Call it the battle of the Georges.
Former NPA city councillor George Affleck announced Tuesday that he will be the candidate for the B.C. Liberals in Vancouver-Fairview, which is the riding currently held by high-profile cabinet minister George Heyman.
“I have a long history in that riding,” said Affleck, a downtown resident whose Curve Communications business is located in the riding, as is city hall where he served two terms on council between 2011 and 2018. “It’s kind of a cool opportunity, so I thought I’d go for it and see what I can do.”
Affleck said he has been considering a run for some time and had been approached to do so by numerous people in the Liberals, including Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson. He said he confirmed his interest with the party Monday, after Premier John Horgan called an election for Oct. 24.
Like his leader, Affleck was equally critical of Horgan for calling an election during a pandemic and breaking a fixed election date agreement that would have seen the vote held next October.
“It’s opportunistic of the NDP party, for sure,” said Affleck of the governing party, which is currently ahead of the Liberals in public opinion polls. “It’s completely for their own self-serving purposes, and not fair for the people of this province.”
Horgan told reporters Monday that waiting another 12 months to call an election would be “time wasted” and that stability was needed in government to implement a pandemic recovery plan for the province.
“I believe the best way forward is to put the politics behind us,” Horgan said. “Let’s address the differences we may have now, so that we can all come together after the 24th of October and focus as we should be on the needs of all British Columbians.”
Now that a campaign is underway, Affleck said he understands the challenge of him knocking off a cabinet minister and his party defeating a government that is riding a wave of popularity. But, he said, he and the party have more than a month to convince voters to support the Liberals, particularly business owners hit hard by the pandemic-influenced closures and physical distancing measures.
“If you’re struggling like so many people are in this province, it’s really unfair to put us through this right now and I hope the NDP gets punished for it,” Affleck said.
The party has yet to roll out a platform, but Affleck said his focus will be on “good governance, transparency and finances” — areas of interest for him when he served on council, with him regularly challenging the then-Vision Vancouver administration to keep taxes low.
Transportation will also be an issue for Affleck, with the subway being built through the riding and Broadway being one of the busiest bus corridors in North America.
Affleck has kept a high profile on social media and working in different forms of media since he left city hall. He has appeared on CTV as a political pundit and is a co-host with Jody Vance on a podcast about politics called Unspun.
His jump from municipal politics to provincial politics is not unprecedented. In fact, Vancouver city council has been a farm team of sorts for budding provincial politicians, including former mayors Gordon Campbell and Mike Harcourt, who both later served as premiers.
More recently, former mayor Sam Sullivan, Suzanne Anton and George Chow all made the successful move from city hall to the B.C. legislature, with Sullivan (Vancouver-False Creek) and Chow (Vancouver-Fraserview) seeking re-election; Chow defeated Anton in the 2017 provincial election.
The NDP’s Spencer Chandra Herbert served as a park board commissioner before being elected in the Vancouver-West End riding, where he first won a byelection in 2008 and is seeking re-election Oct. 24.
The Vancouver-Fairview riding, which used to be held by Gregor Robertson before he became mayor in 2008, has not been a stronghold for either the NDP or Liberals, having been represented by both parties over the years.
Liberal Margaret MacDiarmid, who served as health minister, was the MLA for the riding until Heyman beat her in 2013. Heyman, the former executive director of the Sierra Club of BC, was re-elected in 2017 and served as Horgan’s minister of environment and climate change strategy until an election was called Monday.
Heyman told Glacier Media Tuesday that it was good to learn the name of the Liberal candidate attempting to take his seat, but that he was focused on his campaign, particularly the need to continue the NDP’s commitment to create more affordable housing.
He said previous Liberal policies have “let down” many renters in the riding and allowed some unscrupulous landlords to jack up rents by 35 to 40 per cent. Others have been “renovicted,” he said.
“We’ve taken strong action to close those loopholes, we’re providing greater access to health care, we’re also taking real action on climate change,” Heyman said. “People in Vancouver-Fairview really care about the environment. They’re worried about climate, and I’m really proud of the fact that as environment minister we brought in a strong plan — one that many people think is the leading climate plan in North America.”
Though Heyman has held the seat for seven years, he said he was taking nothing for granted in seeking another term.
“I never assume that the seat is safe,” he said. “I think it’s only going to return me as MLA if I demonstrate to people in my term in office that I’m listening to them, that we’re serving them well and that we’re working on the policies that matter to them.”
Asked about the criticism the NDP is taking for calling an election during a pandemic, he said British Columbians “care about who we’re going to get through the next one, two, three years — not just the pandemic and until we get a vaccine — but also repairing the economy. It’s so damaged. I think people like what the government has done in response, so far, and I think people have a chance to say who they want to lead them for the next four years, and that’s what this election is about.”
The Liberals’ candidate in the Vancouver-Fairview race in 2017 was Gabe Garfinkel, who finished 9,436 votes to Heyman’s 16,035. The Greens’ Louise Boutin finished a distant third.
The NDP presently holds eight of the 11 ridings in Vancouver.