Who are the best candidates in 38 Greater Vancouver constituencies?
The future of British Columbia is in your hands in Tuesday's (May 17) provincial election. You can choose to reelect a right-wing B.C. Liberal government that centralizes power in the premier's office, favours privatized health care, turns a blind eye to fish farming, rips up contracts, cuts assistance to the poor and to women's centres, jacks up postsecondary tuition, and wants to pave over a large portion of the Lower Mainland. Or you can vote for candidates with a different vision, be they members of the NDP, the Greens, the Work Less Party, or even the antiprohibitionist Marijuana Party.
There is no shortage of choices and there is no reason to reelect an incumbent just because you happen to know his or her name. Most of the Campbell Liberal MLAs have been little more than trained seals, clapping gleefully over the most outrageous legislation originating in the premier's office.
Here's just one example. In 2003, the B.C. Liberals approved a draconian law called the Significant Projects Streamlining Act. This gives the provincial government the power to ignore virtually every law-including the Parks Act, health-protection standards, and municipal zoning-to advance any project deemed "provincially significant". In the words of West Coast Environmental Law, it gives B.C. Liberal cabinet ministers a "virtual licence for backroom deals".
"Outside of emergency legislation like the War Measures Act, we are not aware of any other legislation in Canada, the US or Britain that passes such extensive powers from parliament and legislatures to the executive," WCEL wrote in its newsletter.
Most of you are perfectly capable of making up your own minds whom to support in the provincial election. However, for those looking for more insight into individual candidates in your constituency, we've prepared a list of recommendations, which we call the Straight slate. Here are some of the qualities we look for in a good MLA: honesty, intellect, commitment to serve constituents, knowledge of the legislative process, an independent mind, and a progressive view of the world, which includes compassion for the poor and concern for the environment.
Janek Kuchmistrz (Green)
Janek Kuchmistrz, a 42-year-old teacher and member of the Gay and Lesbian Educators of B.C., appears to be the most trustworthy candidate in this race. He admits that he was a previous supporter of the premier, but drifted away from the B.C. Liberal party in 1999 when he realized that its leaders were not sufficiently concerned about urban development, public transportation, and environmental protection.
The son of poor Polish immigrants, Kuchmistrz has experienced poverty directly. He advocates a medical model for treating drug addiction. Kuchmistrz is also an avid cyclist (he doesn't own a car) and speaks intelligently about the consequences of twinning the Port Mann bridge.
His greatest passion, however, is education. In a recent candidates' debate, Kuchmistrz explained that his father, who was imprisoned for a couple of years in Siberia, only reached Grade 3. Yet his father always emphasized the importance of schooling. Kuchmistrz is promoting free preschool for all children four years or older to spare parents the cost of daycare.
NDP leader Carole James has often said that this election is about trust and keeping promises. Before the last civic election, COPE Coun. Tim Stevenson, who is running for the NDP, responded to a questionnaire by saying he opposed slot machines. In another survey, he opposed shifting property taxes from business to residential property owners. Stevenson voted the opposite way when both of these issues came before council. He also backed Mayor Larry Campbell on the Richmond/Airport/Vancouver Rapid Transit line, even though COPE criticized subway projects in a news release before the election as "high-cost pipe dreams".
Stevenson, a business-friendly councillor, has proven that he can deliver on issues of importance to the gay and lesbian community and to local bar owners. However, he didn't object to the Vancouver police department's crackdown at the corner of Main and Hastings streets, which pushed the drug problem into the West End. He also did not publicly oppose city staff obtaining injunctions against homeless people in parks.
Stevenson's chief opponent, B.C. Liberal publicity hound Lorne Mayencourt, is the architect of the reprehensible Safe Streets Act. For that alone, Mayencourt deserves to be defeated. His voting record in the legislature is far worse than Stevenson's voting record on council. There isn't sufficient space to outline the multitude of other reasons why Mayencourt should go. Here is just one: homelessness has doubled in the region since the B.C. Liberals were elected in 2001. Here is another: Mayencourt got the local letter carrier suspended by complaining to his boss.
