After 18 years as the NDP member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Libby Davies, Canada’s first openly lesbian MP, is not seeking re-election, leaving the traditionally NDP riding potentially up for grabs.
The riding is one of vast contrasts, from the drug addiction and poverty that converge at Main and Hastings streets, to the queer-infused hipster cultures thriving on both Commercial Drive and further south on Main Street.
In between are businesses large and small, and neighbourhoods ranging from single homes to condos to apartment blocks.
The riding’s representation has generally been a toss-up between the Liberals and the NDP, and the NDP’s forerunner, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), since the riding was formed in 1933, when CCF co-founder Angus MacInnis beat out Liberal dentist J Lorne MacDougall by 6,539 votes.
True to the left-leaning history of the riding, a Communist has never been far off the top spots in the polls but has never received thousands of votes like the top parties’ candidates.
Taking up the NDP banner from Davies in this election is former Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan.
Kwan faces a challenge from Liberal lawyer Edward Wong and the Green Party’s Wes Regan, who is the Green’s critic for urban affairs and housing.
Running for the Conservatives is James Low about whom little is known. The party has not responded to Daily Xtra’s requests for an interview with Low.
The issue of missing and murdered women is of particular interest in this riding, since this is the area upon which serial killer Robert Pickton preyed.
All three candidates interviewed by Daily Xtra oppose the Conservative government’s anti-sex work legislation, brought in as a result of the old laws being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013.
Kwan says the safety of sex workers must be prioritized.
“The Conservative government, all of their decisions are based on their judging of others,” Kwan says. “It’s simply wrong.”
Wong agrees, saying the lesson from Pickton is that safety is “the paramount issue.”
He says it may be necessary to revisit the legislation to ensure it does not result in harm.
“It’s an issue that directly affects East Vancouver,” Wong says.
Regan says sex workers need to be safe rather than being driven further into the shadows.
“We can’t allow any more missing women,” he says. “We need to encourage a healthy attitude towards sex in general.”
All three candidates also support the inclusion of trans rights in legislation; despite Bill C-279 having died in the Senate as a result of the election call.
Gay NDP MP Randall Garrison championed C-279 to recognize and protect gender identity and expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
Kwan says she “absolutely” supports legislation to protect trans people.
“I think it’s high time we bring in these rights in a very explicit way,” she says.
“We have the right to be who we want to be and love who we love,” Wong says, adding he would support such legislation too.
Regan says the party supports legislative efforts to provide equality for trans people.
He says all Vancouver-area Green candidates, as well as party leader Elizabeth May, signed the Vancouver Pride Society’s Trans Equality Now pledge to march in the Aug 2 Pride parade.
While C-279 did not survive the election call, the so-called anti-terrorism Bill C-51 did pass. It has been criticized as an intrusion into the privacy of all Canadians.
Kwan says the NDP would appeal the law.
“It will impact all of our communities in a very negative way,” she says.
She says the law threatens and erodes basic rights.
Wong says the legislation is “clearly flawed.”
As a trial lawyer, Wong says, he supports Charter freedoms. “I protect individuals on their rights as enshrined in the Charter each and every day,” he says, adding, “Any infringement is not acceptable.”
He says a Liberal government would repeal those sections of the law that infringe Charter rights.
Regan says C-51 allows government to target people it perceives as enemies.
He says the vague wording around political threats and threats to critical infrastructure would allow for suppression of dissent.
“C-51 is appalling,” he says.
Kwan, Wong and Regan also question the Conservative Party’s policy on marriage as stated in its online policy book — “We support legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Kwan called the policy statement “extremely disrespectful.”
She says the party is ignoring court rulings legalizing marriage in Canada, yet proclaiming itself as the party of law and order.
She calls marriage a basic human right.
“It’s astounding to me,” she says.
Wong says it’s “disconcerting to hear the Conservatives refusing to accept the reality of same-sex marriage.”
“The people of East Vancouver clearly recognize the importance of equality,” he says.
Regan says the Greens have long supported same-sex marriage.
“We’re leaving the Conservatives in the dust on that file,” he says.
As for the occasionally contentious issue of decriminalizing marijuana, Kwan says the NDP has supported decriminalization since the days of leader Tommy Douglas decades ago.
Wong says the Liberals would regulate and likely tax marijuana.
But, he adds, cannabis-related goods needs to be examined for their effects. He says the government has a role to play in regulation the sale of such goods.
Regan says the Greens would decriminalize marijuana and find ways to generate government revenue.
“Yes, taxation,” he says.
He says the Greens would encourage small businesses and growers in the marijuana field.
“We don’t want to see this as an opportunity for big business,” he says.
The election takes place on Oct 19, 2015.