While the Conservative Party increased its hold over the House of Commons to within 12 seats of a majority government Oct 14, Liberal incumbent Hedy Fry maintained her grip on Vancouver Centre, despite a strong challenge from gay Conservative candidate Lorne Mayencourt.
In the following days, Elections Canada numbers would confirm that Fry beat Mayencourt by just over 5,000 votes (19,506 to 14,188) in a hotly contested race for the gay-heavy riding. The NDP’s Michael Byers came in third with 12,047 votes and the Green Party’s Adriane Carr put in a strong fourth place showing with 10,354 votes.
But as election night results began ticking over on the Majestic’s television screens, those gathered in the gay nightclub to support Fry’s re-election bid expressed muted shock and fear over the Conservative gains in other ridings.
Just after 8 pm, with only a handful of polling stations reporting, a restrained whoop went up when Fry’s vote count rose to 144, with Byers tracking second at 98.
Then as the results cycled around again, there was a collective gasp.
While Fry had crossed the 500-vote mark, Mayencourt’s vote count stood at 400. He had leapfrogged over Byers and was within striking distance of Fry and the lead.
By 9:16 pm, Fry had widened her lead to almost 700 votes ahead of Mayencourt, who was still running a close second.
Not long after that, Fry sweeps into the Majestic to loud applause and cheers —and then immediately into a media scrum prior to making her acceptance speech.
Draped in a Liberal red scarf and shirt, Fry goes on the attack when asked her impression of the results.
“We spent about $350 million to hold an election and we got the same results —a minority Harper government. What was the point of that?” she asks. “Canadians obviously decided they did not want a change of government.”
As for the decline in the Liberal Party’s fortunes across Canada and the inability of Stéphane Dion to inspire the electorate to vote Liberal, Fry comes to Dion’s defense and accuses the Green Party of siphoning off both NDP and Liberal votes.
“I don’t know if one can say that it has anything to do with Mr Dion,” she shoots back at reporters. “I think that the Green Party has been the spoiler, which is exactly what Mrs May was saying all along, that she never wanted to be the Ralph Nader of Canadian politics. But she turned out to be exactly that.”
Fry also deflects any talk about whether she intended to make another leadership run.
“We’ll see, we’ll see. I have tomorrow to think about these things,” she says briskly.
In her long list of thank yous, Fry notes that Vancouver Centre’s queer voters had “come out for me again.”
“I just want to tell them how much I love them,” she tells Xtra West.
Asked about queer priorities that need to be addressed, Fry highlights safety as well as trans people’s access to health care.
“I think the most important thing for the queer community is for us to look at how we get about public education and program funding to decrease the amount of societal violence on the queer community —that’s the first thing,” she says.
“And the second thing, I think,
is transgendered persons. It’s a medical diagnosis. I think they should have full access to heath care because of that medical diagnosis.”
Fatima Jaffer of the queer South Asian network Trikone calls Fry’s win “bittersweet.”
“I’m picking up off the mood in the room,” Jaffer says, looking about the Majestic, “and I think it is subdued and it is a little mixed.
“I think people are feeling really bad about the Conservative victory,” Jaffer offers. “I think the Liberals thought they’d do better than they did, and they’ve actually gone down.”
Majestic co-owner Vince Marino says he was hoping Fry would win but he’s surprised by the Conservatives’ enhanced minority. Still, he doesn’t fear for the queer community’s fortunes under the new Harper minority.
“He doesn’t have that majority, and some of the people like Hedy have been re-elected,” Marino points out.
“I think we have enough good people. We just have to be as vigilant, and may be even a little more vigilant. But I really don’t see him being able to advance anything against the community.”
Fillmmaker Aerlyn Weissman, who swung by the Majestic moments after Fry’s acceptance speech, says Fry’s win is “fantastic” to the extent that she’s part of “keeping Harper at bay.”
“Disappointed doesn’t begin to cover it if the Conservative candidate had gotten in,” Weissman continues. “I think it would have been a disaster for this riding.”
