While the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) and Vision Vancouver are offering a number of openly queer candidates for council, school and parks boards in the Nov 19 municipal election, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) is offering none.
And that, says lesbian COPE council candidate Ellen Woodsworth, is a slap in the face to the queer community.
“I think it’s a strong statement that they don’t think our community is a strong community and they don’t think our issues are important issues,” she says. “It will certainly hurt them.”
Candidates in the three main camps-COPE, the NPA and Vision Vancouver-are at the starting gate for the vote and all are touting themselves as queer-friendly in an effort to woo the city’s pink vote.
The NPA could face an uphill battle as it attempts to reverse the stunning defeat it was handed by COPE under the leadership of Larry Campbell in 2002. The NPA had governed the city for 16 years prior to that election but was reduced to holding two seats on council for the past three years.
While it is fielding no queer candidates, the NPA’s mayoral choice Sam Sullivan says the party is an inclusive choice for queer voters.
“That’s one of the main goals, to reach out to every community,” Sullivan says. “My goal is to make the Non-Partisan Association inclusive of everyone.”
Sullivan’s competitor Jim Green of Vision Vancouver goes a bit further.
“We’ve always been extreme supporters of the gay and lesbian community and will continue to do so,” Green says, noting that gay COPE councillor Tim Stevenson will run with him under the Vision Vancouver banner this election.
COPE decided not to oppose Green’s run for mayor with a mayoral candidate of its own.
With the candidates chosen, the NPA’s selection process is coming under fire from one of its former councillors.
Alan Herbert believes the NPA’s process was flawed from the start and far from democratic.
Under the NPA council of the late 1990s, Davie St gay bars such as the Fountainhead Pub fought long and hard to get city-approved liquor licences. Herbert attributes the problems they faced to former NPA councillor Lynne Kennedy’s involvement in licensing when she was on council.
Kennedy helped select a number of the NPA candidates now running for election Nov 19.
That makes Herbert uncomfortable. Kennedy was instrumental in blocking the Davie bar applications, he repeats. He questions how gay-friendly the NPA can be in its candidate selection with Kennedy heading the selection committee.
Kennedy, however, says the NPA is “pretty gay-friendly.”
Lesbian and former NPA parks commissioner Laura McDiarmid says the NPA needs to reach out to the queer community and that should be reflected by the candidates as they run for office.
Herbert is also uncomfortable with the lack of public candidates’ speeches and policy documents presented at the NPA’s Sep 24 nomination meeting.
“It means that the public is being kept in the dark as to their policies and their views,” he says. “This is deadly wrong. It’s done behind closed doors. Someone has decided what’s going to happen. They’re not going to air any potential for dirty laundry in public.
“I can understand this but I think it’s contemptible.”
Kennedy dismisses Herbert’s suggestions as “absolute nonsense.”
“I really don’t want to comment on Alan Herbert except to say that he certainly worked hard when he was on council. It’s unfortunate he is living in the past,” she says.
She points out that a number of the candidates were selected by the party at meetings in June prior to the Sep 24 public meeting.
McDiarmid doesn’t buy Herbert’s argument either. “We vote with our own consciences and our own minds,” she says. “We’re rebuilding.”
A number of the queer community’s politically active were at the Sep 24 NPA meeting.
Jamie Lee Hamilton, who ran unsuccessfully with her own party in the 1999 municipal election, advocates a mixed council, perhaps even with some independents.
She says the queer community has every right to be “choked” at the last NPA council for its reluctance to address queer needs and issues.
“Whoever comes into power has to be responsive to the gay community,” she says.
COPE isn’t perfect either, she notes. An acknowledged Sam Sullivan supporter, Hamilton says COPE has flip-flopped on the issues of prostitution reform and St Paul’s Hospital.
“I don’t think that makes for a stable political environment,” she says.
Green says COPE’s record of supporting the gay community speaks for itself. The COPE council, of which he was a part until COPE recently split into COPE and Vision Vancouver, extended bar hours on Davie St, he says. “We extended the bars’ hours when our opponents voted against that.”
Sullivan dodged the pub licence question when asked about the problems bars had under the former NPA council of which he was part.
“I want to start from general principles,” he told Xtra West. “I believe that the whole government has been making decision by politics and not policy. That will be my number one goal, to make sure we have a fair playing field for everyone.”
COPE held its nomination meeting the day after the NPA. While a number of COPE positions were filled by acclamation, all candidates spoke at the Sep 25 meeting.
Woodsworth is COPE’s sole queer candidate for city council, while incumbent Jane Bouey is standing for school board re-election.
Bouey says it’s vital to have queer representation on the school board.
“We bring an objective understanding of the issues that queer students, families and our queer staff experience in the school board,” Bouey says.
Current parks board trustee Lyndsay Poaps is not running again so she can focus on her studies. In her place is queer candidate Spencer Herbert, a community developer with the Roundhouse Community Centre.
“I think queer people have a specific interest in parks and parks and recreation issues,” Herbert says. “Who better than a queer person themselves to listen to the community?”
Herbert says more needs to be done to ensure the safety of queers in parks. He also wants to see more arts and celebrations in the parks, and will support more use of parks for celebrations such as Pride and Stonewall.
One issue which could be a flash point for the queer community this election is the proposed move of St Paul’s Hospital.
Providence Health Care has been developing a plan to move the hospital from the West End to False Creek Flats east of Science World.
Sullivan says he has problems with the hospital moving onto industrial lands.
“All of those things have to be worked out. There will be a lot of discussions that have to go on,” he says.
Green says the issue is a complicated one and that council only has jurisdiction on land use issues around the facility.
He says he and Stevenson have sent a letter to Providence saying they do not want “to see them move services away from that community that are needed by the West End. We can’t tell them what to do,” he adds
COPE’s Woodsworth says the hospital-and its palliative care unit-is vital to the West End.
“It’s critical,” she says
But, she adds, the Downtown Eastside needs health care facilities too.
“I’m going to work hard so that the two don’t get posed against each other because a lot of us live on the Eastside as well.”