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Inside the Intriguing NDP Race for Vancouver-Little Mountain

Andrea Reimer and Christine Boyle both want the MLA seat. Here’s what the rumble reveals about the city’s left.

Christopher Cheung 2 Apr 2024The Tyee

Christopher Cheung reports on urban issues for The Tyee. Follow him on X @bychrischeung.

The race to become the party candidate for a provincial riding isn’t usually this exciting, but Vancouver-Little Mountain has two high-profile candidates vying for the NDP nomination.

The party has a vacancy because sitting MLA George Heyman, the minister of environment and climate change strategy, has decided not to run again after three terms. His riding of Vancouver-Fairview has been pieced together with four others to form Vancouver-Little Mountain, a new riding in the 2024 provincial election this fall.

Both candidates vying for Heyman’s seat are considered progressive and very personable, as demonstrated during their time on city council and their advocacy on everything from climate change to housing affordability.

There’s Andrea Reimer, who was first elected to public office as a Vancouver school trustee with the local Green Party. She gained wider recognition for her three terms as city councillor with Vision Vancouver, the party of green entrepreneur and former farmer Gregor Robertson, who was elected mayor in 2008, 2011 and 2014.

Reimer is known for her environmental advocacy, having worked as executive director at the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. She’s also known for being open about her personal life, from living on the streets as a youth to meeting her birth mother later in life and discovering her Métis and Cree roots.

Reimer is currently an adjunct professor of public policy and global affairs at the University of British Columbia and does consulting for environmental and Indigenous groups.

Christine Boyle is a sitting city councillor with the OneCity party. In 2018, she was elected to a council of politicians with mixed political leanings, making for a term described by then mayor Kennedy Stewart as dysfunctional. In 2022, she was elected to a council dominated by councillors from the pro-business, pro-police ABC party.

In her “opposition” role on council, Boyle has gained recognition for her efforts to propose progressive policies, from fast-tracking social housing developments to restoring a living wage requirement for city employees.

Outside of office, Boyle is a United Church minister and was part of a successful campaign to get the denomination to divest from fossil fuels.

While neither candidate currently lives within Vancouver-Little Mountain’s boundaries, they’re nearby in the city’s east side. Reimer says she’s just across the street from the boundary and Boyle’s parents live in the riding.

Both note they previously lived in Vancouver-Little Mountain for years, with many personal and professional connections, making it a special riding to win.

A rushed campaign

NDP members in the riding had the chance to cast early ballots on the weekend ahead of the official vote on April 4. The poll will close at 8 p.m., with the results announced shortly after.

The vote comes exactly a month to the day since Heyman announced he wouldn’t run in the fall provincial election.

It’s resulted in a rushed campaign for the two candidates, without membership sign-ups, which could have been a boon for the party considering the popularity of Reimer and Boyle, observers told The Tyee.

The party’s constitution has a rule that says only people “who have been members in good standing for a minimum of ninety (90) days prior to the meeting” can vote in the riding.

That means the two candidates are competing for the votes of about 200 NDP members in Vancouver-Little Mountain, hitting the streets for diligent door knocking to win support.

Ahead of the fall provincial election, the BC NDP is doing well in the polls. Both candidates said they will bring their relational skills if elected.

Said Reimer: “You learn quickly that talking about policy is pretty easy, but building it with colleagues to ensure it works for all your constituents and getting it implemented is much more challenging.”

Said Boyle: “I think one of my strengths, given the councils I’ve been elected onto, is to build bridges... figure out where there is common ground where we can advance solutions together and bring in experts from the community.”

‘An insiders’ race’?

Both candidates praised the BC NDP.

Reimer says she’s been “impressed” by the recent NDP governments helmed by former premier John Horgan and the current premier, David Eby. Boyle says she’s “proud” of the party’s track record on many fronts.

“Nomination races are always a bit tricky, because there are people who have similar stated values by virtue of belonging to the same political party,” said Maria Dobrinskaya, a former executive with the BC NDP.

Dobrinskaya notes that she is not involved in the Vancouver-Little Mountain nomination campaign, but she is a friend of Reimer’s and has donated to her campaign. During some of Reimer’s years as city councillor, Dobrinskaya worked in Mayor Robertson’s office and was co-chair of the Vision party to which the two politicians belonged.

Nathan Crompton, a former activist with the Coalition of Progressive Electors, or COPE, the most left-wing of Vancouver’s municipal parties (though it currently does not have a sitting councillor), lauds Reimer and Boyle for standing up against issues that have gained traction on the right, such as transphobia and the war on drugs.

But he wishes they were more critical of real estate development and pushed for market-cooling measures like rent control.

“It’s very much an insiders’ race,” said Crompton. “They’ll likely stay the course. The outcome of this race isn’t high stakes for policy.”

Dobrinskaya says big policy battles are usually the stuff of leadership contests.

This race is “more about other qualities,” she said. “Some of it is personal relationships, some of it is track record, and some of that can be different allegiances. In the last 10 or 15 years, there’s been a sort of centralization of partisan politics at all levels, and we’ve seen fewer vigorous nomination races in general. So I think there’s always some interest when you get that intra-party competition.”

The race for Little Mountain offers exactly that peek inside the BC NDP as endorsements roll in.

Who’s endorsing whom?

Among the local advocates, business people and residents supporting the candidates are a range of community leaders and politicians.

“The big takeaway is that they’re both well connected,” said Stewart Prest, a political scientist at UBC. “Within that large community on the political left, there are different groups. It’s a rare glimpse into that world popping out into the public.”

Reimer has the endorsement of Heyman, the outgoing NDP MLA. (Back in 2012, Heyman took the Vancouver-Fairview nomination in a high-profile race of his own, defeating Geoff Meggs, a well-known politician and strategist who was most recently chief of staff for former premier John Horgan.)

