The Vancouver party system no longer fits with today’s complex and diverse candidates and the pressure to fit into a party ideology detracts from their ability to present themselves fully to the voting public.

The embarrassment of candidate riches in this election presents voters with an unprecedented number of quality candidates drawing from a deep well of experience from which the City of Vancouver will benefit for years to come. We have an exceedingly interesting scenario playing out whereby many of the candidates for the tradionally center-right (and inaccurately-named) Non-Partisan Association (NPA), the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), and the center-left Vision Vancouver do not fit neatly into the ideologies once touted by those parties.

The announcement of architect and social housing planner Michael Geller’s entry in the election under the NPA banner is, by his own admission, something that surprises those who know him well who would have expected him to run for Vision Vancouver, or even COPE. Geller chose the NPA because he feels there is room for someone with his eclectic experience and he didn’t feel he could win a nomination – a refreshingly humble and likely wrong assertion – to the Vision roster given their full slate of qualified candidates.

City Council candidate Michael Geller

City Council candidate Michael Geller

If you look at the bios of many of the announced candidates seeking party nominations, it’s easy to see that the majority could run under any one of the two or three parties and have something to offer that falls within those ideologies. Disappointingly, the party system hamstrings candidates into having to toe the given party line to varying degrees or dumb down their rhetoric in order to win a nomination, so the voting public never sees the real candidate. Granted, that is the case with most politicians, but why not encourage transparency where it can be fostered in even small ways?

The first order of business for the new civic government should be to scrap the current partisan system in favour of an open race or possibly the implementation of a ward system where candidates run in a specified neighborhood and represent the interests of that neighborhood in addition to their duties to the city at large, much like the provincial and federal processes. The ward system engenders a sense of responsibility and accountability to voters whom many elected officials seem to conveniently forget are also citizens and taxpayers.

Viewing the decisions of the current civic government these past three years through this lens of increased accountability to neighborhoods would create some fascinating outcomes. Perhaps the votes on big box stores, Eco-density (where is the trademark symbol when you need it?), social housing at the 2010 Olympic Village and even the outcome of the 2007 civic workers’ strike would have been significantly different under a ward system where councilors answered more directly to their constituents.

Such a system would also serve to reduce the potential for distracting and misconstrued events such as the Jamie Lee Hamilton debacle. Hamilton could simply run as an independent – an option still open to her under the current system – and avoid the need for anyone’s rubber stamp of validation.


Non-Partisan Association wannabe Jamie Lee Hamilton cries bigotry as the party declines her application for a Park Board spot, claiming NPA officials cited her lifestyle as the reason for her exclusion from their inner circle. While discrimination against the gender queer in society is obviously a serious problem, in Hamilton’s case, the assertion seems off base.

Jamie Lee Hamilton

Jamie Lee Hamilton

In classic Jamie Lee Hamilton style, she refuses to focus on the real issues of her chronic unsuitability for board and council work and instead goes on the offensive, playing the sex trade and gender cards whenever her own flaws limit her prospects. Her opportunistic, pot-stirring ways are the stuff of legend in the local activist scene, which is why she was trolling in NPA ponds for a nomination in the first place; no other party was willing to take the good – Hamilton’s arguably soft heart and desire to help her community – with the bad: poor human relations skills and the dogged pursuit and defamation of anyone perceived as an enemy.

Similar scenarios played out when Hamilton ran afoul of fellow board members of Grandma’s House and later, the Vancouver Pride Society. Grandma’s House – the Downtown Eastside brothel she ran in the late 1990s – fell apart amid allegations of missing funds and infighting among board members, spelling the end for the house that was already in tough against NIMBY neighbors threatening to call police and City Hall.

If anyone needs evidence of the real reasons the NPA passed on Hamilton’s expertise, take note of her public torching of COPE council candidate Ellen Woodsworth on Hamilton’s blog a couple of weeks before the NPA dropped her. Who knows what the seemingly lovely, competent and unassuming Woodsworth did to anger Hurricane Jamie Lee, but Hamilton’s petty, unprofessional, vitriol spews out whenever someone crosses her and no party wants a piece of that. Maybe it’s because Woodsworth is a lesbian….in Hamilton Land, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Every time she wrongly cries trans or sex trade bias, she makes it that much harder for someone in those communities to file a legitimate grievance and she diminishes the community’s credibility.

The hyper-litigious Hamilton promises to file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal in a mass email sent out after her meetings with the NPA, as is Hamilton’s way. Understandably, the NPA would rather leave her off the ballot then risk her potential public missives every time something occurs in a Park Board meeting she doesn’t agree with.

There are few roads tougher than that of aboriginal, post-op, male-to-female transsexual sex trade worker and community activist. Hamilton’s mere physical survival is laudable and she champions many in her community. She must be viewed with compassion and sensitivity, but if her problems stem from poor self-esteem and a difficult life, she can only be forgiven for so long if she wants to remain in the public eye and hold public office. She cannot continue to waste the time of fellow board or council members. In public office, wasted time translates into wasted tax dollars.

The NPA showed her grace and respect by giving her an ear, but they undoubtedly saw her baggage and lack of self-awareness as a liability and never took her seriously as a candidate. In fairness, they did the only thing they could and now have to face the accusations of bigotry as they head into the election in what will ultimately prove to be nothing more than another minor Hamilton distraction that marks every civic election.

She could be such a positive role model – someone worthy of City Hall – but rather than build consensus and rally the marginalized, she goes off like Gloria Gaynor on speed, dukes up, ready to bash the bully, reducing the concern in question as one coming to the forefront “only because I’m a sex worker” or “only because I’m trans-gendered”.

These are tired accusations and the support Hamilton enjoys from the LGBT community – one finally coming into its own and no longer in need of just any queer-identified person to step into a role model position – is waning fast. To continue to support the bias-shrieking Hamilton is to undermine the credibility of a LGBT community that has fought long and hard to earn just that.

Politics are not for the thin-skinned or the easily-offended. If Jamie Lee Hamilton could harness some of the energy and heart she used to drop women’s shoes on the steps of City Hall to draw attention to the growing number of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and stop fighting petty battles or striving for a spot on a political party that wouldn’t value her, maybe people could take her seriously as someone with something tangible to offer and not merely a bad tri-annual Vancouver civic election punchline.