Two hours earlier at Lorne Mayencourt’s Conservative Party headquarters in the old Kripp’s Pharmacy at Granville and Nelson Sts, the mood is buoyant if guardedly optimistic as the results begin to roll in from across the country.
A semi-circle of chairs plays home to the dedicated results-watchers in the crowd, while others discuss the campaign over a table heaving with food.
A surprise attendee is former Vancouver-Kingsway MP David Emerson, whose high-profile defection to the Tories only days after being elected as a Liberal in 2006 made headlines for weeks.
Emerson too is optimistic.
With a minority government, the Conservatives have provided a broad array of policies to meet the needs of all Canadians, he says.
“I think we’ve provided that comfort zone,” Emerson says.
“I think we’ve got as much done with two and a half years as a minority as most do with a majority.”
In another corner is Ryan Warawa, the party’s low-profile candidate in Vancouver East.
Though not elected in his own riding, he smiles as his father retains his Langley seat.
Mayencourt, clad in a crisp blue suit, beams as he makes his way around the room talking with supporters.
Mayencourt sits down briefly with Xtra West as the results come in.
He smiles when he hears that the Vancouver Centre polling station at the Roundhouse Community Centre still had hundreds of people lined up to vote as closing time loomed.
That’s the edge of the so-called West End donut, he agrees, referring to the area where the more well-heeled and generally Conservative voters live.
As the Tories surpass the 140-seat mark nationally, Mayencourt tells reporters: “I’d like to be number 155.”
That’s the magic number for a majority in the House of Commons which currently seats 308 MPs.
But as the first results from Vancouver Centre begin to come in, the mood changes.
It soon becomes clear that Mayencourt and Fry are in for a very close battle.
Despite a strong showing in second, Lorne’s bid to be a member of Parliament is doomed.
The crowd goes silent. Mayencourt himself stands, one hand on a chair back and watches the numbers.
The nervousness in the room leaks out in reaction to updates from other ridings on TV. Justin Trudeau’s election as a Liberal MP in Quebec elicits loud boos.
The boos become even louder as Senator Larry Campbell, the former mayor of Vancouver, appears on screen.
Moments later word surfaces that Fry has started making her acceptance speech at the Majestic.
The room is cleared for a podium and Mayencourt concedes the election to Fry.
“I really wanted to get this job,” he says. “I think I would have made a really good Member of Parliament.
“I’m a little disappointed.”
“We gave it a good try. You have all become my family and I love you.”
But, he adds: “This is a winning night for the Conservative Party of Canada.”
He praises his opponents, particularly Green candidate Adriane Carr for a well-fought campaign and NDPer Michael Byers for leaving the safety of his university office to get down and dirty in the political trenches.
“It takes a lot of guts to leave a cushy university position,” Mayencourt says.
He saves Fry for last.
“I send my warmest congratulations to Hedy Fry,” he says. “They fought a good fight and they won.”
With that, the room clears out quickly.
One young man who had been bumming drink tickets off people staggers around crying. Others pick at the remains of the food table.
“I’m extremely disappointed that we didn’t elect the MP that would have taken our message to the Conservatives in Ottawa,” says Gary Mitchell, the gay Conservative candidate who ran in Vancouver Centre in 2003.
“What has Hedy Fry done?” he adds.
Mitchell says he thinks people have discounted the hard work Mayencourt has done in the area on social issues.
“He’s the only guy who ever gave a shit about us,'” Mitchell says another supporter told him earlier.
“I think we really missed a great opportunity to elect somebody who gives a shit,” Mitchell says.
The final results show Mayencourt outdid the riding’s runner-up in the 2006 election, Svend Robinson, who lost to Fry by almost 9,000 votes. Though both Fry and her runner-up this time polled fewer votes each overall, Mayencourt cut Fry’s first-place lead almost in half.
Meanwhile the Green Party increased its share of the riding’s vote count substantially, polling 7,000 more votes this time than last.
