With Stanley Park and English Bay on its borders, Vancouver Centre is one of the nation’s most scenic federal ridings. In this year’s federal election, it may also be one of the most politically exciting. The incumbent: Defence Minister Kim Campbell, the front-runner in the Conservative leadership race. Squaring off against her will be two other strong women candidates—former Olympic volleyballer Betty Baxter, 40, for the NDP and Dr. Hedy Fry, 51, a Trinidad-born family practitioner for the Liberals. A fourth woman, local pharmacist Diana Hu, is seeking the Reform party nomination. Campbell’s hold on the riding is less than solid: in the 1988 election, she won by only 269 votes, out of 63,735 cast, over NDP challenger Johanna den Hertog. But many Vancouver Centre residents say that if Campbell, who celebrated her 46th birthday last week, wins the Tory leadership—and becomes the country’s first woman prime minister—her chances for re-election would be greatly strengthened. “Of course people would vote for her if she becomes the Tory leader,” said Daye Ellingham, 38, manager of a local health food store. “Her being prime minister couldn’t do us any harm.”
Still, Campbell will have a fight on her hands. Vancouver Centre is home to one of Canada’s largest—and most high-profile—gay and lesbian communities, whose leaders have vowed to unseat the defence minister. Gays and lesbians make up an estimated 20 per cent of the riding’s 85,000 voters. Many of them complain that she let the community down by failing to recognize homosexual marriages in proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act. “The gay issue is big because of the sense of betrayal,” says the NDP’s Baxter, a lesbian activist. “The community had a commitment from the government. But there was little action on human rights issues for homosexuals when Campbell was justice minister.” And Baxter, a consultant who offers businesses training on such issues as labor relations and sexual harassment, claims that the gay community shares many concerns with other Vancouver Centre residents. “The gay community is not a single issue group,” she adds. “Other issues include taxes, jobs, street safety and this country’s growing lack of determining its own future due to free trade.”
While some analysts say that Campbell may seek re-election in a safer, less volatile riding,
Campbell’s constituency association executives dismiss such speculation—and predict that she will have no problems returning to Parliament. “You must distinguish between the antipathy felt for Brian Mulroney and the respect felt here for Kim,” says one Tory insider. For his part, David Camp, who worked on her unsuccessful bid for the B.C. Socred
leadership in 1986 and is expected to play a key role in Campbell’s leadership campaign, denies that she has ever considered running in another riding. “That never was an issue, never a possibility,” says Camp, a Vancouver lawyer and son of veteran Tory insider Dalton Camp. “She loves this riding.”
Certainly, Campbell’s ties to Vancouver Centre—she owns a house in the riding’s Fairview Slopes district—are strong. She has lived in the city since childhood, after moving there with her family from Port Albemi. A valedictorian at Vancouver’s Prince of Wales Secondary School, she later earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of British Columbia and a Canada Council doctoral fellowship to study Soviet government at the London School of Economics. She returned to teach political science at UBC and graduated in law in 1983, three years after winning a seat on the Vancouver school board.
Campbell was still writing her law exams when she decided to run for the Socreds in Vancouver Centre in the 1983 provincial elec-
tion. She lost and then became a policy adviser to then-Premier William Bennett. When he stepped down in 1986, she launched an ambitious campaign for the party’s leadership. She finished last of 12 candidates, but the resulting publicity helped her to capture the provincial Point Grey riding, which overlaps her current federal constituency, later that year. Two years later, she switched to the federal Tories. Twice-married, she is now single and has no children of her own, although she remains close to her stepchildren.
Despite her status as the clear front-runner in the Tory race, some local residents are unmoved by the talk of Campbell-mania. “I wouldn’t vote for her,” says Lee Durkin, 38, a waiter who lives and works in the riding. “She jumped too quickly from provincial to federal politics, from party to party. That was opportunistic—I don’t think she has the moxie to be prime minister.” And Liberal candidate Fry, who has practised in the riding for 22 years, says that Campbell has alienated a lot of female voters. “A lot of women are disappointed in
Kim Campbell,” says Fry, former president of the B.C. Medical Association and a member of the party’s National Task Force on Women. “We expected that [as justice minister] she would do a lot about crime in the streets and she has not. All she is is a younger, female Brian Mulroney—she is carrying a lot of baggage.” Adds Reform party hopeful Diana Hu: “I don’t think her being prime minister will make much difference. The Tories are like Humpty Dumpty—too broken up into pieces. You can’t put them back together again.”
But even Campbell’s political opponents acknowledge that she will attract more voters if she wins the Tory leadership. “If she wins the leadership, she will be close to unbeatable,” says Victor Huczek, president of the riding’s federal Liberal association. “It would be brutal for the rest of us—people would vote en masse for her as prime minister. She would need an albatross around her neck to lose.” That albatross, Huczek adds, may already exist: the controversial $4.4-billion defence department deal to purchase 50 new EH-101 helicopters. “That helicopter deal could be her Achilles heel,” says Huczek.
Campbell’s riding association workers are certainly not taking her re-election for granted. “Our intention is to go at it door-to-door,” says riding president Donna Mackey, a realtor. “People are very cynical about being merely phoned. We will ensure that her policies are clearly explained.” When election day arrives, however, Campbell’s prospects in Vancouver Centre might well depend on whether she is running as Prime Minister of Canada or as just another Tory cabinet minister.
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