Wally Oppal (Liberal)
The NDP wants to win this constituency badly, but there is no denying the quality of the Liberal candidate. Oppal, a recently retired B.C. Court of Appeal justice, demeaned himself recently by appearing at a Gordon Campbell roast and by some absurd comments in defence of the BC Rail selloff. But this doesn't erase a lifetime of service. His public inquiry into municipal policing a decade ago led to lasting changes, including the creation of a police-complaints commissioner, and training and licensing of security guards and private investigators.
He also highlighted the inability of police boards to hold police chiefs accountable. Unlike some judges who hold public inquiries and then disappear, Oppal has continued to speak out on these issues, even from the bench. Unlike other judges, Oppal also attended numerous community meetings to address violence in the Indo-Canadian community. He is articulate, funny, and quite capable of bringing people together.
Oppal grew up in poor circumstances, worked incredibly hard to achieve great success, and became a positive role model for Indo-Canadian youth across the province.
His chief opponent is NDP candidate Ravinder Gill, a transit operator on leave from Coast Mountain Bus Company. Gill, who also hosts a radio show, is an effective debater and appears to be quite knowledgeable about the issues. Unlike Oppal, he also lives in the constituency.
The Green candidate, Doug Perry, did not get a Straight endorsement in the last federal election because he did not have sufficient knowledge about the operations of government.
Gregor Robertson (NDP)
Robertson, cofounder of the Happy Planet juice company, is the NDP's dream candidate: a successful 40-ish entrepreneur operating a socially responsible company. He is a founding board member of the Tides Canada Foundation, which has quietly offered financial support to numerous causes, including the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation. Robertson scored points recently by highlighting the B.C. Liberal government's abysmal record on fish farming.
This is a tough constituency for the NDP, which came third in 2001 behind the Greens. The Green candidate, Hamdy El-Rayes, is an engineer and the founder of El-Rayes Environmental Corporation, which conducts hazardous-waste management, environmental audits, and wastewater and water treatment. He promises to bring a truly independent voice to the legislature. However, his record of community service does not match Robertson's.
Robertson is the only Vancouver candidate endorsed by a group called Conservation Voters of BC, and he is one of a small number of NDP candidates endorsed by the British Columbia Marijuana Party. The only serious blemish is Robertson's reluctance to raise concerns about the Richmond/Airport/Vancouver Rapid Transit line until very late in the process. Vancouver-Fairview includes the Cambie Street corridor north of 29th Avenue.
His chief opponent, Liberal Virginia Greene, is a former senior provincial bureaucrat who created her own marketing firm. She is not as bad as some Liberal candidates, and has raised a lot of money for breast-cancer research. Don't count on Greene to publicly question the premier's handling of three major issues of concern in this constituency: privatizing health care, twinning the Port Mann Bridge, and growing homelessness in the city.
Jenny Kwan (NDP)
Jenny Kwan has an excellent grasp of housing policy, which is a key issue for low-income people living in this constituency. Kwan is also an outstanding debater in the legislature, which should be clear to anyone who reads Hansard on the government Web site (www.legis.gov.bc.ca/).
In the past four years, she has devoted a great deal of energy to highlighting the Gordon Campbell government's dreadful handling of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. And unlike some more conservative New Democrats, she doesn't shy away from discussing the shortfalls in income assistance. In debates, she has also demonstrated an impressive knowledge of environmental issues.
If there is any knock on Kwan, it would be her reluctance to cultivate the media more effectively to communicate her concerns to the general public. She could learn a few things from her mentors Jim Green and Libby Davies, who are both very adept in this area. To be fair, Kwan hasn't had a lot of free time over the past four years between having a baby and working with Joy MacPhail to review a blizzard of B.C. Liberal legislation.
