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9 min

Face-off in BC’s gayest new riding

Spencer Herbert vs Laura McDiarmid

Credit: TJ Ngan photo

For gay MLA Spencer Herbert, the coming BC election is a new race, a new riding and an old parks board colleague, as he and lesbian Liberal Laura McDiarmid face-off for the new Vancouver-West End seat in the legislature.

The two candidates worked together while on the municipal parks board, McDiarmid as the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) chair and Herbert as a Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) commissioner.

Further queering the race in the West End is the arrival of lesbian Drina Read, who’s running for the Green Party.

Herbert gave up his parks board seat last year to make the jump to provincial politics. He beat Liberal Arthur Griffiths in last October’s by-election to win the seat in Vancouver-Burrard.

That riding is no more, however.

After a riding reorganization last year, it was divided into Vancouver-West End and Vancouver-False Creek.

What it’s created is the highest concentration of queers in a single riding in BC — a riding specifically dedicated to the West End.

And that creates some interesting dynamics for McDiarmid and Herbert, both of whom say they’re looking forward to the race.

Both agree the main issues for the campaign will be the future of St Paul’s Hospital, homophobic violence, housing, education and the economy.

The two new ridings came into force Apr 14 after a standard electoral district review, which is done after every second provincial election.

As populations rise and fall, the reviews are done to ensure that each member of the legislature represents a similar number of people.

The latest riding redistribution saw the number of constituencies in BC rise from 79 to 85.

The old Vancouver-Burrard riding was often referred to as a donut: Liberal support was higher around the edges in Yaletown and Coal Harbour, while the NDP was more often favoured in the middle, the West End.

City councillor Tim Stevenson served as Vancouver-Burrard MLA from 1996 to 2001, when he was defeated by Liberal Lorne Mayencourt.

Stevenson contested Mayencourt again in 2005. He lost by 11 votes, a defeat he attributes to the donut’s Liberal-leaning outer edges.

With the new Vancouver-West End riding confined to the so-called donut hole, Stevenson thinks Herbert’s chances of winning in May’s general election are good.

But he’s not so optimistic about the NDP’s chances in the district’s other new riding of Vancouver-False Creek riding.

UBC political science professor Michael Byers agrees.

While there’s a chance anyone could take either seat, the redistribution has effectively created safe seats for the NDP in the West End and the Liberals in False Creek, he says.

“It’s a draw,” says Byers, who ran on the NDP ticket in Vancouver Centre in last fall’s federal election against Hedy Fry.

The redistribution has “taken downtown Vancouver out of the decision-making process as to who governs this province,” Byers says.

Herbert says he’s not taking a win for granted.

“You’ve got to work for it every day,” he says.

McDiarmid won’t be throwing in the towel any time soon, either.

“There’s no doubt this will be a challenge,” she promises.

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Part of that challenge will be combating the perception that the Liberal government hasn’t been listening to the community on the issue of anti-gay violence — and the lack of hate crime designations its prosecutors have sought in gaybashing cases.

If elected, McDiarmid says she will push for more action on the issue through contact with both the solicitor general on policing and the attorney general on prosecutions.

She also plans to meet with prosecutors to find out what challenges they face in the court system so changes can be made.

“I will do everything I can,” McDiarmid promises, adding that the West End needs a greater police presence.

“The BC Liberals have been very responsive to the issue,” she says.

Herbert bluntly says the hate crime sentencing section in the Criminal Code is a “sham.”

“Why should we have any faith in the law anymore?” he asks. “It gets our hopes up, and they’re just dashed.”

Although Herbert acknowledges that criminal law in Canada is federally made, he points out that prosecuting crimes falls to provincial Crown. And that means seeking hate crime designations falls within the provincial government’s jurisdiction. “We need to ensure hate crimes are prosecuted as such,” he says.

Both candidates agree that one way to combat homophobia and the recent spate of anti-gay violence is through education.

