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The Globe and Mail

George Heyman has right stuff to be power player for NDP if elected

George Heyman prepares to take the stage after winning the NDP nomination in the Vancouver-Fairview riding on Sunday.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

George Heyman, newly confirmed as the B.C. NDP candidate in Vancouver-Fairview, once had the higher ambition of being party leader and a possible B.C. premier.

When Carole James stepped down as leader in December, 2010, the former high-profile president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, who had gained green credentials since 2009 as executive director of the Sierra Club of B.C., thought about a leadership bid.

"Many people were urging me to run, and for a period of about a month, I seriously considered running for the leadership. In the end, I decided not to, because I knew the demands of leadership, and I decided it was a level of commitment that was beyond what I could reasonably be prepared to make at this point in my life," he said.

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However, that reflection – and a hiking trip to Spain – inspired Mr. Heyman to get into elected politics by seeking the NDP nomination in the riding where he was born 63 years ago, raising the prospect that he could be a power player if an NDP government is elected next May.

"I realized that while I might not want to be leader, I certainly had enough fire and energy and concern to want to be part of an NDP victory and part of an NDP government," he said in an interview on Tuesday. "I felt a fire to run. I felt ready to run. I had no reservations about running."

Part of that new drive came from the support of his partner of 27 years, Joanne Fox, a retired advocate on health and safety issues within the labour movement. When he was thinking about the leadership bid, he told The Globe and Mail in December, 2010, he considered how it would affect his family situation.

He said that throughout the campaign for the riding nomination, Ms. Fox became more determined that he should succeed.

"I couldn't do this without her," Mr. Heyman said. The couple does not have children.

"We both know that if I am elected, it will take a lot of my time, but we both know it will leave us enough time together. Whether I am an MLA or whether I am fortunate enough to be asked to be part of the government, I am prepared for that."

He's also prepared for possible conflicts. While Mr. Heyman joked that "I am not just a green guy," and said he has a broad range of interests beyond an environmental or labour agenda, he has taken some positions that could put him at odds with some in the NDP family.

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Consider fracking. Mr. Heyman has expressed varied concerns about the process of injecting water at high pressure to extract natural gas from shale deposits, while NDP MLA John Horgan, who could be energy minister in an NDP government, supports the process.

Mr. Heyman said he and Mr. Horgan have talked often about the issue. "Where we both have common ground is that what we need are facts," he said. "We're all part of a team. A team takes positions and we work together."

On Sunday, Mr. Heyman won the nomination by 221 votes over 161 for Geoff Meggs, the Vision Vancouver councillor. Mr. Heyman launched his bid in 2011, and Mr. Meggs entered last summer. "The key fact is that [Mr. Heyman] had a long, advance period and spent that time with the membership," Mr. Meggs said. "It made a difference."

Mr. Heyman said he was intrigued by suggestions that he was an underdog because Mr. Meggs was a two-term Vancouver councillor with more extensive public experience.

"I've had a very long time in the public eye, in the media eye, addressing the public and representing people, I would say, far, far longer than Mr. Meggs. I am an accomplished campaigner. I like politics. I like people. For me, the joy of politics is interacting with people. That's my strength and I think people connected with that."

Ahead is the challenge of winning the riding from Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, who won in 2009 by 47 per cent over 42 per cent for the B.C. NDP candidate.

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"She has the strength of incumbency. She has the pulpit of being the health minister. She is an intelligent woman. She is a good speaker," he said. "The campaign began on Sunday at about 6 p.m."

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