It was supposed to be a very tight race in Vancouver Centre. It wasn’t.
By 9:53 pm, Hedy Fry’s lead over Svend Robinson had widened to a resounding 6,000-or-so votes, and the winner was clear. Final tally: 25,013 for Fry, 16,372 for Robinson, and 11,689 for Conservative candidate Tony Fogarassy.
Fry had kept her seat for the fifth time. Robinson hadn’t even come close.
“I’m ecstatic,” says Mark Vossberg, raising his voice to be heard above the din of celebrating Liberals gathered at the party’s Vancouver election-night headquarters. “I just feel so strongly about seeing Hedy re-elected. I just felt she was the one who would speak for me in Ottawa. She’s gone to bat for our whole community.”
It wasn’t a difficult choice, he continues, even though this year’s ballot pitted the straight Fry against Canada’s first-ever openly gay MP.
Robinson didn’t run for the right reasons, Vossberg says. He spoke so eloquently about how many women of colour were running with the NDP-“and yet he chose to come back into politics in an attempt to oust one of those very people.”
Robinson could have chosen to run in a different riding, Vossberg notes. “I’ve got nothing personal against him. But the possibility of having two allies instead of one would have served us better.”
Vance Campbell was rooting for Fry as well. “I think the people of Vancouver Centre have made a great choice-again.” Fry has always taken a strong stance on the gay community’s issues, he says, from supporting gay marriage and equal rights for queers, to pulling strings behind the scenes with Health Canada to get access to new AIDS treatments.
“The thing I like about her is she’s got great compassion,” he says. “And she’s just as flamboyant and controversial as anybody else running in the riding,” he laughs.
“I think we have had a great MP for 12 years, and I think we’re going to see an even more exciting Hedy as a member of the opposition,” says long-time Fry supporter Joan-E.
“However, I’m very scared about the future of our nation,” Joan-E continues. “As a community, we’ve split over whether to support the NDP or the Liberals. But now I think we’re going to have to unite to ensure that this new Conservative government does not cause us the harm it potentially could.”
“Let’s not forget who these guys are,” Campbell agrees. “They’re a coalition of rightwing conservatives and reformers.”
James Bond is disappointed with the national tally too, but that can’t dampen his enthusiasm for Vancouver Centre’s results. Fry won by an even larger margin this time than last, he smiles, a glass of champagne in his hand.
In 2004, Fry beat her nearest competitor, the NDP’s Kennedy Stewart, by 4,230 votes. This time she beat the NDP’s Robinson by 8,641 votes.
She also won polling stations in the heart of the gay West End that she’s never won before, Bond points out. “I think that says the community is behind her.”
Preliminary results from Elections Canada show Fry won almost 4,000 more votes overall than she did in 2004, cashing in on a comparable swell in the riding’s electoral list. Voter turn-out inched up from 61.5 percent last time to 63.2 percent.
“I just want to thank the people of Vancouver Centre for once again supporting me and re-electing me,” Fry tells a cheering crowd at 9:45 pm.
“The people of Canada said to the Liberals: ‘We want you to keep an eye on those guys,'” she continues, promising to do just that.
Xtra West grabs her as she steps off-stage. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I know that the community came out and supported me big time. We will continue to do the things we need to do together,” she says, as somebody hands her a bottle of bubbly.
Seven minutes later, there’s a rustle by the door as Robinson arrives to concede to Fry in person. Fry supporter Michael Harding is unimpressed. “This rivals Imelda Marcos crawling up the nave of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York to beg forgiveness for her vast quantity of high-heeled shoes.”
Earlier in the evening, the crowd of media at the Coast Plaza Hotel-for what turns out to be Robinson’s concession party-seems larger than the crowd of supporters.
The energy is high among those who are here, though, as Robinson takes to the stage around 9:00 pm.
His eyes are wet as he begins to speak, but his voice doesn’t crack and the smile on his lips doesn’t waver even once.
“I had hoped we’d be making history in Vancouver Centre here tonight,” he says, “but it looks like that’s going to have to wait until the next election.” Robinson is gracious in defeat and seems sincere as he thanks and congratulates everyone he can think of, including Fry.
He has special thanks and encouragement for NDP leader Jack Layton.
“If Stephen Harper dares to try to roll back equality rights or to turn Canada into some kind of 51st state of the United States of George Bush, Jack Layton and the New Democrats will be there to fight back,” he shouts from the podium.
Considering the controversy surrounding Robinson’s admission that he stole an expensive ring from an auction in 2004, the fact that Vancouver Centre has never been strong NDP territory, and the strong support in the queer community for Fry, it’s not really all that surprising Robinson’s bid wasn’t successful.
For some supporters, at least, it was less about Robinson the man and more about the ideological positions of the political parties.
“It’s not so much just Svend himself, as much work he has done for gay rights,” queer community member Don Hann tells Xtra West just before Robinson concedes. “Svend belongs to the party that pioneered, in terms of the parliamentary process, civil rights in this country.
“Although Paul Martin did introduce same-sex marriage, the gay movement had to fight every step of the way through the courts to get what we have today,” he adds.
