When Vancouver Centre voters head to the polls on May 2, they’ll have a choice between five-term incumbent Liberal MP Hedy Fry, Conservative candidate and former Vancouver NPA city councillor Jennifer Clarke, NDP hopeful Karen Schillington and, once again, the Green Party’s deputy leader Adriane Carr.
The riding encompasses the entire West End peninsula (home to one of Canada’s largest gay-populated neighbourhoods) and stretches south past Broadway to the riding of Vancouver Kingsway.
Its representation in Parliament has flipped mainly between the Liberals and Conservatives over the years, but the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and its successor, the NDP, have often been contenders.
Fry first won the seat in 1993, taking it from then-Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell. In 1997, Fry beat her closest challenger (a Reform candidate) by more than 9,000 votes, then held that lead in the 2000 vote, beating Alliance candidate John Mortimer. In 2004, Fry’s lead dropped as the NDP’s Kennedy Stewart, now running in Burnaby-Douglas, came within 4,000 votes of unseating her. Her lead increased again in 2006 when Canada’s first openly gay MP, Svend Robinson, challenged Fry for the seat in an attempted comeback after stealing a ring. Fry bested the long-time gay MP by almost 9,000 ballots. In 2008, she beat former provincial Liberal MLA and Conservative candidate Lorne Mayencourt by more than 5,300 votes.
Fry says Conservative Leader Stephen Harper could have avoided the May 2 election if he had been responsive to Parliament. She says she fears a possible Conservative majority under Harper, given the “lack of respect and great disdain” his party has shown toward Parliament. “If we have a majority government, we’re going to have Emperor Harper in charge,” Fry says. “Forget democracy.”
She says the Liberals would work to create jobs and boost the economy through training for the young and retraining for older members of the workforce, as well as maintain a strong universal healthcare system.
Fry took aim at now-resigned Conservative Party candidate Rachel Greenfeld’s September 2009 comment that it was a waste of time to court the gay vote as Fry has it in her pocket. Fry calls the remarks insulting to gay people. “To think the gay community votes as a bloc, as sheep, is an insult,” she says, saying she will run on her record of supporting such issues as same-sex marriage.
Greenfeld has now been replaced by Clarke, who did not respond to Xtra’s numerous attempts to reach her by deadline.
Clarke is a three-term Vancouver city councillor with the NPA and a 2002 candidate for mayor, who was defeated by now-Senator Larry Campbell. She is president of JPC Strategies Ltd in Vancouver, providing project management, communications and policy advice to a diverse range of clients. She has taught local government in the political science department at the University of British Columbia and was a member of the Greater Vancouver Regional District and TransLink boards.
Her community work has included serving on the advisory board of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at UBC; on the executive of the Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC; on the board of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, co-chairing its Breast Cancer Summit; as vice-chair of the board of the Canadian Women’s Voters Congress and its Women’s Campaign School; and as a trustee of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Green candidate Carr also expressed concern about the Conservatives’ contempt for Parliament. People are “laying their lives down around the world for democracy,” she says. “It’s in a precarious state in Canada right now. Mr Harper acts in every way possible to be a top-down control freak. This is not the Canada I was born into and what I want to see my children inherit.”
While acknowledging that Canada has weathered the global financial crisis fairly well, she says Canada is way off base when it comes to how the world is shifting. “The future is green,” Carr says. “The future is in conserving resources and shifting away from a carbon-based economy to a renewable resource economy.”
She believes it’s important to win gay support in Vancouver Centre. “The queer community is a big chunk of voters in the riding,” she says. “More than that, they’re politically engaged and can lead political change.”
NDP candidate Schillington says she wants to find out why everyone thinks Fry is “untouchable.”
Schillington says the election is needed since the Conservatives refused to allow amendments to the March budget and were found in contempt of Parliament for withholding information. “Democracy is messy,” she says.
She too is concerned about the possibility of a Conservative majority. “It’s the scariest thing I can possibly imagine,” she says. “The only thing that’s kept him from doing a whole lot of even worse things is having a minority government.”
Schillington says the most pressing need in Canada currently is the need to look after the country’s marginalized communities. That, she says, includes developing a national housing strategy. “We still see a lot of homeless on the streets and it’s not getting better,” says Schillington, who has run both federally and provincially for the Greens in the past.
The gay vote is crucial for anyone running in Vancouver Centre, she says, though she cites no specific plans for courting that vote. “Gay and lesbian issues, it’s all about human rights,” she says, adding she was shocked to read Greenfeld’s 2009 comments.
The May 2 vote will be the 30th time Vancouver Centre has selected a member of Parliament.