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B.C. NDP hopeful knows underdog role well

George Heyman thanks his supporters after winning the NDP nomination in the Vancouver-Fairview riding in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, October 21, 2012.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

That he is called an underdog surprises him.

George Heyman – a high-profile former union leader who was most recently the executive director of the Sierra Club of B.C. – was labelled as such last fall, when he ran against two-term Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs for the B.C. NDP nomination in Vancouver-Fairview. Mr. Heyman, who had campaigned for more than a year at that point, ultimately took 58 per cent of the votes to defeat Mr. Meggs, whom many had considered a shoo-in.

While Mr. Heyman seems destined for a cabinet seat should he and his party win next month's election, the fact that he first must defeat the incumbent, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, has once again cast him as the underdog.

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He recognizes the challenge: "She is the incumbent, she is known, she is head of an important ministry … and she has name recognition for being the MLA," he said. "And, this is not a riding that one can say is solidly New Democrat. It's my job to make it solidly New Democrat. It's a true swing riding."

But by election day, Mr. Heyman will have campaigned for more than 20 months and knocked on "thousands" of doors. Voters have told him, at length, about their concerns on the environment and the economy, he said. Young people in the riding, which is made up mostly of renters, tell him they are concerned they will never own a home in the city. To them, Mr. Heyman feels there is no clear front-runner or underdog.

"Most people I meet on the doorstep are still weighing their decision," he said. "I'm comfortable with the idea that I have to earn every vote to win this tight race."

His background gives him some leverage: After more than 30 years in the labour movement, including nine as president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU), Mr. Heyman became executive director of the Sierra Club of B.C., a non-profit environmental advocacy and education organization. In those roles, he was praised by supporters as an effective and well-liked communicator, speaking for the average Joe – sentiments that helped earn him the NDP nomination.

Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer, who officially endorsed Mr. Heyman this week, called him "a bridge builder, looking for common ground among groups that don't always get along."

Mr. Heyman said he gained valuable financial management experience in his previous roles.

"I was proud of the fact that whether it was at the BCGEU or at the Sierra Club, I've never run anything but a surplus," he said. "I left very, very significant reserves in both organizations.

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"I've run an organization with a $44-million budget and one with a $1.1-million budget, and I think I've been successful with both. I've learned a lot."

Mr. Heyman is also a published poet, a runner and board president of the Elbow Theatre company, a start-up that aims to produce challenging and often politically charged works.

Matthew Pedley, an engineer from the West Kootenays, is the Green candidate.

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About the Author
News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More


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