Former New Democratic Party deputy leader Libby Davies bid farewell to public life but not to activism at her celebration of 18 years as a member of Parliament Thursday.
She helped open Canada’s first legal injection clinic and proposed the unanimously supported motion to compensate thalidomide victims.
“I’ll always be an activist. I’ll always be someone who works on issues that I care deeply about. But I can do it without being a member of Parliament,” she said in an interview after her address.
Over 100 people piled into the basement room of the Mount Pleasant Royal Canadian Legion, a veterans’ centre turned bingo hall, to say goodbye. The sentiment seemed to be happy for her retirement but sad to see her leave politics.
Sharon van Volkinburgh, a social worker, met Davies close to 40 years ago when they worked together for the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association.
“The fact that she’s stood up for people that are drug users or [sex workers] really helps me because I’m working with them too,” van Volkinburgh said.
Katrina Pacey of Pivot Legal also thanked Davies for helping with her law firm’s work with Vancouver’s sex workers. Pacey read out statements from sex workers thanking Davies for listening and believing in them.
Davies used her time at the podium, decorated with coloured lights and orange balloons, to direct attention to another disenfranchised group: refugees. She announced that Unifor had sponsored a Syrian refugee family in her name.
Davies announced she would not seek reelection in December. She has been the MP for Vancouver East for the past 18 years as well as Vancouver city councillor, bringing her total tenure as a public servant close to 40 years.
Despite losing such a longtime MP, the NDP managed to keep the Vancouver East riding in the October 19 general election. First-time MP Jenny Kwan will step into Davies’ seat in the new government.
“I think we’re both activist politicians,” Kwan said. “We’re both fighters and we’re very much inspired by the people in our community.”
Kwan said she’ll be focusing on affordable housing and addressing poverty in her riding, issues that Davies says still need to be fought for.
“Number one is housing,” Davies said. “It’s probably the single biggest issue facing people. Not just people who are poor but students, young families and working people who feel they’re priced out of the city.”
Megan Devlin was rabble’s news intern for summer 2015. She’s pursuing her Masters of Journalism at the University of British Columbia.
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