They both point to courses like the Social Justice 12 elective that the Abbotsford School Board ordered its high schools to not offer last fall. (The board has since decided to allow students to sign up for the course next fall, provided they have their parents’ consent.)

McDiarmid says if students are signing up, then Social Justice 12 should be there.

“I think it should be part of the curriculum,” she says. “People are thirsting for knowledge of the world around them. We need to educate people about our community.”

Herbert wonders how willing the BC Liberals are to provide gay-friendly education. He points to Murray and Peter Corren having to take the government to the Human Rights Tribunal to get some queer curriculum offered.

“Even now, we have the education minister saying there is nothing to do to enforce codes of conduct in schools across BC. It’s no wonder this hate continues,” he says.

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Turning to St Paul’s, both candidates agree in principle that the hospital should be retained in the West End.

Herbert says if an NDP government moves to take the hospital out of the West End, he will resign.

“I don’t think I’m going to play that game of resigning something,” McDiarmid responds. “What good would it be to win the seat and resign? I wouldn’t cost the taxpayer more money through an expensive by-election.”

Herbert says he can’t get a commitment out of Liberal health minister George Abbott on keeping the hospital where it is.

Moving it would be devastating for the West End, he says pointing to the number of people in the area who rely on it for HIV/AIDS care, heart and renal problems and seniors care.

“I think we need to revitalize it onsite,” Herbert says. “It’s a great hospital that just needs to be invested in.”

McDiarmid says a study of the hospital’s future is due out in the next few months and commits to being involved in the discussion.

“We need to have an urgent care facility in the West End,” she says. “I will ensure the process is fair, that it is broad and that it takes into account the needs of this community.”

She says she’s “pretty confident there’s going to be a good resolution that will be acceptable to everyone.”

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Both candidates are also committed to finding a solution to the housing crisis in the area.

The Residential Tenancy Act currently allows property owners to raise rents above the 3.7 percent allowable annual hike if they can demonstrate that the increase will put the units on par with the area’s market value.

The act also allows property owners to kick tenants out if they can prove that major renovations are needed on the units.

But many West End renters say they’re being pushed out unfairly, particularly by “renovictions” ?? renovations undertaken specifically to justify evicting tenants so owners can raise the rent before putting the unit back on the market.

McDiarmid says the Liberals have been “very responsive to the issue,” opening a new Residential Tenancy Branch office in the city.

Herbert says that’s rubbish. He says he tried to get into the office and found it constantly closed.

If elected, McDiarmid says she’ll push for portable housing subsidies, grants which would top up rents for people with disabilities and seniors on fixed incomes.

As for queer youth coming to the area needing homes, McDiarmid says they should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ve got an issue of homelessness here,” she says. “We don’t want to be forcing people onto the streets.”

Herbert says the Residential Tenancy Act must be changed to prevent landlord abuses.

He says the government has told him everything is working well.

“Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of people who are being evicted or whose rents have gone through the roof,” Herbert says.

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Drina Read

The Green Party of BC is fielding lesbian Drina Read as its candidate in Vancouver-West End this May.

Read ran for the Greens in the old Vancouver-Burrard riding in last October’s by-election, where she finished third behind the NDP’s Spencer Herbert (who won the seat) and Liberal candidate Arthur Griffiths.

She says the Greens are a viable alternative to the political see-sawing between the NDP and the Liberals.

A long-time resident of the West End, Read is the Green Party’s administration and vice chair, and also organizes its entry in the Pride parade each year.

She also volunteers for the Car Free Vancouver Festival in the West End and belongs to GE Free BC (on genetically engineered food), the Stanley Park Ecology Society, the Fur-Bearer Defenders, the Council of Canadians and Greenpeace.

With concern rising about housing and homelessness in the West End, Read says the Residential Tenancy Act should be overhauled to ensure equal protections for renters and landlords.

“With the threat of bloated rent increases, mass evictions and ‘renovictions’ caused by the greed-induced Olympics feeding frenzy, renters are in danger of becoming homeless through no fault of their own,” she says.

