After a seemingly endless and gut-wrenchingly close provincial election contest in Vancouver-Burrard, Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt seems to have edged out NDP candidate and city councillor Tim Stevenson by a razor-thin 18-vote margin.
This election was the squeaker of all squeakers with the lead flopping from one side to the other by the minute on election night. As the days passed and absentee and advance ballots were counted and re-counted, each candidate sounded alternately victorious and defeated.
There is yet another recount now under way, this one before a judge, but this time the results are most likely to remain unchanged.
“I think it’s a long shot,” says Stevenson. “I’ve conceded to Lorne and spoken with him on the phone and said that he’s won. If it changes, that’s great, but I doubt there’ll be much of a change with an 18-vote difference.”
The campaign was a bitter and deeply personal one with dirt flung from both sides.
“We were dealing with some very emotional issues,” says Stevenson. “I think when that happens people’s emotions come into play. Things are said in the heat of the moment that, later, you wish you hadn’t said.
“I said I thought Lorne was a disgrace and I regretted it,” he continues. “I have subsequently spoken to Lorne and apologized for saying that. If I could have pulled it back, I would have. It bothered me.
“It was a very, very, tough, tough, tough campaign,” says Stevenson. “There was a lot at stake for both of us. I have some very strongly held views about what the Liberals have done and what Lorne has done in the streets and the gay community. These are passionate things for me that I believe in strongly.
“Ultimately in my opinion, that the West End voted so heavily in my favour vindicated much of what I was saying.”
For his part, Mayencourt seems to be more conciliatory, too.
“We were going to have differences philosophically and politically,” he says. “But we fundamentally believe in the same things. We believe that government does have a place in dealing with homophobia in our school system. We believe that St Paul’s should be retained in the location that it is. We believe that there is a need for a strong presence by the gay and lesbian centre. Both of us, whatever positions we are in, are going to work toward those things.
“There was some rhetoric which occurred in the election,” Mayencourt continues, “but when it comes down to it, there are only two issues that defined the polarity.
“One is that Tim referred to me as an embarrassment to this community, and the second is that when Tim asked me to show a little respect, I said ‘I don’t respect you’. Both of us know that neither of those statements are true.”
What now for the queer community?
“There needs to be some bridges built,” says Stevenson. “That will take some time and won’t happen overnight. There will have to be some goodwill on the gay community’s part and Lorne will have to reach out and say, ‘I’m not connecting or hearing you and I’m willing to try to deal with that’.
“I don’t know if it’s even possible,” Stevenson says, “at least not immediately.”
Stevenson plans to continue his work at city council and is ready to face the civic election in the fall.
When Mayencourt returns to Victoria, he says his immediate priority will be to get his Safe Schools Act passed. That legislation has so far been unpopular in much of the gay community with many people saying it doesn’t do enough to combat homophobia.
“I believe it is time for government to stand up and require schools actually deal with issues of homophobia, racism and sexism and specifically develop policies to deal with those issues,” says Mayencourt.
What would have been the best outcome for Vancouver-Burrard’s queer community?
Are queer people better off to have Mayencourt, who sits in government even if some suggest he doesn’t always seem to fight for queer people, or would they have fared better under Stevenson, whom many consider a more vocal champion of queer people but who would have sat in the NDP opposition?
“The local constituents lucked out on some level either way because they were going to have a gay MLA no matter who won the election,” says Simon Fraser Universtiy political scientist and NDP supporter Kennedy Stewart. “That’s positive for the community. It’s important to have somebody who understands those views.
“Mayencourt will be part of the government,” continues Stewart, “although who’s to say what role he’ll play. He had a private member’s bill accepted [the Safe Streets Act], but I scarcely think he has a direct line to BC Premier Gordon Campbell.”
Stevenson suggested during the campaign that as a member of the Liberal caucus Mayencourt might be out of the loop and simply doesn’t have that much influence when it comes to fighting for the gay community.
Mayencourt flatly rejects that idea.
“I believe when I raise issues that affect the gay community that my voice is heard,” says Mayencourt. “My voice is listened to and I have been able to influence numerous pieces of legislation.
“Each and every time there was an issue that intersected with the gay community,” he continues. “I have spoken up and I have delivered. You cannot find one example of it not happening.”
When Stevenson and Mayencourt squared off in the 2001 election, the results were more definitive with Mayencourt winning by over 4,000 votes. What accounts for the tight finish this time around?
“We often talk about how Chinese or Indo-Canadians vote in blocs,” says Stewart. “I think often the gay community is described as voting in a bloc, but I don’t think that’s true. I would think the gay community is probably as divided as the straight community on who they’re supporting. All candidates were gay in this election, but in some ways the issues will supercede that.”
The boundaries of the Vancouver-Burrard riding are based on the 2001 census results. Since then, the population in the riding has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. In 2001, the census recorded 64,075 residents. There is also a widening economic gap.
Mayencourt says there are now more than 90,000 residents in the riding and both Mayencourt and Stevenson say the area is in need of redistribution. The average riding in BC has about 35,000 residents.
Mayencourt says a boundary commission will be appointed in 2006 to re-draw the electoral district boundaries, likely resulting in at least two MLAs serving the area that is now Vancouver-Burrard.
For the time being though, Stevenson will continue to serve on city council, Mayencourt will continue to serve in Victoria, and queer people will continue to fight for what they need.
“Lorne is the MLA, so the gay community has to recognize that,” says Stevenson. “We need to understand that because we have to work with him to get the things we need in the community. He has to recognize that the gay community is feeling pretty alienated.
“He is the MLA and he is a gay person.”