The overlooked factors in Stevenson's defeat

The judicial recount has been completed, and the MLA for Vancouver-Burrard is still B.C. Liberal Lorne Mayencourt. The result has probably baffled many downtown residents who are upset to find themselves still represented by a publicity-seeking, two-time bankrupt with a penchant for punishing panhandlers.

So why did the NDP candidate, Tim Stevenson, lose this contest? Stevenson has strong name recognition, experience in the legislature and on city council, and enjoyed the very public backing of Mayor Larry Campbell. B.C. Marijuana party leader Marc Emery, a resident of the constituency, chose to run in the Fraser Valley against Solicitor General Rich Coleman to make things easier for Stevenson in Vancouver-Burrard. Despite this, Stevenson still failed to defeat one of the most vulnerable Liberal candidates in the province.

There are obvious reasons why Stevenson encountered difficulty: a strong Green candidate (Janek Kuchmistrz), NDP leader Carole James's refusal to discuss the Safe Streets Act (which Mayencourt promoted), and the strength of the Liberal support in Yaletown and in the new neighbourhood of Coal Harbour. However, the constituency was still Stevenson's to lose. Here are five lesser-known factors explaining why he was defeated:

1. A divided NDP constituency association: Stevenson narrowly beat Allison McDonald, a B.C. Hydro administrator, as well as three others for his party's nomination in Vancouver- Burrard. Some downtown New Democrats strongly disagreed with his votes as a city councillor in favour of allowing slot machines, the Richmond/Airport/Vancouver Rapid Transit project, and 4 a.m. bar closings in the downtown core. When the provincial election began, some of these Vancouver-Burrard New Democrats went to work for NDP candidates in other Vancouver constituencies.

2. Mayor Larry Campbell isn't anywhere near as popular in downtown Vancouver as the media believe: Campbell took several shots at Mayencourt during the campaign, describing him as a "menace to the city". Campbell also told the Globe and Mail that Mayencourt is a "disgrace", and that Stevenson "is going to kick the living ass off Mayencourt". Many voters didn't listen, perhaps because they've become inured to the mayor's bully-boy rhetoric. The mayor better hope he has longer coattails in the next civic election.

3. The split within COPE: Stevenson's almost blind loyalty to the mayor has not endeared him to many COPE supporters in downtown Vancouver who admire councillors Fred Bass, Tim Louis, and Anne Roberts. The mayor, with Stevenson's help, deliberately tried to isolate these three COPE Classic councillors by forming his own independent caucus. Stevenson probably underestimated the impact this would have on provincial election day.

4. The NDP's treatment of Rollie Keith: Early in the campaign, the Province newspaper reported that the NDP's candidate in Chilliwack-Kent, Rollie Keith, testified for the defence in the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic. Keith, a retired armed-forces employee, said he saw no evidence of war crimes during a stint in Kosovo before the NATO invasion in 1999. After being scrummed by reporters, NDP Leader Carole James said that she disagreed with Keith, and Keith resigned as a candidate. Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, former commander of NATO forces in Bosnia, then ripped into "the NDP elite" and praised Keith for writing an accurate and balanced report of what he saw in Kosovo. What does this have to do with Vancouver-Burrard? In the 2001 census, there were more than 1,500 immigrants from the former Yugoslavia in the constituency, and most of them were probably Serbs. If only 10 of these Serbs changed their votes from NDP to Liberal because of the flap over Rollie Keith, this cost Stevenson the election.

5. St. Paul's Hospital: The City of Vancouver has been clearing the way for Providence Health Care to replace St. Paul's Hospital with a new acute-care hospital on False Creek Flats near the Downtown Eastside. Providence Health Care has secured a site, but it still needs to go through a rezoning process. COPE Coun. Jim Green and Mayor Campbell are smart enough to know that moving the hospital to False Creek Flats will be a tremendous economic boost for the Downtown Eastside. But it will also be a big loss for West End AIDS patients, seniors, and health-care workers. During the election campaign, Mayencourt pointed out that Stevenson was sitting on council as the city basically invited Providence Health Care to build a hospital on False Creek Flats. It might have cost Stevenson a few votes.