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Jenn McGinn

Queer NDP candidate Jenn McGinn is running once again in Vancouver-Fairview against Liberal Margaret MacDiarmid in May’s provincial general election.

McGinn beat MacDiarmid in the Oct 29 by-election that made McGinn the first out lesbian in the legislature.

McGinn is the former executive director of the South Granville Seniors Centre and most recently worked in business banking for Vancity Credit Union.

She says her riding’s most pressing issues are housing and homelessness, concerns that affect people across the spectrum.

McGinn also says the Residential Tenancy Act needs to be changed to prevent “renovictions.”

Health care is also high on her agenda. She says recent cuts in health care have impacted many people, but seniors and members of some sectors of the queer community have been particularly impacted.

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Mable Elmore

The NDP has selected lesbian transit driver Mable Elmore as its candidate for the Vancouver-Kensington riding.

It’s Elmore’s first run for public office.

“The view of the [NDP] is in line with what I see promoting a more equitable and healthy BC,” she says.

Elmore, who describes herself as a labour and peace activist, beat out past BC Teachers Federation president Jinny Sims for the NDP nomination in the riding.

Elmore says the key issues in Vancouver-Kensington are affordable housing, access to rental accommodation, and crime and community safety.

The 40-year-old has sat on the board of the World Peace Forum Society and worked with the Philippine Women’s Society as well as the Vancouver Status of Women.

She is also a past president of stopwar.ca, which has been vocal in its criticism of Israel’s conduct in Middle Eastern affairs.

The riding was most recently represented by the NDP’s David Chudnovsky, who decided not to run again this election.

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Nicholas Simons

Gay Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons is looking for re-election in May 12’s provincial election.

The former child protection worker believes he’s the only out rural MLA in the legislature.

While he says his riding is “a very inclusive community,” he doesn’t downplay the need for a province-wide Bashline and other measures to help anyone in danger — including queer youth.

“In my riding, kids who are queer or not sure, there needs to be a place for kids to express their concerns,” he says.

Simons is the current NDP critic for Children and Families. He says he’d like the Social Justice 12 course that caused controversy when it was withdrawn in Abbotsford to be available to students throughout BC. He says it might keep queer kids in their communities.

“I’d like our communities to be welcoming enough so that they didn’t have to leave,” he says.

Simons also says he’s worried about jobs in the forest industry which affects so many people in the province.

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Debbie Lawrance

Social activist Debbie Lawrance says it’s the NDP’s socially progressive policies and pledge of fiscal responsibility that attracted her to run as the party’s provincial candidate in Surrey-Panorama Ridge.

She’s up against another political newcomer, Liberal Stephanie Cadieux, in the riding of 55,000 voters.

Lawrance works at the Vancouver Cancer Centre and is regional vice-president of the Hospital Employees’ Union.

She says the main issues this campaign are housing, healthcare, wages, crime and discrimination.

Lawrance is particularly concerned about the prospect of selling off the province’s natural resources.

“Keep things public,” she says. “Keep people employed. The Liberals are not in touch with the needs of the people.”

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John Boychuk

Former Pride Society president John Boychuk has decided to throw his hat into the ring with the Green Party in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant riding.

Boychuk says he chose the Green Party because of the greater freedom from party discipline the Greens allow. “It allows me to address more needs of the Mount Pleasant area,” he says. “It allows me to act as an individual acting with the team.”

The False Creek Flats are the city’s next big area of development, he says. “Somebody’s got to look after education and the environment in that area.”

He lists affordable housing, accessible rentals, reliable transit, environmental accountability and a long-term plan to redevelop the Insite harm reduction drug program among his priorities.

Boychuk ran unsuccessfully for council in last November’s municipal election as an independent.

Prior to that, he served a three-year term as Vancouver’s Pride Society president.

A small businessman, he’s also involved with the InterPride group, and serves as vice president in charge of arts funding for the national Pride board.

Boychuk is also the celebration chair for Vancouver’s hosting of the 2011 North American Outgames.