“Just look at this room here!” A triumphant Libby Davies, ahead by about 14,000 votes in her riding, called out to her supporters at the Maritime Labour Centre on election night.
Hundreds gathered Jan 23 to support the long-standing NDP lesbian favourite. The room had the air of a beer garden on one hand — orange balloons floated about and the crowd cheered or jeered at a big-screen projection as the night’s results poured in, swigging from beers and plastic cups of wine. But something darker hovered in the air too.
Davies spoke about homeless people dying in the cold during her victory speech. She spoke about aboriginal people fighting for their rights. She spoke about the plight of the queer community in the face of a Conservative government.
“The riding of East Vancouver is very important in Canada,” she said. “The media attention can be negative, but [the people of this riding] inspire me to fight tooth and nail for human rights.”
Several other leaders of the queer community were in attendance, too. Former city councillor Ellen Woodsworth, decked out in NDP colours, expressed relief that the Conservatives’ minority government was not as strong as she had feared.
On the subject of same-sex marriage, “I think we’re pretty safe,” said Woodsworth. Her main concern now is healthcare, which she predicted will become more of a two-tier system under the new government.
But Woodsworth, like most of the supporters present, has high hopes for Davies, despite the challenges.
Things were markedly less hopeful on Commercial Dr in Liberal candidate David Haggard’s campaign office, just 90 minutes earlier.
By 8pm, only a few people had assembled — plates of party food were politely covered in paper towel and a lone dog sniffed the floor for crumbs. No queer folk were on site, though two were promised to arrive later.
“I think people are disenfranchised with the NDP,” said Anthony Norfolk, a straight volunteer with the Haggard campaign. “I think Haggard has a good shot — there have been two Liberal MPs here in living memory, you know.”
Norfolk said he’s annoyed with Davies, and accused her of claiming responsibility for the work of her predecessors.
As for Vancouver Centre’s NDP candidate, Svend Robinson, Norfolk couldn’t contain his laughter: “I mean, how could the NDP run a candidate like that?”
Back in the winner’s circle, Woodsworth shook her head at the Liberal attack on Robinson. “Here’s someone who has done so much good for all Canadians — he makes one mistake and everything he’s done is vanished?” Davies herself stepped away from a swarm of media to speak with Robinson on a cell phone.
“It’s obvious she’ll stand up for the queer community,” said queer author Karen X Tulchinsky, watching Davies across the room.
But Tulchinsky’s positive tone abruptly ended there. “This Conservative minority government is the worst thing that’s happened to Canada in years. This government, which is just the Reform government, had enough money to make [Stephen] Harper look more moderate than he is. It’s the baby boomers who were all hippies when they were young and are now voting Conservative — it’s horrifying. But thank god it’s not a majority.”
Still, Davies held out hope that the Subcommittee On Solicitation, initiated at her urging last year to review Canada’s laws criminalizing sex work and bathhouses, will once again see the light of day.
“I am optimistic that the committee will be reconstituted,” she said. The committee failed to file a report before the election.
When asked what the queer community can do to help themselves under Harper’s new government, Davies said: “We have to hold the new government to account. We always have to be vigilant in protecting human rights. No matter which government is in power. Our job inside politics and out in the community is to protect those rights.
“There’s still the issue of protection and rights for trans people,” she pointed out.
Back at Haggard’s campaign office, Liberal supporter Cindy Wallace seemed confused about Davies — “Is she really a lesbian, though? I mean, is she out?” she asked.
Standing before members of multiple minority groups from her riding at 9:30pm, Davies thanked her partner Kimberly Elliott and made it clear that she is, indeed, a lesbian, and not the sort to shy away from a fight.
“The NDP will play an important role in making sure that we don’t turn back the clock for people in the queer community,” she said. “People will be worried about it; I am, too. But we will take on those issues. Day after day, we won’t let that go.”