Green candidate Raven Bowen is executive director of PACE Society, a nonprofit group that provides education and counselling services for sex-trade workers. Bowen has been a good watchdog over the police, making presentations to the police board to enhance the safety of sex-trade workers. The Green platform argues in favour of asserting provincial jurisdiction over regulation of the sex trade (it falls into the federal Criminal Code on the soliciting of sex in public). Kwan paid her dues by seeking municipal office before graduating to the legislature. As a result, she has more depth over a wider range of issues than Bowen, whose focus has largely been on ending discrimination and improving the health and safety of sex-trade workers.
Imtiaz Popat of Democratic Reform BC has been a long-time activist for peace, Palestine, gay rights, and environmental protection. Popat, a resident of Surrey, is currently in a legal fight with Adriane Carr of the Greens over the legality of her leadership of the party.
After the election campaign began, the B.C. Liberals recruited Juliet Andalis, former president of the Filipino Association of British Columbia, and barred the media from attending her nomination meeting. She has zero chance of winning, but her presence on the ticket might boost the B.C. Liberals' fortunes with Filipino-Canadian voters in other constituencies.
Shane Simpson (NDP)
Simpson is a smart, articulate man who has worked on behalf of his community for almost 30 years. He led the fight against a Lafarge cement plant, first next to New Brighton Park and later on Commissioner Street. He has legislative experience in Ottawa as an aide to former NDP MP Margaret Mitchell, one of the party's most progressive members. He chaired the Vancouver Planning Commission and has been a director of the Pacific National Exhibition, the VanCity Community Foundation, and the Hastings Park Conservancy. He played a significant role in the restoration of Hastings Park, often against the wishes of some in his own party.
In this constituency, a huge issue is B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Kevin Falcon's plan to overwhelm the neighbourhood with traffic by twinning the Port Mann Bridge and expanding Highway 1 to eight lanes. This could bring thousands more vehicles through the city's East Side. Simpson, as the former communications director of SmartGrowth BC, understands the magnitude of the problem and, if elected, may be able to stop it from occurring. Simpson also has enough intellectual depth and diplomatic skills to join the cabinet in an NDP government.
The only knock on Simpson is his abundance of caution. He chose to work mostly behind the scenes to oppose slot machines at Hastings Park rather than marshalling public opposition quickly and early.
The Green candidate, Ian Gregson, is not a political neophyte, unlike several others running for his party. Gregson, a writer and SFU employee, has been a steadfast opponent of the city's Olympic bid. He is an outspoken rebel, which contrasts sharply with Simpson's preference for building consensus.
Independent Will Offley, a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital, is part of a group calling itself Left Turn, which is concerned about the rightward drift of the NDP. Offley opposes the Olympics and the RAV line, arguing that public funds should instead go into better social services and health care.
The B.C. Liberal candidate, Laura McDiarmid, is a former NPA park-board chair. It's unlikely she would have enough influence to stop Kevin Falcon from ruining the neighbourhoods between Hastings Street and East 12th Avenue.
Adrian Dix (NDP)
Of all the NDP candidates across the province, Adrian Dix is the best at unravelling the fiscal shenanigans perpetrated on British Columbians by Gordon Campbell and his Liberal cronies. Sure, Dix has lots of baggage as a former chief of staff to former premier Glen Clark. But right now, the NDP needs someone of his intellect and experience in caucus. He understands the legislative process and he can explain to the public how Campbell's policies subtly and not-so-subtly favour the rich at the expense of the poor.
There is no doubt about Dix's passion for education. Since leaving the government, he has been the executive director of Canadian Parents for French, and he has focused a great deal of attention on this subject. In his spare time, he has written some brilliant political columns for the Victoria Times-Colonist.
If he can dispense with his former boss's enthusiasm for dubious megaprojects, Dix has the potential to become an outstanding MLA, either in opposition or in government. However, he'll have to learn how to resist the blandishments of the building-trades unions, which supported his candidacy for the NDP nomination.
