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Community activist unsure of future after byelection loss

After 21 years in electoral politics, it may be the end of the road for Jamie Lee Hamilton

Jamie Lee Hamilton and friends gathered in a West End hotel to discuss the byelection results. Photo: Sasha Zeidler
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Reported by Sasha Zeidler

Community activist Jamie Lee Hamilton says her future in Vancouver politics is up in the air after her sixth attempt to get elected in 21 years fell short in Saturday’s byelection.

Hamilton, who ran with IDEA Vancouver in the Oct. 14 race, finished last of 19 candidates seeking one of nine spots on the Vancouver school board. Results showed she won 2.7 per cent of the vote.

“I’ve run a number of times and you get tired,” said Hamilton, who was joined Saturday night by a dozen friends at the Coast Plaza Hotel and Suites to watch the results. “At the same time, at a personal level, it doesn’t make me feel good to be coming in last place…I just thought in this election we had so much going for us.”

IDEA, which is “more of a social movement than a party,” focuses on creating policy and programs to help vulnerable and marginalized people. Hamilton was the organization’s only candidate in the byelection, which included a race for a vacant council seat.

Long time LGBTQ advocate

Hamilton has a long-standing history of advocacy for LGBTQ minorities, sex trade workers, Indigenous people and at-risk youth. She focused her campaign on diminishing bullying in schools and educating young people about the dangers of drug use and the city’s opioid crisis.

The Green Party won the majority of votes in the school board race, earning three seats. Vision Vancouver also won three seats, while the Non-Partisan Association picked up two. OneCity candidate Carrie Bercic made history as her party’s first candidate to be elected to civic government. Independents, including Hamilton, finished in the last three spots in the contest.

“It’s very hard to win when you’re not part of a party,” said Hamilton’s financial agent Kyle Simunovic, who has worked on several campaigns over the years. “But [Hamilton] has always been someone that I’ve known to relish in those challenges.”

First transgender woman

In 1996, Hamilton became the first transgender woman to run for public office at Vancouver city council, where she placed 14th out of 58 candidates. She ran again in 2005.

Her past three campaigns in 2008, 2011 and 2014 have all been for a spot as a park board commissioner, making this her first time running for school board.

Despite a brief attempt to run with the NPA in 2008, Hamilton has no plans to join a party. Such a move, she said, would mean “selling her principles” of representing marginalized people, particularly if a party accepted campaign donations from developers.

Connie Fogal, a former Canadian Action Party leader, said she hopes her friend will run again in a future election. The next civic election is in October 2018.

“She’s going to continue to receive a lot of pressure to continue to perform so as long as she’s well enough and strong enough,” said Fogal, who was among Hamilton’s supporters at the hotel. “If she chooses not to, she’s paid her dues.”

11 per cent voter turnout

Saturday’s byelection was triggered when Geoff Meggs resigned as a councillor in July to become chief of staff for Premier John Horgan. His resignation came 10 months after then-education minister Mike Bernier fired the school board for failing to pass a balanced budget.

The city called the byelection to fill the vacant council seat. Horgan’s government later decided to tack on the school board race to the ballot. It was the city’s first byelection in 25 years. Only 11 per cent of voters turned out.

Though she will continue her activism work in the community, Hamilton is unsure whether she will run as a candidate in future municipal elections. In the meantime, she hopes she can inspire a new generation of politicians.

“Whether I [still] want to participate in electoral politics is something I’ll have to look at down the road,” she said.

If Hamilton had been elected, she would have made history as the first transgender member of the Vancouver school board, although she did not make her gender the focus of her campaign.

“I hope my candidacy has paved the way for younger trans people to know that they can run and do OK,” she said.

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