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George Heyman during a press conference March 20, 2006 where he announced a tentative four-year agreement reached in public service talks with the government. (John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail)
George Heyman during a press conference March 20, 2006 where he announced a tentative four-year agreement reached in public service talks with the government. (John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail)

NDP’s choice in Vancouver-Fairview ‘more for the common man’ Add to ...

New Democrats in Vancouver-Fairview have elected a longtime labour leader to be their candidate, signalling the party's call for a representative of the everyday worker ahead of next year's provincial election.

B.C Sierra Club executive director and former B.C Government and Service Employees' Union president George Heyman was elected 221-161 over Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs on Sunday to be the candidate of the hotly contested riding.

It was Mr. Heyman's first time running for public office.

"I thought it would be very close and I thought it would come down to who's the most effective at getting out their supporters," he said. "Apparently my team did a great job today and I thank them for that.

"I look forward to May 14, 2013, when we will bring change to British Columbia."

As the two heavy-hitting candidates agree on virtually every issue, including environmental sustainability and the need for more affordable housing, the decision suggests the riding's voters favoured a representative with more hands-on experience in the labour and environmental movements.

Mr. Meggs, meanwhile, counted on name recognition, more time spent in the riding and experience in elected office. Many voters said they believed Mr. Meggs would be better equipped for cabinet should the NPD form the next provincial government -- a likely happening given the crumble of the B.C. Liberals.

An Angus Reid poll release last month said 25 per cent of voters would support the Liberals if an election was held the next day, while 46 per cent leaned toward the New Democrats.

"He (Mr. Meggs) has been really effective on city council getting things done, which is exactly the sort of thing you need in government," said voter Jeff Davis. "It really does look like next year we'll elect an NDP government, and Geoff's long history working with Vision, getting things done in municipal government, will translate well on the provincial level."

"In my case, my criteria was the person who has the most experience in the riding," voter Randy Schisler said. "I know that Geoff's lived in the riding ... and raised his family here. That meant more to me than other issues."

Mr. Meggs has lived in the same home for 25 years. While it was long part of Vancouver-Fairview, redrawn boundaries in 2009 mean it is now part of Vancouver-False Creek. Mr. Heyman lives in the riding of Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, currently held by NDP MLA Jenny Kwan.

In the end, Mr. Heyman's everyman appeal spoke to more voters.

"He's more for the common man, the average working man," said Crystal Bennett, who favored his past in the labour movement. "I like the fact that he has a lot of background in union work."

The riding is currently held by Liberal Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.

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In speeches before voting opened, both candidates acknowledged it had been a cordial campaign and the two share many of the same views. In addition to agreeing on environmental sustainability and affordable housing, for example, both staunchly oppose the Enbridge pipeline and support rapid transit along the Broadway corridor. Both men have also stated they want to reinvigorate the fledgling NDP party, to reach out to more young voters.

Mr. Heyman said they wouldn't have competed at all if they didn't both favour the riding.

The only area in which the two men differed greatly is experience.

Mr. Heyman is hailed by supporters as a labour and environmental leader, his ability to negotiate and speak for ordinary citizens honed during his nine years at the BCGEU. Two-time councillor Mr. Meggs, on the other hand, has been the public face for high-profile issues in city council, including bike lanes and the fate of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

Earlier this year, Mr. Heyman told the Globe he expected to win due to having campaigned for more than a year.

“I’ve been out on the streets in Fairview knocking on doors with members, and meeting people and signing them up into the party to support my [candidacy],” Mr. Heyman said. Mr. Meggs announced  his candidacy in June.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Heyman called his opponent "an amazing candidate" and "a fantastic representative for people in the city of Vancouver."

"You would have been a fantastic MLA for Vancouver-Fairview and I respect you immensely," Mr. Heyman said to applause. "I've known you many years, we've worked together, I hope we will continue to work together."

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