Environmentalist defeats high profile city councillor for NDP nomination of Vancouver-Fairview riding

George Heyman's win over Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs a surprise to many

If there was one person Sunday night who didnt consider George Heyman an underdog in the NDP nomination race to win Vancouver-Fairview, it was George Heyman.

The longtime union leader and environmentalist soundly beat two-term city councillor Geoff Meggs by 60 votes, garnering 221 votes to Meggs 161.

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So how did he do it?

I thought it would be very close and I thought it would come down to who was the most effective at getting out their supporters and apparently my team did a great job today and I thank them for that, Heyman told reporters after the results were announced in a hall at the Holiday Inn on West Broadway.

Meggs profile as a Vision Vancouver councillor and support from one of the citys top union leaders, Paul Faoro, made him a favourite to win. But Meggs, who said he wont seek a nomination in another riding, began his campaign one year after Heyman launched his run.

Meggs pointed to Heymans head start in the race and his capability as a campaigner as factors in the result. Heyman announced in June 2011 while Meggs declared in the summer, setting up what many in the NDP saw as a battle between two political heavyweights with possible future cabinet posts.

He won a good, solid victory, Meggs said. We did the best we could. I had a really terrific group of volunteers and they worked their hearts out, but it wasnt enough.

Throughout the day, the Vision Vancouver machine that led Meggs and his colleagues to two terms at city hall strolled in and out of the meeting. Former councillor George Chow, school trustee Mike Lombardi, Visions managing director Stepan Vdovine, Mayor Gregor Robertsons chief of staff Mike Magee, the mayors housing policy director Kevin Quinlan and the mayors wife Amy were present. Magee and Amy Robertson cast ballots but declined to say who they picked.

Faoro, who is president of Local 15 of CUPE and the ridings vice-president, cast a ballot for Meggs, whose spouse Jan OBrien is the partys provincial secretary. Local 15 was a vocal and financial supporter of Vision Vancouver.

Faoro, too, pointed to Heymans early start in the race as a factor in why his chosen candidate lost the race. Meggs signed up 150 members to Heymans 160 and his campaign obviously resonated with longtime members of the riding, said Faoro, who refuted the characterization of Heyman as an underdog, noting his vast experience in the labour and environmental movements.

Both those guys are well known, great organizers, great communicators, know how to run a campaign, he said, noting he will fully support Heyman in next years election. Calling either one of those guys an underdog is just not on.

Heyman acknowledged Meggs profile and support in the city but pointed to his name recognition in the labour movement as past president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union and his current position as executive director of the Sierra Club of B.C.

It was that experience Heyman referred to in his speech Sunday before members queued up to cast ballots. Heyman opened by slamming the pipeline proposals from Enbridge in northern B.C. and the plan from Kinder Morgan to increase the amount of crude being funnelled down its pipeline from Alberta to Burrard Inlet.

He welcomed members of the Filipino and South Asian communities in their own languages and talked about his goal to build stronger communities in the riding and throughout the province.

Heyman criticized the ruling Liberal party for a $2 billion tax shift to wealthy corporations that have impoverished our communities and impoverished our lives. While campaigning, he said, he heard stories of seniors and working families having to choose to pay for medication, rent or food.

Many people have been forced to choose between work or caring for aging parents while care fees rise and home support services are cut, he told the crowd. We need to change that and together we will.

Heyman closed his speech by focusing on what he called the growing cynicism about politics and politicians. He said he feared young people will stay away from the polls because politicians dont listen to them.

Its important to be accessible, accountable and responsive to the community who elects us and to offer bold ideas, not excuses, he said, adding that it was more important to listen than to talk. Thats not because I dont have good ideas, but its because you and others in our community have good ideas, as well.

Meggs speech focused on city and provincial issues, including the need for better transit along the Broadway corridor and what he called the dysfunction of the public education system he blamed on the ruling Liberals.

Fixing the problems in education the Liberals caused will be one of the toughest jobs facing an NDP government, if elected in May 2013, Meggs said. He noted B.C. still has the worst child poverty rate in the country and accused the Liberals of misplaced priorities.

Were a province that builds the widest bridge in the world but tries to cut bus services, he said. Were a province where we can find $560 million for a new stadium roof but trying to get money from homeless shelters is like trying to get blood from a stone.

The Vancouver-Fairview riding has 750 members. Meggs told the Courier last Monday if 50 per cent voted, that would be seen as a success. A total of 382 ballots were cast, including one from Alice Brown who voted for Meggs and another from Stephane Degrace, who supported Heyman.

Though undecided right up until Sunday morning, Brown said Meggs knocked on her door four times and she was impressed by his knowledge of city issues, including Vision Vancouvers drive to create a more sustainable and green city.

I think he knows the city issues inside and out, said Brown, noting Meggs desire for better transit along the Broadway corridor.

Degrace said he, too, was on the fence but chose to support Heyman 20 minutes before he cast a ballot. He acknowledged both were good candidates and strong on the issues but said Heymans trip to his doorstep impressed him.

It was nice to see a candidate at the door, he said, noting creating more social housing is a priority that he believes Heyman will push in Victoria, if the NDP forms government. Im a deep-rooted Liberal from way back and my dad is probably rolling in his grave today but he probably would have voted the same way. I think its time for a change and the NDP can handle it.

Norman Ruff, a University of Victoria political science professor, said Heymans victory was a little bit of an upset for the NDP establishment, pointing out Meggs strong links to NDP leader Adrian Dix and his spouses role as secretary.

Heymans credentials are fairly impeccable but hes not as much as an insider as Meggs has been, said Ruff, noting Meggs loss must have been a blow to his Vision Vancouver colleagues.

Liberal Margaret MacDiarmid is the MLA for the riding. She congratulated Heyman via Twitter Sunday night. MacDiarmid became the MLA after losing in a byelection to the NDPs Jenn McGinn, who didnt hold the seat for very long before MacDiarmid won in a general election in 2009.

The riding was once held by Gregor Robertson before he decided to run for mayor in 2008. Robertson didnt vote in the nomination race. Meggs term as a city councillor expires in the fall of 2014.


Twitter: @Howellings

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