Even Robinson’s partner, Max Riveron, concedes Robinson’s campaign was a long shot from the beginning. “This is a riding the NDP hasn’t ever won, so first I never expected him to win it,” he says.
But “we were having lots of fun,” he continues. “I was probably getting more stressed than Svend. He’s just political machinery by himself. It’s unbelievable. He loves doing it. He loves running in elections. He loves politics. It’s in his blood so it was fun for him.”
Riveron, who considers himself a Conservative, calls the wider election results “sweet and sour.” He’s happy that he’ll get to have Robinson at home more often. He’s even happy to have a Conservative minority government. But, he says, he’s glad the Conservatives weren’t able to eke out a majority.
“There are still very strong rightwing forces within the party,” he says. “I don’t want those forces to pull back what we have achieved over the years. Even though I am a Conservative, I’m glad there is still a balance of power. They won’t be able to move along with their rightwing agenda.”
Riveron says the election results show Canadians were unhappy with Liberal leadership but that doesn’t really reflect a values shift to social conservatism among the electorate.
“I wouldn’t say the Conservatives have won a lot,” he says. “I’d say the Liberals screwed it up so badly. That’s why they are where they are today.”
After his concession speech, always the media hound, Robinson moves directly to the television news cameras. When he’s done with them, he answers a few questions from print reporters. Before he is rushed out the door to briefly crash Fry’s victory party, he tells Xtra West what the wider election results will mean to queer people.
“The good news is that it’s a minority and not a majority,” he says. “Depending on which Liberal MPs were elected, it means we will be able to hold back some of the more destructive moves of Stephen Harper’s caucus. Those who would roll back equality for gay and lesbian people are not going to be able to do that in a minority Parliament without a huge fight, and that’s great news.”
at Tony Fogarassy’s Yaletown headquarters, Conservatives are pleasantly surprised when Robinson enters to congratulate Fogarassy on his campaign. “That’s class,” says Gary Mitchell, Fogarassy’s gay campaign manager. “We talked about doing this, but I thought it was only if either Tony or Svend won.”
Mitchell credits both Robinson’s and Fry’s camps with keeping their public debates “more civilized” compared to 2004, when Mitchell ran as the Conservative candidate in Vancouver Centre. “People were doing the Heil Hitler salute at me,” Mitchell recalls.
Paul Donovan says it is a misconception that voting Conservative is not an option for queers. A board director with Vancouver’s Gay & Lesbian Business Association, Donovan provided technical support for Fogarassy’s campaign and worked on Mitchell’s 2004 campaign.
“The irony is I also hear the statement: ‘You can’t be gay and Christian,'” says Donovan, who defended Fogarassy to fellow members of the Rainbow Community Church the night before the election.
“They looked at me like, ‘How can you as a gay man support Stephen Harper and the Conservatives?’ I said, ‘I don’t support the Conservatives, I support Tony Fogarassy.'”
Fogarassy’s support for same-sex marriage was enough for Donovan, despite Harper’s commitment to re-open equal marriage to a free vote in the House of Commons.
“Unfortunately, I can’t vote for Tony so I have a big quandary,” adds Donovan. A resident of Vancouver-Kingsway, Donovan says he asked Conservative candidate Kanman Wong for his position on equal marriage but “I didn’t get an answer.”
Donovan admits he considered spoiling his ballot. But in the end, he cast his vote for Wong on the principle that voting gives citizens “the right to complain.”
Ultimately, “I have not felt good about government since the Conservatives lost control in 1993,” Donovan says.
“I don’t think you should jump ship when the party shifts to the far right,” says Mark Schaper, a Fogarassy volunteer and a director with the Pride Society.
“I’m sticking to my guns and staying where I said I’d be [to] fight, forge relationships and alliances to create a better place for gays, lesbians, bisexuals everywhere,” says Schaper, a self-described fiscal conservative and Tory since his teens.
Leslie Benisz, who did door-knocking for Fogarassy, says he has experienced firsthand that the stereotype of the Conservative Party as being a straight, white, old boys’ club is unfounded. In addition to being part of the queer community, he notes, “I’m identified as high-functioning person with a developmental disability and I am from a family of visible minorities-we’re as visible minority as they get-who is working my way off disability benefits. I have never felt ostracized or rejected by the Conservatives since I joined Tony’s team.”
Benisz says his experience on the campaign made him feel better empowered, a message he tried to relay to voters when going door-to-door. He and other Fogarassy supporters say the queer community has nothing to fear in voting Conservative.
“I’m happy to support Tony, who loves and supports the gay community, and I wish people weren’t so afraid of him,” says Schaper.
Forming a minority government is the first step, says Mitchell, adding that now is the time for the Conservatives to prove their style of government isn’t all that scary.
Though Fogarassy hoped to bring his support for equal marriage to Ottawa, he predicts the queer community may be pleasantly surprised with the new Conservative government.
“I think they should make sure they have a hard look at what the Conservatives do over the next couple of years. I think it will be more positive than they might believe. So stay tuned.”