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Occupy Vancouver tent dweller wins Last Candidate Standing contest

More than 30 candidates running for Vancouver council or mayor vied to be the "last candidate standing" in a raucous competition of speechifying decided by cheers from a full house crowd last night. When it was over the winner was…Occupy Vancouver. More specifically, the winner was Lauren Gill, a plaid flannel shirt wearing 22-year-old with a punk haircut who calls home a tent among the Occupier encampment outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

On her way to victory, Gill defeated participants from Vision including councillors Geoff Meggs, Andrea Reimer and Kerry Jang. Also left behind were COPE’s Ellen Woodsworth and the NPA’s Sean Bickerton, George Affleck, Joe Carangi, Ken Charko and Bill McCreery.

While the tone of the night was generally good natured, candidates who voiced anger at wealthy developers and the politicians who take their contributions drew the biggest applause. When the field had been winnowed to three, they were Gill and Aaron Spires, Gill’s co-member of an anti-poverty slate calling itself R.I.C.H., as well as Chris Shaw of the De-Growth party.

True to their populist principles, when the three finalists found themselves on stage fielding a last question about how they envisioned a better Vancouver 20 years from now, they collectively decided to disregard the query and instead, together, stepped to the microphone and took turns urging support for the Occupiers and a range of social justice concerns. Gill then asked for and got from the audience a minute of silence for 23-year-old Ashlie Gough, from Victoria, who died of a drug overdose at the Occupy Vancouver site. "Ashlie was my friend," said Gill, noting they were "the same age."

Gill drew the biggest applause, and was crowned the winner.

The Last Candidate event, held in the subterranean theatre of UBC Robson Square, just a block from the Occupy Vancouver encampment, was put on by the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) and UBC’s School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture.

Here’s how the event’s organizers summed up the process on their blog: "Candidates will be on the clock as they respond to [a] panel’s questions covering a broad range of campaign issues. The candidates with the best answers, as judged by the panel and audience, will move on to the next round – those that don’t measure up will be eliminated. At the end of the night, only one candidate will be left standing."

Vision’s Andrea Reimer seemed on a roll, having bumped off fellow Vision councillor Geoff Meggs with her take on the Stanley Cup riots, but then announced she had to leave in order to attend a drag queen show. NPA candidate Charko fielded a question about how voter engagement might be increased by emulating video games. He suggested a Pac Man approach, with Vancouver mayor "Gregor Robertson chasing me around for a while, and then me chasing him, depending on the issue." Occupy Vancouver protester Darrell Zimmerman got one of the biggest laughs when he answered a question about what Vancouver building he’d like to be. His answer: BC Place, because, "even though I’m losing some of my hair, I’d like to have a 500 million dollar dome."

Not in attendance were the two highest profile mayoral candidates, Vision’s Robertson, who earlier that day announced the Occupy Vancouver tent city at the Vancouver Art Gallery must be shut down, and the NPA’s Suzanne Anton.

An account of what was said by each candidate throughout the event can be found here.

Broadcaster, author and Tyee columnist Steve Burgess emceed the event. The panel of "inquisitors" tossing questions at the candidates included CBC reporter Theresa Lalonde, UBC professor of architecture Matthew Soules, Vancouver Public Space Network Vice-Chair Alissa Sadler, and this reporter.

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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