If Dix's links to Glen Clark are too troubling for residents of Vancouver-Kingsway, they can safely cast a ballot for Green candidate Stuart Mackinnon. Mackinnon, a special-needs teacher and vice president of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association, is a strong advocate for parks. Mackinnon is also a former president of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation. Unlike Dix, Mackinnon has no difficulty describing the RAV project as a colossal waste of public funds.
Liberal incumbent MLA Rob Nijjar wasn't able to stop provincial cutbacks to community policing and to victims' services. He is now taking credit for the creation of a separate SkyTrain police force. It's just what the citizens of Vancouver-Kingsway need most: more gun-toting cops busting low- income fare evaders. Nijjar, one of the city's lowest-profile MLAs, should ask his colleague Lorne Mayencourt for pointers on how to get his name in the papers more often. It might help his reelection chances.
Doug Warkentin (Green)
Doug Warkentin of the Green party is a thoughtful, earnest engineer who operates a bed-and-breakfast in Marpole with his wife. He was one of the first people in the city to raise objections to the RAV project, which will barrel through the constituency. Warkentin comprehends how this $1.7-billion transit monstrosity will undermine public transit by cannibalizing the bus system.
Warkentin has already demonstrated his commitment to constituents: he regularly shows up at Vancouver city council committee meetings and public hearings on issues of concern for South Vancouver, such as a waterfront park in Marpole and a proposal for a new Wal-Mart store. He is a politician who will work for regular folks and not just for the corporate elite currently in charge of the province.
In all the media coverage about the star Liberal candidate, Carole Taylor, little has been said about her party's plan to expand Highway 1 to eight lanes. It's the virtual equivalent of building a freeway into the city, which her husband, Art Phillips, opposed while he was on city council, and which NPA Coun. Peter Ladner opposes now.
Taylor told the Straight that she supports the "Gateway" strategy, which includes the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and expanding the highway. However, she made a distinction between this position and her opposition to a freeway in 1989 which would have gone along Port Road into the city.
"If I can make a general statement, yes, I support the Gateway strategy," Taylor told the Straight. "But I wouldn't pretend at this point to know all of the specifics that are included in it and argue the case for each one of them. But I think as a general strategy, it's a good strategy."
Taylor is also receptive to public-private partnerships in health care. She described the Fraser Health Authority's partially built hospital and cancer centre in Abbotsford, a public-private partnership, as "a good model for us to really watch closely". Someone should introduce her to Dr. Allyson Pollock, who has published several studies on this topic in the British Medical Journal.
"The first wave of PPP hospital schemes required average reductions of 30 per cent in bed numbers as well as 25-per-cent reductions in nursing staff in order to meet the extra financing costs out of the hospitals' operating budgets," Pollock recently wrote in the Globe and Mail.
Taylor, a former Canadian Broadcasting Corp. chair and former Vancouver city councillor, would help boost the profile of arts and culture within a B.C. Liberal government. She also spoke out against racism against Chinese-Canadians in the late 1980s, which should stand her in good stead with this constituency's large number of Chinese-Canadian voters.
NDP candidate Anita Romaniuk is a COPE park-board commissioner and veteran community advocate with a special interest in financial accountability. Unfortunately, she and her colleagues remained silent as the COPE-controlled council, with the assistance of two NPA councillors, rammed slot machines into Hastings Park. Romaniuk also didn't appear to have a problem with city legal staff obtaining injunctions to boot a peaceful camp of homeless people out of CRAB Park.
Mel Lehan (NDP)
Lehan has spent more than 30 years trying to improve Vancouver. As the former chair of Neighbour to Neighbour, a group of neighbourhood associations, he played a pivotal role in the preservation of heritage houses in Mole Hill in the 1990s. A long-time COPE activist, he has worked tirelessly to help elect progressive city council candidates, including his good friends Tim Louis and Fred Bass. A former schoolteacher who courageously overcame a bout with cancer in the late 1990s, Lehan has the requisite compassion and life experience to be a strong advocate for his constituents. Unlike the incumbent MLA, Premier Gordon Campbell, Lehan will never keep his constituency door locked. He is the cochair of St. James Community Square and the West Kitsilano Residents Association.
