2015 Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar Lecture: "Grassroots Politics in Parliament"

September 14, 2015

Monday, September 14, 6:00PM - 8:00PM, Room 1420, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement & J.S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities

The 2015 Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar Lecture will explore the connections and challenges of grassroots political activism and how that translates into a Parliamentary environment that is slow, bureaucratic, and resistant to change.


Prior to running federally, Libby Davies first ran for Vancouver City Council in 1976 at the age of 23. She ran again in 1978. She was elected to the Vancouver Parks Board in 1980 and, in 1982, Davies was elected to Vancouver City Council. She was reelected in 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1990. In 1993, she ran for Mayor of Vancouver. In 1997, Davies ran and was elected for the first of her six terms as the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East. Libby was also the Official Opposition Spokesperson for Health and the Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Health from May 2011 until January 2015. She is Deputy Leader of the federal NDP. Libby also served as the NDP House Leader from 2003 to March 2011.

Her history as a strong community activist for Vancouver began over 35 years ago. She and her late partner, Bruce Eriksen, were key figures in the formation of the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association (DERA) in 1973. In 10 years of community organizing, Libby developed her strong grassroots approach to working with people and diverse communities. She became involved in every community issue; from protecting community services to developing affordable housing, fighting for parks and working for the elimination of poverty. Since being elected as a Member of Parliament, Libby has provided a strong voice for Vancouver East.

She has consistently raised issues of concern to her constituents in Parliament, including: community safety; adequate childcare; and post-secondary education. Libby has also been a tireless advocate in Parliament for a national housing program, and has successfully forced federal governments to address this basic human right. Libby’s community office has helped hundreds of residents with federal government matters such as immigration, student loans, employment insurance, taxation, pensions, and Aboriginal affairs.

Leadership Roles in Caucus and Parliament:

  1. House Leader for the NDP from 2003 to 2011 – including the added challenge of working through three minority parliaments – Davies is one of the longest serving House Leaders in the House of Commons’ history and only the second woman to have held the position.
  2. Has served as the NDP Deputy Leader since 2007.
  3. The first openly gay female politician in the House of Commons, Davies is a strong proponent of equality in marriage for same sex couples.

Key accomplishments:

  1. Representing the riding of Vancouver East, Davies quickly developed a reputation for raising critical issues affecting populations that are often marginalized and ignored.
  2. Brought attention to the issue of housing and homelessness in parliament, In 1998 and 2001, she undertook National Housing Tours and was able to secure federal funds dedicated to ending homelessness.
  3. Became known as a key advocate for drug policy reform and the need for a public health and harm reduction approach to the use of illicit drugs. She won an international award for her work in this area.
  4. Campaigned tirelessly for Canada’s first supervised safe injection site. It opened in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2003.
  5. Was the first Member of Parliament to raise the issue of missing and murdered women in Canada, beginning with sex workers in the Downtown Eastside and became an outspoken advocate for sex worker rights and safety.
  6. Won the support of Parliament to establish a special committee on safety of sex workers in 2003 and the resulting all Party Parliamentary report which came out in 2006.
  7. Played a lead role in negotiating the redirection of $4.6 Billion in planned corporate tax cuts in the 2005 budget to investments in Canadians’ priorities such as more accessible post-secondary education, renewable energy, and affordable housing.
  8. Successfully negotiated parliamentary support for the need to address prescriptions drug shortages and, more recently, a call to the Government of Canada to support the urgent needs of the 95 survivors of Thalidomide.