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NDP selects new candidate to run in Vancouver Centre

Michael Byers replaces Randall Garrison

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Veteran Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry is facing a challenge from a University of BC professor who was acclaimed Sunday as the NDP’s candidate for the next federal election.

Michael Byers, 41, is a political scientist, lawyer, author, human rights advocate and an expert in international law. He replaces NDP candidate Randall Garrison who withdrew from the race in June citing personal and professional reasons.

Byers — who is straight — says LGBT issues are central to the politics of the riding. He refers to the West End as a haven to queers from across the country.

That’s why it is so urgent to solve the current housing crisis in Vancouver, he says.

“It’s tough being a straight teenager. I can’t imagine being a teen struggling with their sexuality. That’s why it’s so crucial from a human rights perspective [that] people who need to move to a community where they’re accepted can do so.”

Extremely high rents often make that difficult if not impossible, he says, calling it “an issue of life and death.”

Byers says his political dream team in Vancouver would see current parks board commissioner Spencer Herbert as the area’s New Democrat MLA in Victoria and Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson as mayor.

He believes it’s a team that can get the proper funding for The Centre’s new land and building. In addition to the social services The Centre currently provides, Byers would like it to be “a beacon for a arts and culture” and encourage queer tourism to the city.

While Byers says he has no grudge against Fry, he questions how much she can get done.

Canada has long claimed to have a human rights foreign policy but does not act on that claim, he says. He points to the lack of Canadian comment on the case of former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim who has once more been accused of sodomy.

In 1998, the married father of six was sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of sodomy and abuse of power. He was freed in 2004 after the conviction was overturned on a technicality.

“In 70 countries, it’s a crime to be a homosexual — a crime to simply be who you are,” Byers says.

Byers says it’s “a farce” to claim to have a human rights foreign policy that does not mention queer issues.

Fry confirmed in September that she will run again to represent the riding in the House of Commons. She won the seat in 1993 when she became the first rookie MP to defeat a sitting prime minister (Kim Campbell).

Green Party Deputy Leader Adriane Carr is running in Vancouver Centre as well.

The Conservative Party remains without a candidate for the riding. It has long been rumoured that MLA Lorne Mayencourt might be interested in the seat.

Mayencourt, though, says he’s made no decision on that front yet.

He says he remains very busy on the addiction treatment centre he’s been working to establish near Prince George.