The nomination fight for the B.C. Liberals in Vancouver-False Creek is about to become a clash of political titans.
Party members within the riding that covers much of downtown Vancouver will be facing the choice of whether their candidate in the May, 2013, election should be a former high-profile MLA or the former mayor of Vancouver.
After a four-year break from elected politics, Lorne Mayencourt will announce Wednesday that he's in the race to win the nomination at a party meeting likely to be held in February. Sam Sullivan is already running and has been looking for support since early November.
Mr. Mayencourt, MLA for Vancouver-Burrard from 2001 until 2008, will make his announcement at a Wednesday afternoon get-together in the riding created in 2008 – it includes about a third of his former riding. Mr. Mayencourt, who has lately been working in caucus outreach for the Liberals, has been officially coy about his intentions. "It's time to fish or cut bait," was all he would say earlier this week.
But Liberals have noted you don't book space in a slick downtown restaurant, as Mr. Mayencourt has done, for a Facebook-promoted event to declare you're not running. One Liberal, who said he got a personal invitation from Mr. Mayencourt in which the former MLA said he was running, predicted a good contest.
"You've got two people with very, very good name recognition," said the Liberal, speaking on condition of anonymity. "In addition to their skills as politicians, they have got good networks, the ability to raise money and generate volunteers. I don't know how I would measure one against the other. Looking at them together, they're even. I expect it's going to be a tough battle. This is going to be something to watch."
The winner of the nomination fight will carry Liberal colours into the election battle for a riding the Liberals won by 57 per cent in 2009, to 27 per cent for the NDP. MLA Mary McNeil has decided not to seek another term, creating the opening.
On Monday night, Mr. Sullivan was at his first formal meet-and-greet event in a Yaletown hotel, talking up his campaign and soliciting help to sell the memberships he will need to get traction. He said Mr. Mayencourt would be a "formidable opponent" because he had a long history in politics, as well as good outreach and organizational skills.
That history has been eventful. Mr. Mayencourt won his riding by 11 votes in 2005 and saw a private member's bill adapted into legislation to ban aggressive panhandling. At one point, his intervention with a panhandler drew the attention of a special prosecutor who ruled out charges – against Mr. Mayencourt. "The key thing I really have to focus on is that I'm a legislator, not an enforcer," Mr. Mayencourt told The Globe and Mail at the time.
In terms of provincial experience, said Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Mayencourt has "got a bit of a head start, but I will do my best to catch up."
After nine years as a city councillor, Mr. Sullivan left politics in 2008 – a sitting mayor denied the nomination to seek a second term when members of his Non-Partisan Association party turned against him,voting him out in favour of Peter Ladner, who went on to lose to Gregor Robertson of Vision Vancouver. He has since dabbled in various areas, including the leadership of a society that hosts salons at which presenters speak on assorted topics.
Asked earlier this month why he might be interested in returning to politics, Mr. Mayencourt said, "I enjoy it and have been told I am good at it."
Mike McDonald, campaign director for the BC Liberals, said "the party would be happy with either one of them."
Digital-media businessman Matt Toner, nominated last weekend as False Creek's NDP candidate, says either of them will be tough rivals because of their name recognition, personal and professional accomplishments and willingness to fight hard.
"Me, by myself, against these guys? That would be a longshot. at best," he said. But he added that, come the next election, he will benefit from the momentum of the provincial campaign, including the support of popular Leader Adrian Dix, as well as a game plan to erode either Mr. Sullivan or Mr. Mayencourt's strengths.
"When you're an established politician, you're not just running against me but against your record. There are certain flaws we can look at there and exploit for either one. I might have my personal preference for which one I would prefer to go up against but we'll see what the process yields."