About 150 people gathered at the Roundhouse Community Centre Apr 25 for the Vancouver-Burrard all-candidates debate co-sponsored by Xtra West and the Gay & Lesbian Business Association of Greater Vancouver.
Incumbent BC Liberal candidate Lorne Mayencourt, NDP candidate and city councillor Tim Stevenson, Green Party candidate Janek Kuchmistrz and Democratic Reform party candidate Ian McLeod squared off on the issues and fielded tough questions from a sometimes hostile crowd.
The idea of moving St Paul’s hospital provoked more emotion and political maneuvering among the candidates than any other issue.
Stevenson suggested rival Mayencourt simply doesn’t know what behind-the-scenes plans the Liberals have in the works for St Paul’s.
“They have been saying for a long time the hospital is not going to move,” said Stevenson. “And I think Lorne is quite sincere when he says he doesn’t want the hospital to move, but I think he just doesn’t know for sure. I think he’s out of the loop.
“The finance minister is saying, ‘Don’t worry nothing’s going to happen immediately. We won’t do anything for six months,'” Stevenson continued. “That means we just want to get past the election and then we’ll deal with it.
“I wish the Liberals would just come clean with us on this election. I think in six months the St Paul’s move will be a done deal.”
” This is what I do know,” responded Mayencourt. “In 2004 Providence Healthcare decided they’d like to look at the Downtown Eastside as a location for St Paul’s. They went out and talked to the director of planning for the city of Vancouver, Bob Williams, [city councillor] Jim Green and [Vancouver mayor] Larry Campbell-whose wife is on the board of Providence Health Care-and decided it would be a good idea to move the hospital. I immediately informed them that I was opposed to it.”
Mayencourt suggested earlier in the evening that the NDP might be positioning Stevenson to be MLA in an effort to smooth the way to move St Paul’s-a notion Stevenson flatly rejected.
Still, Mayencourt, who seemed to have very strong support from a small group of his campaign staff and volunteers in the audience, remained insistent that he is opposed to the move and ready to fight to prevent it.
“There are 90,000 people living within a 10-block radius of St Paul’s,” he told the audience. “Another 130,000 come to work there. That means we’re delivering health care in a central and safe location.
“Moving the hospital means we’ll be serving 12,000 residents,” he continued. “It means we’ll be putting our main downtown Vancouver hospital in an earthquake zone on a landfill. It’s stupid and it ain’t going to happen. St Paul’s is going to stay exactly where it is.”
All the candidates seemed to agree on the need for school safety and queer-positive curriculum.
Mayencourt’s opponents criticized his safe schools initiatives.
Mayencourt, in turn, accused the other candidates and his critics of failing to read his 2003 Safe Schools Task Force report. He also cited a long list of queer positive educational materials he said were approved for use in schools by the Liberal Minister of Education in 2001.
He got into a brief argument with Steve LeBel over the availability of that list and material. LeBel is a Vancouver teacher on leave who, despite repeated requests, said Mayencourt’s list of gay-positive approved curriculum materials never made it to his classroom.
“We have never, ever, been given a list of any [gay-positive] materials recommended by the Ministry of Education,” said LeBel.
“I’d be very happy to provide them to you or anybody in the audience who’d like to see it,” Mayencourt replied.
“It would have been nice to have had those materials over the last four years,” retorted LeBel.
“It would have been nice-instead of deciding that it wasn’t possible for the Liberals to have compassion for students who were dealing with homophobia-if you’d worked with us,” fumed Mayencourt.
One audience member who didn’t give his name asked Mayencourt to recount the infamous February panhandler incident in which Mayencourt reportedly got into a physical scuffle on Denman St with a panhandler he considered belligerent.
Mayencourt said he was having coffee at Delaney’s when the man approached. Mayencourt politely declined his request for money. The man left without incident but Mayencourt alleged he later saw the same man verbally harassing people across the street.
Mayencourt said he called 911 repeatedly from his cell phone and followed the man to Robson and Nicola where he recruited the help of some passing firefighters to “stop and help me hold the guy there until the cops arrived and that’s basically it. The guy popped me on the cheek.
“I don’t go around picking fights, but I think it’s my responsibility to protect my constituents,” Mayencourt told the audience. “I saw someone breaking the law in a way that is very degrading to women. I know we’ve had someone in the last six months in the West End who has matched this person’s description who has sexually assaulted women, not raped them but sexually fondled them, and I felt it was important that we get this guy.
“I’m not a vigilante. I didn’t strike anyone, I didn’t threaten anyone and I didn’t touch anyone,” Mayencourt continued. “I basically stayed with someone who I witnessed repeatedly commit a crime and I called for police assistance and it took a long time for it to come.”
Stevenson countered that Mayencourt was quoted in the Vancouver Province saying he tried to apprehend the panhandler. Apprehending someone is different from following someone around with a cell phone, Stevenson pointed out.
Stevenson also suggested that under Mayencourt’s Safe Streets legislation, aggressive panhandling is punishable by a fine and so a citizen’s arrest wasn’t appropriate under Mayencourt’s own law. Stevenson called again for the release of the 911 tapes of the incident.
Mayencourt interrupted Stevenson. “Tim, that’s the difference between you and me. You let this person harass women on our streets knowing full well that women are being harassed in the West End over the past six months.”
“We can’t have people taking the law into their own hands,” countered Stevenson, before the exchange devolved into a shouting match among panelists and the audience that had to be stopped by the mediator.
Kuchmistrz, who is also a teacher, spoke eloquently on most issues, rising from his chair at times. He spoke passionately on the need for safer schools and gay-positive curriculum materials. He lamented the effects of funding cuts on BC’s schools.
“At my school we don’t get the floors regularly cleaned,” said Kuchmistrz. “We still have the same carpet in one room as there was in 1976. We run out of paper for photocopying by the first week in June. These are the cuts made to education. You may not realize it but I realize it every day.”
McLeod was quiet during most of the debate and question period, but did strongly encourage voters to support the British Columbia Single Transferable Vote system (BC-STV).
Both Stevenson and Mayencourt said they believe the public should make up their own minds on BC-STV and that in the interests of non-partisanship neither the NDP nor the Liberal parties would take a position.
McLeod insisted that the big party candidates oppose BC-STV because it would lessen established political parties’ ability to win seats.
“I think it’s up to the political parties to show their true colours on this one issue and be honest with the people of BC in urging a yes vote or a no vote,” said McLeod.
The provincial vote and BC-STV referendum is set for May 17.