Lehan also has a deep understanding of transit, and recently fought to preserve HandiDart service for the disabled. If you feel that Campbell has been heartless toward seniors, the disabled, and the poor, the best way to get that message across is by voting for Lehan.
For many residents, there will be a temptation to cast a ballot for 33-year-old Green candidate Damian Kettlewell, who has incredible energy, business savvy, and a keen intellect. However, he doesn't have Lehan's track record in community service, and the stakes are too high to divide the anti-Campbell vote. Lehan also has terrific environmental credentials-he won a David Suzuki Foundation award for helping to "daylight" Tatlow Creek-and he has the best chance of driving a stake through the premier's career.
David Chudnovsky (NDP)
Chudnovsky is a three-term president of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation and a stalwart member of the civic party COPE. After the obliteration of the Ujjal Dosanjh NDP government in the 2001 provincial election, Chudnovsky joined a group that tried to bring the Greens and the NDP together. He has also tried to create bridges between the COPE Lite and COPE Classic factions on Vancouver city council.
Voters can count on Chudnovsky to stand up for the poor, seniors, and the disabled. He would be a progressive voice within the NDP caucus. The NDP in government has often supported ill-conceived mega- projects-such as the fast ferries and the Millennium SkyTrain line-that siphoned public money away from education, health care, and social services. Chudnovsky is bright enough to see the folly in this approach and would resist attempts to repeat these errors in the future.
The Green candidate, 22-year-old UBC commerce grad Cody Matheson, has no political experience. Progressives in this constituency who vote for Matheson are actually helping to reelect the B.C. Liberal government.
The incumbent Liberal MLA, Patrick Wong, is the minister of state for multiculturalism in a government that obliterated the British Columbia Human Rights Commission. He is a penny-pinching accountant who invariably asks about the financial implications of anything that comes up before the legislative committees he sits on. Wong did little to calm public concerns about a social-housing project for people with dual diagnoses at 39th Avenue and Fraser Street. Vancouver Courier columnist Allen Garr actually accused Wong of egging on people's fears and undermining the city's four-pillars strategy for addressing drug addiction.
Jarrah Hodge (NDP)
Why should the citizens of Vancouver-Quilchena elect a 19-year-old women's-studies student instead of Finance Minister Colin Hansen? Because the 19-year-old student, Jarrah Hodge, is progressive, intelligent, and might do a lot less damage to the province.
Hodge, who works part-time at the Vancouver public library, has been active in the NDP for several years. She speaks intelligently on a range of issues, including postsecondary tuition, cuts to social programs and women's centres, and the environment. She has also promoted gay-straight alliances in high schools.
Green candidate Lorinda Earl is an organizer with a group called Code Pink, which is a female peace-and-social-justice group trying new methods of political discourse. This new discourse did not include posting Earl's biography on the Green party Web site until late in the campaign, which is a definite no-no for anyone trying to get a message out. Earl came across reasonably well in an hour-long TV debate with B.C. Liberal Richard Stewart and New Democrat Adrian Dix.
Colin Hansen won every single poll in this constituency in the 2001 election. Barring a massive scandal on the eve of the election, he will win again by a massive majority.
As the minister of health services, Hansen, who had a strong deputy in Dr. Penny Ballem, was able to commandeer larger budgets in each successive year. Hansen has a good grasp of the issues, but he hasn't stood up to Campbell on privatization. Hansen was also the senior minister on health when the government failed to keep its promise to build 5,000 long-term-care beds. As a result, seniors are clogging up acute-care beds, resulting in longer waits in emergency rooms. For that alone, the voters should fire him.
