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NDP election loss shocks supporters

Chandra Herbert promises to keep fighting for queer rights

"Elections belong to the voters; it's our duty to accept that decision," a defeated Adrian Dix tells NDP supporters, May 14. Credit: Shimon Karmel photo

In a twist that upended a number of pre-election polls and pundits’ predictions of an NDP win, the BC Liberals pulled off a come-from-behind victory that left NDP supporters gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre deflated and in shock, May 14.
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“Never a dull moment in BC politics,” BC NDP leader Adrian Dix said in apt summary of the night’s unfolding results.

Yet even as Dix conceded to the Liberals, the latter’s leader, Christy Clark, was in a battle royale in her Point Grey riding, with David Eby leading, as Xtra went to press.

“Elections belong to the voters; it’s our duty to accept that decision,” Dix said.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and in British Columbia, it often rains,” Dix said in a moment of levity the disappointed crowd appreciated.

He says the NDP’s elected candidates are a strong team that will hold the reelected BC Liberal government to account.

The early buoyancy and scattered cheers as NDP incumbents Jenny Kwan, Nicholas Simons and Dix were declared winners in their respective ridings gave way to anxious faces around 9:15pm as the Liberals were given an 83 percent chance of winning to the NDP’s 12 percent.
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By 9:30pm, the Liberals’ confirmed seat count stood at 24, while the NDP could claim only 16 seats.

At 9:40pm, as Kwan tried to allay fears – telling the crowd the orange wave was coming – the Liberals were declared victorious.

The orange wave never came.

Reelected NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says the vibe on West End streets was very positive during the campaign, with supporters telling him, “Don’t worry, you’ve got it.”

“I said to them, ‘No, we need to get everyone to vote.’ I never take anything for granted at all,” he told Xtra as the first results began trickling in around 8:20pm.

His backers were right about his fortunes, but Chandra Herbert’s caution was well placed when it came to the eventual outcome for the NDP.

“I knew that, regardless of if we won or if we lost, it’s always a work in progress,” Chandra Herbert says. “Voting happens every four years, but democracy happens every day.”

He says he’ll continue to fight for equality and social justice, particularly for BC’s queer community.

“I want transgender rights to actually be in the Human Rights Code,” he says. “We were committed to it, and we are committed to it in the NDP. So far, the Liberals have shown no interest.”

“Their response to homophobia in this last election within their own campaign was to dismiss it,” he says.

Just one week before the election, BC Liberal MLA Mary Polak’s gay campaign manager resigned. “I cannot in good conscience support a campaign made up of people who think of me as less of a person because I am gay,” Todd Hauptman wrote in his resignation letter.

Filmmaker Aerlyn Weissman, who arrived at the Convention Centre mere moments before Dix’s concession speech, expects to see a more polarized society. “We’ll see people who have get more, and people who don’t have will get even less.”

“I certainly hope we’re not going to go backward in terms of our legislative and judicial victories,” Weissman says when asked if she has any concerns for the queer community. “I think the issues like bullying and homophobia in schools will be stalled. The Liberals don’t have a huge mandate to push forward on those issues. I think there’ll be a kind of neglect, as much as they can get away with. So in that sense, I don’t think our queer communities will be getting more resources or more attention at all.”

Apart from Chandra Herbert’s win in the West End, three other queer NDP candidates successfully contested their ridings.

Powell River-Sunshine Coast’s Nicholas Simons, the NDP incumbent, was the first gay candidate of the evening to be declared the winner in his riding, while Mike Farnworth, running in Port Coquitlam, was also returned to Victoria.

Mable Elmore had a fight on her hands but eventually prevailed and was reelected to a second term in Vancouver-Kensington, defeating her closest rival, Liberal Gabby Kalaw.

The NDP’s fifth queer candidate, Sussanne Skidmore-Hewlett, came in second in Nechako Lakes, trailing the Liberal victor by more than 2,000 votes.

Though the Green Party elected its first BC MLA in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, neither of its openly queer candidates were elected. The Conservative Party also failed to elect its gay candidate in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, who came in fourth. And Ron Herbert, who was fired from the Conservative Party for allegedly making misogynist comments on social media, placed second-to-last as an independent in Vancouver-West End.

The final tally shows four of the nine openly gay candidates heading to Victoria, which means the gay presence in the BC legislature is unchanged.

The May 14 vote proved to be a headscratcher for seasoned analysts who repeatedly expressed disbelief at how wrong they got it as the results began trickling in.

In the year leading up to the vote, the NDP appeared to be firmly in the driver’s seat, with consistent double-digit leads against the Liberals in polls. But the contest became increasingly competitive in the final weeks of the campaign in the aftermath of the only televised debate among the four party leaders, with Dix’s more resolute anti-pipeline stance, the Liberals’ insistence that their government is best for the economy, and their persistence in running negative advertising, a strategy Dix decided to avoid.