Outgoing Vancouver East MP Libby Davies cautions social justice victories cannot be taken for granted

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      At a press conference announcing she would not be running for re-election in 2015, Vancouver East MP Libby Davies recounted her first federal nomination, in 1997.

      “I won, I think, by a grand total of 26 votes,” she recalled. “So it was a hot race then.”

      Less so in subsequent years. In 1997, Davies defeated Liberal party incumbent Anna Terrana and then went on to hold her seat in Parliament for six consecutive terms.

      At her constituency office on Main Street, the NDP deputy leader maintained there was no specific reason for her stepping down.

      “After almost 40 years of public service and being elected, I’ve made a decision—a personal decision—that I won’t be running,” Davies explained.

      “I don’t have any grand plan,” she continued. “I’m going to take some time off, obviously. And then I’ll think about what I might do. I can tell you, I won’t be someone who is sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’m a political animal. I have been since I was a teenager. It is in my blood. And so you will continue to see me politically active. It will just be in a different role.”

      Turning to the future of her riding, Davies wouldn’t name names when asked who she might like to see take her place. But she made clear she has high expectations.

      “I really believe that Vancouver East is not a typical riding,” Davies said. “It needs a representative that is willing to stand up and be a very strong advocate, sometimes on issues that aren’t mainstream and that people don’t particularly want to hear about.”

      For Davies, those concerns included improving the lives of people struggling with drug addictions, fighting for low-income and affordable housing, and calling attention to injustices against sex workers.

      “Over the years, I’ve worked very hard on issues like housing and homelessness, making sure that the rights of drug users are upheld and we don’t criminalize people,” she said. “I was the first member of Parliament to raise the issue and to bring visibility to the missing and murdered women in the Downtown Eastside, and of course that’s not become a national issue. But it’s been an extraordinary honour to serve in this community. East Vancouver is a very special place.”

      Asked what she felt she was leaving unfinished, Davies spoke about Rodney Watson, a U.S. Army deserter who fled to Canada in 2009 and who has remained a prisoner of sanctuary inside an East Vancouver church.

      “I have very deep feelings for Rodney and what a brave young man he is,” she said. “I really wish we could move the government to allow him to stay in Canada and be with his wife and his little kid. That’s something I’m going to continue to work on.”

      Davies also listed affordable housing and homelessness as issues for which she will continue to advocate.

      “There is just so much more that needs to be done,” she said. “The federal government has got to be on board. They’ve got to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. I feel like I’ve helped draw visibility and national attention to the issue of housing across the country, but we’re not where we need to be in terms of the federal government participating in a national housing program. That’s something that I’ll keep working on to the very end.”

      In a subsequent telephone interview, Davies, who was Canada's first openly lesbian MP, recounted some of the events that marked her early forays taking battles for social justice issues to Ottawa.

      In 1987, a woman’s body was found in a garbage bin on Dundas Street, she recalled. “We marched from the dumpster to the Carnegie Centre. And that was the first time that there was a public, community acknowledgement that women were being murdered because they were sex workers, back in the late '80s.”

      In a similar vein, Davies described one of her earliest meetings with members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (Vandu), which was then located in the 100 block of East Hastings Street.

      “I remember there were like 100 Vandu members sitting on the floor,” Davies said. “We talked about a safe injection site, and they said it would never happen. I said, ‘It will. It will happen because you are involved. Your voice is finally being heard, and that’s what makes a difference.”

      “It has been remarkable, the progress that has been made,” she continued. “Vancouver leads the nation—leads North America—in terms of harm reduction and the need to change drug policy. And I feel very proud to have been a big part of that.”

      Davies noted the Conservative government is still fighting against safe injection sites, and that there’s still much work to be done to ensure the safety of sex workers.

      “I’ve learned this in life,” she said. “When rights are won, you can never rest. This is an ongoing struggle.”

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