September 29, 2022

Vancouver City Council race: 58 candidates, 10 parties, and … what’s the difference?

CHATBOX is your chance to eavesdrop on Gordon Price and Sandy James Planner as they joust over our region’s features and foibles. Please comment and join the conversation.

Sandy: Gordon, we have 58 people running for Council positions, and a host of different parties. How does anyone decide who to vote for? Have you noticed how similar all the party platforms are? They seem to have almost identical concerns: housing, safety and economy, all wrapped up in slightly different words. Is there any *substantive* difference between the major civic parties’ platforms?

Gordon: Not much. When it comes to the party policies, I think all of them are on the big issues much the same: Affordability, Safety, and … choose one additional. Arguably only TEAM has an anti-growth brand to distinguish itself. The rest distinguish themselves by degree (“we’ll build more, we’ll protect renters better”) but it kinda confirms what I thought at the beginning: housing isn’t going to be the determinant issue in this election. Voters will need another reason, issue or personality to choose.

Sandy: The only difference appears to be some parties put housing number one, some put safety number one. It’s just not a user friendly process, especially for anyone (most people) who don’t following civic politics closely. Maybe that is why there is only about 38 percent participation at municipal votes.

Gordon: In the last few weeks of an election I am looking for the meme that captures the moment. It can be serious or silly, but it has to grab everyone’s attention and require all the candidates to come up with a response that distinguishes them – and preferably, one  that allows a well-aimed attack at your opponent.

Often the silly and serious go together – like the recent report on persistent offenders that advocates for changing the term so as not to unfairly stigmatize the people you see doing random attacks on the Global News loop.  It’s a parody of wokeism – and the responses to it could provide an emotional basis for voters to choose ‘their kind of candidate.’

Sandy: Well, as far as going after the opponent, we are certainly getting into American style politics with attack ads. Look at Mayor Stewart going after Ken Sim for his platform of hiring 100 new police and psychological social workers to assist in the Downtown Eastside. But we forget that to fund everything, Stewart has raised property taxes a rather large amount. So Gordon, you are saying that this election may shake down to be about law and order?

Gordon: Yes, in part. Housing will still remain the key issue – but any minor event, misstatement, or inarticulate response could hijack a party’s strategy and recalibrate how people see the leader. Kennedy Stewart is the most vulnerable, mainly because he’s not seen as supportive of the police.  Still, you can’t anticipate the unpredictable, so for the moment housing remains the issue.

Sandy: I think this municipal election has two different voters: young people and renters who see rental and housing policy and the ability to house themselves and their families as understandably paramount; (and they are right, despite the fact that this is really provincial and federal jurisdiction)  and people who may be housed, have families, have cultural connections or use Chinatown and other areas of the downtown and want to have safety and security for themselves and their families in those areas. In the last four years there are now “no go” streets in the Downtown Eastside, and that’s scary for people. There is a specific tangible change in how people feel about walking and mobility in parts of Vancouver’s downtown. That never used to the the case.

Sandy: There is almost an American approach in talking about the unhoused and tent cities.There are pushes to look at  and embed the differences instead of bringing people together looking at commonalities. 

Gordon: Indeed, you’ve touched on one of the ‘known unknowns’ of real consequence.  Will ethnic communities and new immigrants shape the election out of a fear of disorder? Of which there are abundant examples in Chinatown. 

Sandy: The American narrative of the haves-vs-have nots seems to predominate. We have universal health care and universal accessible public education, and those should be places we start to build relationships and strengthen the city. Somehow that has been lost. There are some candidates for council  that no one has ever heard from, and there are candidates that have been very active in the city in other forms of public volunteerism and community work, and have good name and volunteer work recognition.

Gordon: That American narrative can combine with the  more extreme kind of rhetoric to turn our election very ugly. If a Trumpist voice arises (though we’ve soon no real sign of that yet), then it wouldn’t just be peace and order but also other complex issues.


Sandy: What has been great with the parties has been the listing of who has done what, and what they represent. It was in 2018 we got rid of having names on the ballot by alphabet. But that has resulted in a polyglot of confusion with all the names on the ballot where electors will have to hunt and seek names. I remember years ago the old NPA party handed voters a little cut out card to overlay on the ballot, and just pencil in your checkmarks on the areas that were still exposed. Simple, but genius. And yes they won that election.

I still think we need to get to a ward system so we can concentrate on a handful of potential councillors, not scores of them. But given the mass of contenders – are there any standouts? Who would you stand behind?

Gordon: Well as a member of the ‘chattering class,’ there are a few Councillor candidates I’m looking at. I’m definitely going with Lisa Dominato and her ex-NPA colleagues, Sarah Kirby-Yung and Rebecca Bligh, who have joined Ken Sim’s ABC.  Beyond ABC, I like a guy from Forward – Russil Wvong – who looks to be the kind of ‘West Pacific’ citizen that Vancouver needs on council. I always enjoy sparring with Michael Klassen. I’ve got room for Pete Fry.  And then there’s Iona Bonamis of One City – a genuine transportation professional. Yes!

Sandy: There’s something at the city that any staff can tell you: we know who read the reports and do the background research at council, and who just skims the report and then talks without understanding the issues. The current Council is a result of the new way of random balloting. They are all thoughtful people, but going forward the question becomes looking at party platforms and proposed policy, taking a serious look at what is important to the voter. Is it housing, an accessible safe city, sustainability? And thinking if you want to build a majority of one civic party to get the work done, who would that be? Those are major questions in terms of ensuring that policy platforms are implemented.

Gordon:  Well, regarding ‘thoughtful people that can work together on Council,’ … most of the time, this current Council has done that, and look where that got them in the public mind. The good news is that by far the majority of people running for civic government are just the kind of people you want: community-based, prepared to make a commitment and work hard, not corrupt!, many who are representative of the changing city. We are typically pretty well-served by those we elect, and I don’t think that will change.

Sandy: That is true, but this current Council has spent an inordinate amount of time talking amongst themselves and circling. I think people running for Council are gold-they know their background and everything about them will be scrutinized, and they have to make decisions in the public interest, and thresh out what that means in policy. I still think it’s helpful to have a majority of representatives from one party to get policy through without taking inordinate amounts of time.  We have a little over two weeks left, a lot can still happen before election day!

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