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Lesbian MP takes nothing for granted

Libby Davies looking for sixth win in Vancouver East

"I try to be pretty honest with people about where I stand on issues," says NDP MP Libby Davies. "Even if I think it's not the most popular thing." Credit: www.libbydavies.ca

Libby Davies has won five consecutive elections as the NDP candidate for the Vancouver East federal riding and won’t be taking any chances with her sixth. 

“I never take it for granted,” says Davies. “I think it’s a continual process of working hard and earning people’s trust and respect. It might be my sixth one, but I run like it’s my first one.”

Davies first won her seat in 1997 and was re-elected in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. She has been the NDP house leader since 2003.

She was a five-term Vancouver city councillor between 1982 and 1993. She also later worked for the Hospital Employees’ Union as ombudsperson for human rights, complaints investigator and coordinator of human resources.

Davies had a son with her late husband and currently lives with her female partner, Kimberly Elliott.

The long-time MP and joint federal deputy leader of the NDP credits her political longevity to both her work ethic and her willingness to speak her mind.

“I try to be pretty honest with people about where I stand on issues,” says Davies. “Even if I think it’s not the most popular thing. I feel like I owe that to people.”

She recalls how she was told that she would never be re-elected because of her stance on reforming drug policy. Now she says, the reverse is true: “Anyone who doesn’t support Insite wouldn’t get re-elected.”

“That’s what I’ve learned in politics; it’s not a game. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s not about just kind of going to the lowest common denominator. It’s about building relationships with people and working on issues in good faith.”

After 14 years in Parliament, Davies doesn’t feel her work is over. She is concerned not just about the homeless, but about the many residents who spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent for unsuitable or insecure housing.

“If I had to really zero in on one issue that cuts across for so many people,” says Davies, “I think it would be housing in Vancouver. Unless the federal government steps up to the plate, we’re going to continue to have a housing crisis in this city.”

Davies faces challenges from three opponents: Liberal Roma Ahi, Green Douglas Roy and Conservative Irene Yatco, none of whom have run for public office before.

The Liberals recently nominated 33-year-old Ahi as their candidate. The Toronto-born Ahi has worked in publishing and broadcast media, most recently as an advertising executive.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” says Ahi. “I respect everything that Libby has done. There’s a lot of groundwork there.”

Ahi has lived in Vancouver for only a year but feels she has a solid grasp of what matters to voters in the riding: affordable housing, environmental sustainability, childcare and good schools.

“I’m a real person with a real voice. There’s nothing crafted of my interest; the issues are real. It’s just time to make a difference.”

Douglas Roy, the Green candidate for Vancouver East, is a long-time educator and businessman.

Roy has spent many years working with First Nations communities in BC and was program coordinator for Vancouver Community College’s Aboriginal Youth Worker Training Program. His interest in running for office was inspired by the recent birth of his daughter and his desire to protect the environment for her future.

One of his major concerns is the oil tankers passing through Vancouver’s harbour.

“We need to shift our government’s thinking from putting the economics first to putting the environment first,” says Roy.

Roy is aware of the successful history of the NDP in Vancouver East but doesn’t believe that Davies is a lock to win. “She’s been in there for a long time and the Downtown Eastside is about as bad as it’s ever been,” says Roy. “Sooner or later, voters will change their mind and want to look in another direction.”

Irene Yatco, the Conservative candidate for Vancouver East, did not respond to several requests for an interview.