Hansen and the premier created health authorities that for the most part rarely met in public and operated with little accountability. The premier appointed his corporate pals to the boards, giving them free reign to engage in wholesale privatization of food and cleaning services. A forest executive whose specialty is contracting-out was put in charge of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority's $2-billion budget. An executive with shares in a private health-care company was briefly put in charge of the Provincial Health Services Authority; he was replaced the day after this information appeared in the Straight. The former CEO of the Fraser Health Authority was also permitted to invest in private-health-care companies. He was tossed out earlier this year after news reports appeared about the problems in the emergency room at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Hansen and Campbell are allowing Providence Health Care to study the possibility of a public-private partnership on a replacement for St. Paul's Hospital, even though this approach has added significantly to health-care costs in Britain. It's the first step toward moving St. Paul's to False Creek Flats, which would be a big loss for tens of thousands of downtown residents.
Craig Keating (NDP)
This is a no-brainer. Craig Keating is an exceptionally intelligent, moderate two-term North Vancouver City councillor running against incumbent Katherine Whittred, one of the most ineffectual former Liberal cabinet ministers. Whittred was the minister of state for intermediate, long-term, and home care from 2001 to 2004. Her party promised to create an additional 5,000 new long-term-care beds by 2006, but hasn't come close to meeting this target.
As a city councillor, Keating has promoted a four-pillar approach to substance abuse and been a strong supporter of the North Shore Women's Centre. He has encouraged the legalization of secondary suites, which would provide more affordable housing. He also raised a ruckus when the new North Shore homeless shelter was closed during the daytime. Keating, a vice president of the NDP, is a history instructor at Langara College and a capable debater. He would perform solidly in the legislature. David Schreck was the last New Democrat to capture this riding, in 1991.
North Vancouver-Seymour: No endorsement
Veteran Liberal MLA Dan Jarvis supports his government's controversial fish-farming policy. He told the Straight that he has not seen evidence to suggest that open-net aquaculture threatens salmon runs. Perhaps it's time Rafe Mair sent him copies of Alexandra Morton's research on the Broughton Archipelago. Jarvis also didn't demonstrate any special regard for the environment when he asked questions in the legislature as the Opposition critic for energy. However, he surprised and delighted foes of the premier when he described BC Ferries' decision to buy new vessels offshore as "blatantly stupid".
New Democrat Cathy Pinsent, a member of the Hospital Employees' Union executive, has worked at Lions Gate Hospital for 25 years. She opposes privatization of health-care facilities. The Green party candidate, grocery-store worker John Sharpe, is also a long-time resident of the North Shore and is an outdoors enthusiast. Christine Ellis is running for the Work Less Party and Darin Keith Neal is the Marijuana party candidate. The Liberals won this seat by more than 11,000 votes in 2001.
Dennis Perry (Green party)
Dennis Perry, a 58-year-old retired West Vancouver pension-fund manager, is a true maverick. He is also a superb public speaker, even if he occasionally gets his facts wrong in the heat of debate. Perry has taken aim at the "Falcon Liberals" for plotting the destruction of Eagleridge Bluffs-an issue that Perry hopes to ride into the legislature. He has spoken favourably about former U.S. president Ronald Reagan's economic policies, which doesn't put him in the progressive camp on economic issues. However, he is very green, serving on the board of Ecotrust Canada for almost a decade. If Perry wins, he has the potential to divide the right wing in B.C.
Liberal candidate Joan McIntyre, a pollster, is quite adept at picking apart the Green-party platform. She claims that the Greens' call for tax-shifting will cost resource industries an extra $600 million per year. She also opposes the Green party's proposed five-cents-per-litre tax on fuel. New Democrat Lyle Fenton, a former Squamish city councillor and ex-BC Rail worker, is not the most dynamic speaker but he's very knowledgeable about the issues, especially forestry and health care. Fenton has no chance in a riding that includes West Vancouver and Whistler.