3 min

Right person, wrong riding

I'd consider voting for Laura McDiarmid if she weren't running against Spencer Herbert

I would seriously consider voting for Laura McDiarmid if she weren’t a Liberal running in the West End.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not partisan. I get impatient with blind loyalty and rote repetition of party lines.

But I’m not sold on the idea of another four years of haphazardly offered gay-friendly courses, soaring rents and cautious prosecutions of gaybashings.

That said, I like McDiarmid. I think she’s genuine. It’s not her fault she’s the only gay candidate on the Liberal slate, or that they’re pitting her against Victoria’s great young gay hope, MLA Spencer Herbert, in what’s likely to be a safe NDP riding.

“My service to the community goes back to 1981,” McDiarmid tells me. “My community has always been in my heart in terms of how I want to provide care.”

I ask her why she’s running for the Liberals.

She used to be involved with more radical groups, she says, but they had “no decorum.”

“As I grew, as my experiences broadened, [I realized that] you have to have a plan.”

It’s about fiscal responsibility, she says; “knowing what we can pay for and how we’re going to pay for it.”

“We’re living in uncertain times,” she says. “I trust that the Liberals are doing a good job at managing the economy and making sure everything stays on track.”

McDiarmid is familiar with the corridors of power, having at least walked their fringes for a quarter of a century. Before her first election to the Vancouver parks board in 1996 (where she promptly defied her NPA caucus by publicly backing the AIDS Memorial), she worked behind the scenes in the disability office of the Ministry of Human Resources, where she says she was instrumental in getting new benefits for HIV-positive people.

“I can sit and negotiate with the big boys and the big girls,” she says confidently. “I can be the voice that has a different way of looking at things.”

But can she be the voice that gets our community’s needs met in a caucus that may be indifferent or even hostile to us?

“Oh, I will,” she promises. “There’s no other reason that I would be doing this.”

Would you push your attorney general for a memo instructing prosecutors to seek hate crime designations in all gaybashings? I ask.

“I believe that when people oppose something it’s because they don’t have all the information,” she replies.

But would you push your AG, I ask again.

“I would educate my caucus,” she says. “It would be my job to make them aware of what this means to my community.”

That’s either a noncommittal response or a realistic approach to getting lasting change in a less-than-gay-friendly caucus.

Either way, it’s a stark contrast to her opponent’s approach.

Since his election last October, Herbert has rapidly proven himself a vocal advocate for our community and our neighbours, vigorously resisting rental hikes and pushing for changes to the Residential Tenancy Act.

In the wake of March’s Fountainhead bashing, he has also loudly demanded hate crime prosecutions and was quick to throw his support behind the community’s Apr 5 rally to take back the West End.

How much of this is geared towards your re-election, I asked him at the rally. “None of it,” he replied. “I’m only doing what I can as a member of the community. Partisan politics shouldn’t enter into it today. It’s not about an election.”

A predictable answer but a largely sincere one, I think. Herbert has been an activist for years. What he lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in earnest passion and community commitment.

In just six months, Herbert has become exactly the sort of in-your-face, unabashedly gay advocate our community needs in Victoria.

Granted, being in opposition carries a different set of expectations: criticizing the government isn’t the same as getting real policy change. But I’d like to see what Herbert can do in an NDP-led government. I hope he gets the chance to show us.

As for McDiarmid, maybe next time the Liberals will run her in a safe seat of their own. I’m not convinced she’ll get the changes we need from her caucus but I’d be willing to give her a chance too — as long as it’s not at Herbert’s expense.