Monday, September 06, 2004


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


With a provincial election just around the corner scheduled for May, 2005, and as the lazy hazy days of summer soon wind down, many a political observer senses campaign fever, like the beautiful colours of a sunset, setting down near us.

As another school year approaches, I am thinking of the Vancouver-Burrard NDP nomination race and a number of quality candidates are seeking the nod as the NDP banner carrier in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard. Two candidates are involved in the public education system and both carry impressive resumes. They are Allison McDonald and Murray Corren. A third candidate is former MLA Rev Tim Stevenson

This riding of Vancouver-Burrard has a long and proud NDP history. The riding was held for the longest time by the late great MLA and Speaker of the House, Emery Barnes. Mr Barnes was widely respected for his compassion for the underdog. Election after election, Mr Barnes rode the popular Barnes train to re-election.

After retiring in 1996, Mr Barnes handed the reigns over to the Rev Tim Stevenson. Mr Stevenson captured the riding for one more term before losing to B.C. Liberal neophyte, Lorne Mayencourt in the 2001 election. Mr Stevenson, licking his wounds, went on to secure a COPE nomination in 2002 and won a city councilor position in the November, 2002 civic election.

Right from the get go, many political observers sensed Mr Stevenson would use his position as City councilor to pave the way for a return to provincial politics. This culminated in an announcement in July 2004, of his intention, to once again be the flag bearer for the New Democratic party in the former NDP stronghold of Vancouver-Burrard.

While Mr Stevenson, no doubt prefers to be unchallenged for the nomination, after all he previously held the seat, what he didn't count on though was two other stellar individuals, coming forward and announcing that they too were seeking the nomination.

So what does this mean for Rev Stevenson?

For starters, it means a strong campaign to win nomination. This shouldn't be difficult since Mr Stevenson has previously held the seat. Well if you are leaning this way, think again. While Mr Stevenson, probably has a data base of a couple hundred members in the riding, at his disposal - its another question whether these few hundred former supporters are still around to help. Perhaps they have moved on, another scenario is that they may have become disaffected with Mr Stevenson or they may simply desire re-newal with a new fresh face as their standard bearer.

If its the latter, enter Ms McDonald and Mr Corren. While Mr Stevenson may appeal to certain factions of the gay community for his support, after all he's an out gay politician, and up against Allison McDonald, he may have had success since she's not gay, however this race is made more difficult for Tim since Mr Corren, is in fact gay.

Although Mr Corren doesn't live in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard, he believes this riding is a more natural fit for him, one assumes because of the gay and lesbian population who reside there. One anticipates Mr Corren has gay supporters in the West End, otherwise he wouldn't be running here. Whether that support is enough to make a dent in Tim Stevenson's gay support is another matter. But it will make the race interesting.

What Ms McDonald and Mr Corren have going in their favor is Mr Stevenson's record. Whether serving under Premier Clark or sitting on council, Mr Stevenson has been at times, a disappointment.

As a human rights activist, and known to passionately fight for equality rights, Mr Stevenson's star shined less bright when the proposed changes to the provincial Human Rights Code were tabled. As MLA, Mr Stevenson, didn't deliver on legislative protection for transsexuals and transgender people. This failure has hurt his credibility within some progressive circles. Whether this fact alone is enough to deny Tim a nomination is yet to be seen.

Other areas in which Councilor Stevenson has disappointed his fans has been the sticky issue of gambling expansion. While serving as MLA for Vancouver-Burrard, he was an outspoken critic of his government's plan to expand gambling. He fought tooth and nail against this proposed policy and was successful. The NDP had to turn away from this regressive tax on the poor scheme. Chalk one up for the Reverend here.

But wait, is this the same politician who just recently voted to expand gambling in the City of Vancouver? Is this the same compassionate person, who voted in favor of Slots in Hastings Park, even though a strong majority of residents in that neighborhood desired otherwise?

Ok so Mr Stevenson changed his position, there's no harm in that you say. Well for many, gambling is harmful and whether there is a greater benefit to society hasn't yet materialized. However, maybe Mr Stevenson knows something the gambling experts don't.

And if gambling hasn't captured your attention, perhaps the next scene might. Because it cetainly captured Mr Stevenson's.

A strong supporter of Mr Stevenson's was presenting to council one night back in 2003, on the disciminatory office/work/live re-development being proposed for the Downtown area of Vancouver, which co-incidentially is situated in the Vancouver-Burrard electoral district. Councilor Stevenson was absent for the vote that night , however, a majority of councilors heard the delegations and agreed the proposed re-zoning was dicriminatory against prostitutes and escorts. Finally councilors, were about to make sure that some dignity and equality was accorded to sex trade workers in our city.

This should have made Councilor Stevenson delighted that a disenfranchised goup in society was finally going to gain some badly needed rights. Councilor Stevenson heard about this in the news the following day and for some reason, was horrified at what city council had just adopted. Instead of being happy, Mr Stevenson saw red and led the chorus of callers unhappy over this bold, progressive, equality seeking measure. Mr Stevenson, like a pit-bull led a frenzied pack of nay-sayers, denouncing his allies on council for colluding while he was sick and absent from council. He called their actions bad public policy. So much pressure was brought by Mr Stevenson and others, that the councilors who passed the motion, in order to settle the peace, changed their vote. Score another one for Councilor Stevenson.

And now Councilor Stevenson, once known for his stellar reputation on tackling human rights issues, has to articulate what his vision for the riding of Vancouver-Burrard is.
Allison McDonald on that front, is first out the gate on issues of policy. She has set up a website where citizens of Vancouver-Burrard can learn more about her and what she stands for.

Most notably, on the provincial front Ms McDonald is concerned about education issues. She sits on the Parent Advisory Council for her neighborhood. Locally, she has articulated the need to save St Paul's hospital. She is a firm believer in equality rights. Her attendance at this years Pride parade and accompanying photos on her site is a testament, of her desire to seek legislative protection for disadvantaged and disempowered citizens.

Ms McDonald, as a woman must know that our political landscape sorely lacks when it comes to the political reality of the wide gender gap among our elected representatives. I suspect this is another strong campaign issue for her. She is a mother and a parent. She is also a recent graduate of the Women's campaign school and I think this fact enhances her ability to win a nomination.

While I wish all three candidates for Vancouver-Burrard well, I suspect Mr Corren may bite into Rev Stevenson's gay support, however, the fact he doesn't live in the riding (he lives in the west-side riding of Vancouver-Fairview) will be used by Mr Stevenson. When it comes to Ms McDonald, Mr Stevenson doesn't have a strategy that he could use against her. After all, Ms McDonald has lived in the West End for 20 years.

On the other hand, Ms McDonald, has Mr Stevenson's record that she can successfully use to her advantage.

Thus, Ms McDonald might enjoy a front-runner position and if I were a gambling person, I might hedge my bet on Ms McDonald snaring the nomination of Vancouver-Burrard out from under the nose of Mr Stevenson.

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361