year, but a crucial deadline looms to pay back government pandemic loans.

In the coming weeks, Ms. Valdez will help decide whether to extend the deadline. And beyond that, she will shepherd programs that have struggled to get uptake – such as a $4-billion initiative to help small businesses upgrade their digital tools.

Ms. Valdez is the first Filipina cabinet minister, though her family’s journey to Canada was not direct. She was born in 1980 in Zambia to parents who were both born in the Philippines.

In 1989, the family – now including a younger brother – immigrated to Canada. Her father (an engineer) found a job quickly, but her mother (a nurse) couldn’t get her credentials recognized and had to go back to school while working.

“I watched them work so hard,” Ms. Valdez said. “They gave up everything and they sacrificed everything. But you know what, because they did, we got our education here, in this country.”

Ms. Valdez graduated from the University of Windsor in 2003 with a degree in computer science. She was hired by Bank of Montreal to work the

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