With one high-profile election complete and the municipal elections just a few weeks away, voters in the West End have an extra ballot to cast Oct 29 in a by-election to replace their MLA in the provincial legislature.
The Vancouver-West End seat was vacated in September after Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt resigned to run on the Conservative ticket in the federal election.
Last week, Liberal by-election candidate Arthur Griffiths courted the area’s gay vote with an announcement that he successfully intervened on the Odyssey’s behalf to extend the gay nightclub’s lease until the New Year.
The landmark club was scheduled to close in early November to make way for supportive housing. The McLaren Housing Society will manage the new city-owned Howe St property for low-income people with HIV/AIDS.
“About two weeks ago, I was approached by Michael Levy, one of the owners of the Odyssey, who informed me that it was closing at the end of this month as a result of the demolition clause,” Griffiths explains. “He reminded me of the importance of that location and that it’s taken them some time to find a new location.”
Levy told Xtra West in August that, although he was optimistic, restrictive city zoning laws were making it harder than expected to find a new space for the gay club.
Griffiths says he went to BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay after Levy approached him and got the Odyssey’s lease extended until January.
“It was a really, really great piece of news. Frankly, I was just delighted to deliver that news to not just the owners, but the patrons,” Griffiths says.
Levy confirms that he did approach Griffiths to see if he could help “in any way.” The result is that the club’s lease has been extended until the New Year, he says.
“It’s a temporary extension and there could be another one,” says Levy, adding that he found Griffiths’ intervention “very helpful.”
But senior housing planner with the city Rob Whitlock says as far as he knows there is no confirmation of an extension for the club “at this point.”
“We’ve had some internal discussions about it but at this point, real estate is not prepared to make a comment on that because it’s a landlord-tenant issue,” Whitlock says.
“The most we can say is that, yes, some consideration to extending the date is taking place but until it’s confirmed between both parties I can’t offer anymore comment than that.”
Whitlock says he believes Griffiths did approach BC Housing which referred it back to the city because it’s a city-owned property, and the lease is between the city and the club.
Griffiths’ NDP challenger Spencer Herbert says he did hear Oct 21 that the Odyssey was going to stay open for “a few months.” He says it’s great that the club has a new lease on life at its current site but adds that the issues “people on the street” are concerned about is homelessness and housing.
“This is a gay bar versus dealing with the real issues in our community,” he says, noting that the Odyssey will be re-opened anyway.
Herbert still has misgivings about Griffiths’ connection to West End residents and his ability to represent an area he only recently moved to from Point Grey.
“I think someone who lives in the area and who is affected by the same issues is incredibly important,” says the openly gay Herbert. “But also the fact that I’m not just swanning in from the outside just wanting to be a government MLA when the government hasn’t done anything for us.
“I don’t think you’re going to get the same depth of understanding from someone who doesn’t know the neighbourhood and has not lived our issues.”
Griffiths, who is married with five children and now lives in a West End apartment, maintains his connection to the gay community goes way back. “I’ve been a supporter of Friends for Life and A Loving Spoonful for years and I’m not sure that many people follow me in that regard because I don’t usually draw attention to that, but that’s something I’ve had some strong ties to and roots in from the beginning.
“Beyond that I have many, many, many friends that are members of the LGBT community, as well as family members, frankly,” he adds.
The former Canucks owner, who helped with the proposal to host the 2010 Olympics, says he has experience his younger opponent doesn’t have.
Herbert, 29, counters with his three years on the job as a Vancouver parks commissioner. “Whether it’s watching over a $90-million budget with a park board, or my continued community experience with the various organizations within our community, or managing arts organizations during international tours,” Herbert says he has the skills and experience to well represent the West End in Victoria.
Herbert also says it’s his youth that should make him a better candidate in the eyes of voters who want to see more young people and fresh ideas in government.
“We do need a change and people are telling me they’re tired of the ‘old boy’s club,'” he says.
High on both candidates’ agendas is homelessness, which Herbert says has gone up 373 percent under Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.
“Because of the loopholes that Gordon Campbell’s put in place, developers are kicking our community members out of their homes. Many long-term members of 30, 40, or 50 years, or more recent people, have found themselves without a home and unable to continue to live in the gay village,” says Herbert.
Griffiths defends BC’s Liberal government, saying it has done more for British Columbians than the NDP accomplished &mdash:”and they were in power for 10 years.”
The West End by-election is one of two taking place next week in the province. If NDP candidate Jenn McGinn wins the Vancouver-Fairview by-election she will become the first out lesbian in the BC legislature.