Despite the early news that Green Party leader Elizabeth May has been defeated in her home riding of Central Nova, Vancouver’s Green candidates and supporters are celebrating at their election night headquarters on Granville Island.
They seem optimistic that the party will continue to gain strength in the future.
Cheers break out in the room at the news that roughly eight percent of Albertans have voted Green, and again as results show Green candidates ranking third in their ridings.
“I think the Greens are the party of the future,” says queer community activist Jamie Lee Hamilton, who arrived early in the evening and was received enthusiastically by Vancouver Centre candidate Adriane Carr.
Hamilton says her support for the Green Party is in part based on the need to decriminalize sex work, a goal she says both she and Carr share.
“Hedy Fry and Libby Davies gave it a good try, but their parties are just not willing to [do it]” Hamilton says. She feels that as deputy leader of the Green Party, Carr is in a strong position to make a difference.
Making herself visible throughout the evening, and keeping the tone of the room light, Carr pauses to celebrate her running mates in a ceremonial induction into “The Order of the Green Scarf.” She also cheers the accomplishments of May in a short speech, saying, “I wanted so badly for Elizabeth to win her seat… Yay for Elizabeth!”
Though Carr does not succeed in ousting Fry from her long-held seat, she thanks those queer voters who marked an X next to her name on the ballot. “With a Conservative government still in power, I think it’s going to require ongoing political activism on the part of the queer community,” she says.
“I don’t believe that [the] Conservative government is queer-friendly,” she adds.
Carr says her party will continue to lobby for the issues important to her riding’s constituents, such as affordable housing and economic stability. Electoral reform, with the end goal of proportional representation, is also on her list of priorities.
“I think way more people wanted to vote for me than voted for me,” she says, “out of fear of a Harper government. We need a system where people feel they can vote for the party or the person they want without fear.”
Hamilton agrees. “If our electoral system was fair,” she says, “the Greens would have seats.”
Proponents of reform note that the Bloc Quebecois won 50 seats with only 10 percent of the national vote, while the Greens garnered nearly seven percent nationally but ended up without representation in the House.
Carr also stresses that political involvement is crucial in light of the low nationwide voter turnout, which she says puts democracy “in jeopardy.”
Vancouver Centre posted a turnout of just 61.3 percent of eligible voters, slightly higher than the national average.
Meanwhile, across town at the Heritage Hall on Main St, hordes of people have gathered at the NDP victory party. With food in abundance and cocktails flowing, the atmosphere is both jovial and hopeful.
By 8:30 pm the Elections Canada website shows that Michael Byers, the NDP candidate for Vancouver Centre, is trailing behind Fry and Mayencourt.
As the results continue to pour in, supporters and volunteers applaud announcements of victorious NDP contests, as the party scoops up eight new seats across the country.
The NDP is “a party that stands up for social justice and in particular gay and lesbian rights,” says Mabel Elmore. “I appreciate that they stand up for those issues and I can count on them.”
Chris Morrissey, program manager for the queer Generations project, notes that the NDP has been inclusive of queer political candidates. “There’s a number of out elected members of Parliament and I think that the NDP has always been on the cutting edge of that.”
By 9:30 pm, Byers is still trailing the second-place Mayencourt. By 9:45 pm it is apparent at NDP headquarters that the Liberals have once again secured Vancouver Centre.
In his concession speech, Byers, who only replaced Randall Garrison as the NDP candidate for Vancouver Centre in August, thanks his supporters and volunteers.
“Naturally I’m disappointed but I think we gave a good showing considering our candidate, Michael Byers, came to the campaigned late in the day,” says Tim Armstrong, gay president of the party’s Vancouver Centre riding association. “I think [Byers] did very well for somebody who wasn’t horribly well known in our riding.”
Byers says this won’t be his last run for MP. “This is just the first step,” he says. “I hereby declare my intent to run for nomination of Vancouver Centre, and I hereby declare my intent next time to win!
“I feel connected to the LGBT community,” he adds. “I’m very, very proud of the human rights successes of the LGBT community and I want to be a part of that.”