Vancouver
5 min

Fry gets fourth term

Liberals & NDP crush Conservative candidate

'THEY EXPECT US TO DO BETTER.' Hedy Fry (left) promises legislation on gay issues after winning another mandate Jun 28. Gays figured prominently in the campaigns of all three major candidates. Doug Millar (right) worked on Fry's campaign. Credit: Robin Perelle

“The gay community has won tonight,” a victorious Hedy Fry tells Xtra West, just moments after sweeping triumphantly into her campaign office on Denman St.



“There will be legislation coming forward,” she continues, assuring gay voters that Prime Minister Paul Martin will come through for them. “This GLBT community will finally be able to be fully equal under the law.”



It’s about 9:30 pm on election night. Though the results for Fry’s Vancouver Centre riding have not yet been fully tabulated, their thrust is clear: Fry has pulled into a decisive lead and now stands about 1600 votes ahead of her closest opponent, NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart.



Two hours earlier, that thrust was far less clear. The first numbers to trickle into the office showed Fry and Stewart jostling each other for first place in a very tight race. Stewart took an early 63-point lead, as the riding’s first four polling stations posted their results. But the lead didn’t last long.



By 8:20 pm, with the phone ringing every few seconds and Fry’s campaign workers scrambling to keep up with each polling station’s numbers, Stewart had slipped 56 points behind Fry.



Ten minutes later, Stewart closed the gap to just 45 points behind. But the NDP candidate couldn’t hang on.



By 9:00 pm, Fry is ahead by about 1400 votes. Half an hour later, she makes her victorious appearance and the room erupts.



“Canadians have decided that what they really want is a centrist, balanced government,” she tells her cheering campaign workers as they throng around her. Canadians have picked the party that promises to balance fiscal responsibility with Charter rights for all minorities, she continues. They have rejected the Conservative Party, she soon adds.



People were angry with her party, Fry notes, but in the end they still voted Liberal. “They expect us to do better-but they want the Liberals to do better,” she says. “And we will do better.



“Yes, we made mistakes,” she later tells a group of reporters, “but my record in this riding is very strong. I think people know that.”



Fry’s strength is certainly a recurring theme among her gay campaign workers. When asked why they backed her, they point to Fry’s liberal values, her ongoing commitment to the gay community, her strong voice behind the scenes in Ottawa and her strong presence as a woman of colour in Parliament.



“She’s been hugely key in the whole same-sex marriage issue,” says Michael Harding, one eye on the results still streaming in. “She speaks with a strong national voice. She’s extremely straight- forward about it.”



Smoking a cigarette in the aftermath of Fry’s apparent victory, Doug Millar is unequivocal in his support for his MP. “We deserve to have a very strong woman represent us who has never veered from a strong commitment to our community and our community’s issues,” he says. Fry marches in the Pride Parade, attends the Dogwood drag balls, fights for people with HIV and twists arms in Ottawa on the marriage issue, he points out.



“She has a strength of character that people really don’t give her credit for,” Millar continues, taking a swipe at some NDP supporters whom he refers to as “too flippant” and too willing to risk a Conservative government.



Fry is like Hillary Clinton, he suggests. She’s a woman with very strong opinions and “I think that turns off a lot of people.”



**

Earlier in the evening, at the riding’s Conservative Party headquarters on W Broadway, Gary Mitchell’s gay deputy campaign manager was counting on a backlash against Fry and the Liberals to send his own candidate into office.



“It’s time for a change,” Sean Wright says. It’s around 7 pm and a dozen campaign workers are quietly watch the results from Atlantic Canada on TV. “Hedy has become a lame duck.”



The community needs someone “with a professional attitude” whom constituents and MPs alike will take seriously, Wright continues, noting that “a lot of people” have called his office to say they no longer trust the incumbent.



“I think the gay community is comfortable with Gary,” he continues, predicting a Liberal minority government with a Conservative MP for Vancouver Centre.



He was half right. (In the end, Mitchell came a distant third in Vancouver Centre, garnering 10,118 votes, far behind Fry’s 21,181 and Stewart’s 16,924.)



Though the night’s national results were at least partially shaped by a protest vote against the ruling Liberals and their sponsorship scandal, one gay Liberal says he doesn’t think there was much of a protest against Fry herself.



“Do I think she’s considered an angel in the community? Of course not,” says Brent Bazinet, writing down the results from yet another polling station as Fry campaigners bustle around him. “Anyone who’s been in the public eye for 11 years is bound to have people who love her and hate her. One person cannot deliver on everybody’s wants and desires.”



**

Across town, the NDP is celebrating its six BC victories at the Croatian Cultural Centre on Commercial Dr-and bearing its defeats with tired smiles. “I feel great,” says Stewart. “I’m tired but I’m not upset.”



The NDP doubled its votes in Vancouver Centre, he points out. “We made it a winnable riding.”



In the past, the riding has alternated almost exclusively between the Liberals and the Conservatives. In 1993, the year Fry defeated then-Prime Minister Kim Campbell, the NDP candidate trailed 9,000 votes behind the two frontrunners.



This year’s final tally put Stewart firmly in second place, about 4,000 votes behind Fry-and a long way from the first-place results predicted by an internal NDP poll taken two weeks before the election. (Fry’s campaign refused to publicly release its own internal polls that reportedly put Fry in the lead.) Stewart blames Prime Minister Paul Martin for his meltdown. “In the end, I do think that Paul Martin’s message worked. It scared people away from us.”



In the last few days of campaigning, Martin repeatedly told reporters that Canada’s values were at stake and that the only way to protect them was to block the Conservatives by voting Liberal. A vote for the NDP is effectively a vote for the Conservatives, he warned.



And voters apparently listened. Panicked and listened. Picked Fry over Stewart in a last-minute attempt to keep Mitchell out of office. Picked the known-though-disliked status quo over the unknowns of a potential Conservative government. Even though, as it turns out, Stewart could have easily beaten Mitchell himself.



A Conservative government would have been “disastrous for our rights,” says gay NDPer Peter McCue. But fear of the Conservatives didn’t stop him from voting NDP. On the contrary, McCue says the high stakes inspired him to pour even more energy into Stewart’s campaign.



“Kennedy Stewart brought an energy and a vitality and has helped make the political process more alive to people within the gay community and young people in general,” McCue says. Plus the NDP’s platform held more overall appeal for him than the Liberals’ “half-way approach” to human rights, he notes.



Vancouver Centre voters haven’t seen the last of Stewart, McCue predicts.



With the Liberals poised to form a potentially tenuous minority government, Stewart says it’s just a matter of time until they call another election. And when they do, he’ll be ready.



As the NDP celebration begins to wind down on the Drive, Stewart offers a thank you to the gay community of Vancouver Centre. “It’s been a pleasure getting to know so many people better,” he says.



If the number of NDP window signs were any indication, it seems many gay voters were happy to get to know Stewart as well. In fact, early reports indicate that voters in Vancouver Centre’s predominantly gay West End polling stations favoured Stewart over Fry. Stewart won’t comment on what those numbers might mean until he studies the final tally.



As for Wright back in Mitchell’s camp, he says he’s just glad he got involved in the process. “Regardless of who comes out ahead, I feel like I took part in the political system,” he says. “I’ve done my part.



“You can’t complain if you don’t do anything,” he adds.