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Vancouver voters seek shelter in NDP; homelessness a top concern

Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing were among the concerns that lead Vancouver voters into the arms of the New Democrats on Wednesday, in a contest that served as a dress rehearsal for next year's province-wide elections.

"We sent [Premier Campbell] a message so loud that it's going to ring in his ears for days," Jenn McGinn told a room full of supporters after both she and fellow New Democrat Spencer Herbert bested their B.C. Liberal rivals in two provincial by-elections.

Spencer Herbert, a former COPE park board commissioner, beat B.C. Liberal Arthur Griffiths in Vancouver-Burrard. Herbert received 6,516 votes to Griffiths' 4,841 votes. Green Party candidate Drina Alicia Read recieved 686 votes.

The NDP's Jenn McGinn beat B.C. Liberal Margaret MacDiarmid in Vancouver-Fairview. McGinn received 5,487 votes to MacDiarmid's 4,779. Green Party leader Jane Sterk recieved only 856 votes.

NDP leader Carole James reinforced the "sent a message" theme in her comments to supporters at Robson Street's Empire Landmark Hotel.

"It is time for Gordon Campbell to stop focusing on his pet projects and to start focusing on the needs of working families," James said.

Both McGinn and Herbert's campaigns focused strongly on housing issues, striking a chord with many voters. Coquitlam-Maillardville NDP MLA Diane Thorne helped with Herbert's campaign in the West End, and it was the number-one issue she heard on the streets.

"I spent most of my time on Denman and Davie," Thorne said. "Housing was huge. Rental housing, homelessness, and affordable housing in general: a huge, huge issue."

Thorne said she didn't hear much criticism of the NDP's controversial "Axe the Tax" campaign, which was blamed for hampering Michael Byers in his Vancouver-Centre federal run.

"I didn't have anybody say to me, 'I'm not going to vote for Spencer because of your [Axe the Tax] campaign,'" Thorne said. "I must have talked to thousands of people in the past eight days. I had two people ask me about it."

B.C. NDP president Jeff Fox said the party reached its targets despite a short two-week campaign period and the challenges of voter fatigue on all fronts.

"This would be a non-traditional campaign and it wouldn't reach the numbers that we would normally secure, but over the two weeks, we're very pleased with the result," he said. "We really put in place a good machine today that had people on the doorstep, people on the phones, people on the internet, people on Facebook, people on Youtube, and giving it all we could."

But even with this victory in the bag, Fox isn't about to rest on his laurels.

"I don't kid myself," he said of tonight's results. "May 2009 is the prize, and that's what this is all about. [Tonight] will be an important step towards it, but we still have a long road ahead of us."

Jackie Wong reports for the Westender.

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