Elkins, 46, moved to Vancouver 10 years ago from Alberta and works as a cardiac technician at a children’s hospital. He and his former partner are foster parents at a group home in south Kitsilano. Elkins says that over the past 10 years, he’s fostered between 40 and 50 children.
Among the four national parties, the NDP is alone in fielding out gay and lesbian candidates in the Lower Mainland this election. In addition to long-time incumbent Libby Davies in Vancouver East, two gay men are hoping to make inroads for the party in ridings long held by the Liberals and Conservatives.
Victor Elkins is hoping to snatch the Liberal fortress of Vancouver Quadra, a riding that stretches from Kitsilano to the University Lands, including most of Vancouver’s West Side. He’s trying to knock off Liberal incumbent Joyce Murray, who’s held the riding since winning a by-election in 2008. The Liberals have enjoyed safe pluralities here since 1984, with the NDP a distant third or fourth behind Conservative candidates. As one of the wealthiest ridings in Canada by per capita income, the NDP may face an uphill climb with its pitch for working-class voters.
Elkins says he’s not worried about the long odds on the riding.
“Times are changing,” he says. “There are a lot of people who are property rich but cash poor. We have a lot of single-parent families and small children.
“I look at this as more of a long-term building campaign,” Elkins says. “We have to get out there, be seen and heard. I’m pretty positive that people will turn to the NDP down the road. We just have to be strong, firm and out there. People need to hear our message.”
“It has actually been one of the most rewarding, grounding experiences I’ve had the opportunity to experience,” Elkins says. He decided to become a foster parent when he was considering adoption 10 years ago.
“I was looking at the stats of how many kids were in care, and I was thinking about all these kids whose chance of being adopted would be slim: maybe I should look at doing something different, providing a loving home like the one I had growing up,” he says.
Elkins says that he worries about what a Harper majority government could mean for non-traditional families like his.
“It is something in the back of my mind all the time. Luckily, I feel society is very supportive of non-traditional families in BC,” he says. “It is something we need to worry about if we get a Conservative majority government. There are strong lobby movements now that have been waiting to jump on our rights, and they will jump on the bandwagon and push forward.”
In addition to his hospital work, Elkins is also the vice-president of the BC Hospital Employees’ Union and is an advocate for public healthcare and human rights. If elected, he says, those two issues will be his top priorities as an MP.
In Langley, another gay healthcare worker is waving the NDP banner. Piotr Majkowski, a nurse in the pediatric department of Langley Memorial Hospital, hopes to take the Conservative stronghold from three-term incumbent Mark Warawa. Majkowski has a lot of ground to make up in the riding, where Warawa beat his NDP challenger in 2008 by more than 23,000 votes.
Majkowski says he’s focusing his campaign on parts of the riding that have been ignored by politicians.
“What we see is areas of support for the NDP that have been unaddressed and feel disenfranchised by the system in Langley,” he says. “The areas we go to, people say they’ve never seen a politician come to their door.”
Healthcare is the focus of Majkowski’s campaign, owing to his experience working in a hospital and in the Downtown Eastside.
“When I came in to politics it was because of healthcare. I saw the same problems over and over and knew I would either burn out or have to do something about it,” he says. “We need to look at maintaining a really strong public system.”
Majkowski, who’s lived in Langley since his family emigrated from Poland when he was seven, also has experience standing up for gay rights. After completing high school, he received a grant from the National Crime Prevention Strategy to create an anti-bullying program for local schools. It was the first anti-bullying program that mentioned homophobic bullying in BC.
“I came out in high school, and I guess I had a bit of a tough time coming out. And I guess what I wanted to do was make sure that I was able to give back and make it easier for people behind me,” he says.
Despite running in a suburban Conservative stronghold, Majkowski says his status as a gay man hasn’t been an issue on the campaign.
“It’s interesting, as an openly gay candidate running against an incumbent Conservative who’s stood up in the House of Commons opposing gay marriage, but that hasn’t come up on the campaign,” he says. “People are happy to talk about the issues like healthcare.”