Reimer has been involved with the party’s riding association in Vancouver-Fairview for every election since 2005 and worked on Heyman’s campaigns, having co-chaired his most recent victory in 2020.

“Over the years, we’ve built it from a swing riding to a stronghold for the BC NDP through community-building,” she told The Tyee over email. “That’s the work and legacy that I would like to deepen and continue.”

Some of Reimer’s other endorsements include Melanie Mark, former NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, whose boundaries overlap with parts of what is now Vancouver-Little Mountain; Khelsilem, the Squamish Nation councillor; Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs; and Ellen Woodsworth, a former COPE city councillor and the founder of Women Transforming Cities.

While Premier Eby has endorsed Christine Boyle for her council run, she says that he will not be endorsing a candidate for the Little Mountain nomination. Boyle has, however, noted her friendship with the premier as part of the campaign.

Boyle’s endorsements include former NDP Vancouver-Fairview MLA Jenn McGinn; former NDP Vancouver-Kensington MLA David Chudnovsky; and Libby Davies, the former Vancouver city councillor and former NDP MP for the federal riding of Vancouver East, which intersects with what is now Vancouver-Little Mountain.

Why not both?

“I’m glad I don’t live in the riding because I don’t have to vote!” said Sharon Gregson, spokesperson for the successful $10aDay Child Care campaign with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC.

Gregson, who’s worked with Reimer and Boyle in her advocacy, has publicly endorsed both, commending their work on child-care funding, policy, new spaces in developments and voicing concerns to senior levels of government.

“I would like to see both of them as MLAs frankly. They’re always prepared to champion child care.”

Boyle said she raised the issue with people like Reimer and Heyman to find a way for them to run in different ridings.

“It just didn’t work out,” said Boyle. “I would rather be in government with Andrea than have the two of us running against each other... [but] I’m glad it’s been a positive nomination race. Nomination races can sometimes be toxic and that hasn’t been the case.”

Reimer said she couldn’t speak to Boyle’s considerations, only that this is the riding she’s been active in for years, not to mention lived in. “This is where I feel at home,” she added.

Prest, the political scientist, can see why both of them would want to represent Vancouver-Little Mountain.

“It’s the heart of Vancouver, a very important community with NDP roots,” he said. “It may be that both candidates simply want to represent this community because that’s not artificial, [rather] than being parachuted into another community.”

Mo Amir, political commentator and host of the talk show This Is VANCOLOUR, says this race is a “good problem” for the BC NDP as it shows excitement not yet seen from other parties ahead of the fall election.

“A seat like George Heyman’s is relatively safe,” he said. “You have qualified people putting their hand up, wanting to run. In contrast to other parties, [they] are in a good spot.”

What if city hall loses a progressive voice?

Boyle’s party is considered further to the left of the political spectrum than the current municipal government’s two Green councillors, the only other non-ABC voices. Her potential candidacy would mean the departure of the most progressive voice on Vancouver’s council.

“I know that I play an important role,” said Boyle.

She has butted heads with ABC Mayor Ken Sim, who launched two conduct complaints against Boyle, one for speaking publicly about an in-camera meeting on the living wage and another for using “disrespectful” language against his communications director, who was known for aggressive tactics while working for other conservative governments. Sim won the latter of the two complaints, which was resolved by Boyle apologizing.

When asked whether these conflicts had anything to do with her decision to make a run for a seat in the legislature, Boyle said no.

“I don’t mind difficult work. I’m up for a challenge wherever. My focus is on getting things done for people, tangible, meaningful improvements, and this mayor and council have been pretty intentionally shutting me down on very practical ideas that I bring forward, like automated speed enforcement cameras that schools in this riding and community members across the city have been very supportive of.”

She first started thinking last fall about where she can have “the most impact for the most people,” especially with regard to climate change. Eventually, she decided that it meant running for provincial office.

If Boyle were to leave her council seat to become MLA, it would trigger a byelection for a councillor to replace her. In that event, the OneCity party has said it would run a candidate to replace Boyle to keep up the momentum on “progressive change.”

Boyle is the first OneCity politician to be elected to council.

‘Real levers of change’

After four terms in local government, Reimer is also interested in provincial office for a similar reason.

“There are some issues that are so important to all of us — climate, housing, support for renters and those living in poverty, reconciliation, child care, protection of water and old-growth forests — where the real levers of change are in the provincial government,” she told The Tyee.

Whichever candidate takes the nomination, the riding is considered relatively safe for the NDP. Of the five ridings that lost territory to form Vancouver-Little Mountain, four of them are currently represented by the party’s MLAs.

Representation could be another reason why people have been interested in the race, says Prest, the political scientist.

“I have some trepidation as a man commenting on this, but one analogy might be that we are seeing B.C. politics pass the Bechdel test,” he said, referencing the popular measure for the representation of women in film.

Victoria-Beacon Hill is another riding with a high-profile match. BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau and NDP Minister of Children and Family Development Grace Lore will be competing for the seat this fall.

“It suggests we are moving into a new era of representation politics,” said Prest, noting gender representation in politics that is increasingly reflective of the population, including transgender candidates. “It is becoming more of a reality. Women are going to continue to be in races against one another, and that fact will be less and less remarked upon as we go on. And that's all to the good.”

As the remaining BC NDP members in Vancouver-Little Mountain go to the polls on April 4, Gregson, the child care advocate, has this to say to those torn between Reimer and Boyle:

“Both are very accessible candidates and the kind of people who will engage. Talk to both of them. Tell them about your issue. See where you make that connection and what that takeaway is.”  [Tyee]

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