A mayor often reflects the hopes, fears, and aspirations of a preponderance of a city's residents.
A mayor also plays a key role in the international perception of a city.
When Vancouverites elected Gregor Robertson in 2008, they were looking for a more compassionate mayor who would champion the environment and make homelessness a priority.
They wanted something grander than the NPA's vision of law-and-order in the Downtown Eastside, sanitized streets for car traffic, developers gone wild, and softcore conservation.
At other times in the city's history, Vancouverites have elected a mayor who was more oriented toward international business (Gordon Campbell), more ready to go into the trenches of the Downtown Eastside (Larry Campbell), more affable and connected to communities (Mike Harcourt), and more likely to swim in the opposite direction as his political counterparts in Victoria (Philip Owen).
This October, Vancouver residents will choose a new mayor to replace Robertson. Over the past decade, he succeeded tremendously in making Vancouver more environmentally resilient but didn't come close to achieving his goal of eliminating street homelessness.
The mayor's race has me pondering: what hue is our city?
Red used to rule the roost
Traditionally, Vancouver has been a federal Liberal town.
The two dominant municipal parties, Vision Vancouver and the NPA, both have deep connections to the federal Liberals, which are represented by the colour red.
Owen, the two Campbells, and Harcourt have all come across at times as federal Liberals in their political disposition, even though Harcourt used to head the provincial NDP. Larry Campbell even became a Liberal senator after leaving the mayor's chair.
In the 2015 federal election, it certainly appeared that Vancouver continued to be a federal Liberal town when voters elected four proudly red standard-bearers for Justin Trudeau. The orange-coloured NDP only managed to retain Vancouver East and Vancouver Kingsway.
But judging from the results of the recent provincial election, some might consider Vancouver to be far more orange than ever before.
That's because eight New Democrats were elected in the city's 11 provincial constituencies.
Morgane Oger came within a whisker of winning a ninth seat for the NDP when she barely lost to Sam Sullivan in Vancouver-False Creek.
Then again, there are hints that Vancouver is turning green. In the last school board by-election, the three Green candidates won the most votes by a significant margin.
Vancouver has a Green chair of the park board (Stuart Mackinnon), a Green chair of the school board (Janet Fraser), and one of the greenest mayors in Canada.
Vision Vancouver managed to retain power over city council through three straight elections by securing enough support from red-, orange-, and green-minded voters.
It tried to be all things to all people for nearly a decade until too many voters started feeling that it wasn't really representing their preferred colour.
That was evident in the October council by-election when Vision's candidate came fifth. Not too long afterward, Robertson announced that he wouldn't seek reelection.
NPA could tilt to the blue side
So what colour does Vancouver embrace going forward?
The NPA seems to think it has a reasonable chance of taking back the mayor's chair, possibly through rookie councillor Hector Bremner. But Bremner's biggest problem is going to be the perception that he's neither green nor orange nor even red.
As a former oil and gas lobbyist and a former aide to former deputy premier Rich Coleman, Bremner could easily be painted as a "blue", i.e. someone more inclined to have a kinship with federal Conservatives. That's because Coleman was always perceived to be in the federal Conservative camp.
Another person interested in running as the NPA's mayoral candidate is former Conservative MP Wai Young. Another blue.
Bremner or Young wouldn't be the first such candidate for the NPA. Sam Sullivan, who was barely elected mayor in 2005, also hobnobbed with federal Conservatives, who backed his campaign. So it's not unheard-of for someone admired by Conservatives to win the top job.
But nowadays in Vancouver, that blue label is potentially far more toxic, given the federal Conservatives' unwillingness to acknowledge the magnitude of the threat of climate change.
The Conservatives under leaders Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer are always the first to support pipelines and the last to support mechanisms like a carbon tax to discourage the use of fossil fuels.
It helps explain why the Conservatives were decimated in Vancouver in the 2015 federal election.
Young, in particular, represents a Trumpian view of the world, where facts like climate change are papered over in favour of us-and-them politics that paints a dim picture of the poor as being responsible for their own misery. It's the same mindset that has fuelled opposition to temporary modular housing in some communities.
The decision of Coun. George Affleck and former candidate Kirk LaPointe not to run in 2018 might guarantee that there are no reddish party members ready to seek the NPA mayoral nomination. The supposed centre-right party might just run a blue for mayor.
Would a blue NPA create room for a red Vision?
Vision Vancouver is going to have to decide if it's going to run a mayoral candidate or if it will back a "unity" candidate supported by the Greens and OneCity Vancouver.
If Vision runs a candidate under its own banner, one possibility is Liberal MP Joyce Murray, who represents Vancouver Quadra in Parliament.
Murray is firmly in the red camp and she would represent a continuation of Robertson's pro-development and pro-environment ideology.
Murray's family silviculture company has planted more than a billion trees and she's extremely knowledgeable and concerned about climate change. At the same time, she has demonstrated an inherent trust in the market to address issues not related to the climate, whether that be marijuana or the development of the Jericho Lands.
Her career as an MP could be on the rocks as a result of Trudeau's support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, which is political poison in Vancouver Quadra.
She would have nothing to lose by stepping out of the federal arena and running for mayor. And she might attract quite a few votes from green-minded Vancouverites.
Another extremely green candidate would be Coun. Adriane Carr. She would have a good shot at winning in a two-person race against Bremner or Young, but it's unlikely that the provincial New Democrats would allow that to occur.
That's because the last thing the NDP wants is an ally of B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver in the Vancouver mayor's chair.
Already, the very green Lisa Helps is mayor of Victoria and she was narrowly elected in 2014 over an incumbent with close ties to the New Democrats. The Greens remain a powerful force in the Victoria area.
Orange you glad there are two Davies?
In the meantime, two orange candidates have stepped forward to say they're mulling the possibility of running for mayor of Vancouver: former NDP MP Libby Davies and NDP MP Don Davies (no relation).
My guess is that Don Davies would be less likely than Libby Davies to create problems for the NDP government over income inequality and social issues.
In the past, Don Davies has had ties to the Alberta labour movement. He worked for years as a lawyer with the Teamsters, which is part of the B.C. & Yukon Building Trades and Construction Council.
Coun. Raymond Louie, a moderate New Democrat, would also be a popular choice inside the premier's office.
Libby Davies was once a Downtown Eastside housing activist before venturing into electoral politics.
Given the Horgan government's labour orientation, as demonstrated by the decision to complete the Site C dam, it's a safe bet that Horgan's closest advisers and friends over at the B.C. Federation of Labour are leaning on Don Davies to go for the job.
Were he to become mayor, it would reinforce that Vancouver is a bright orange town with a strong labour orientation.
If Don Davies doesn't put his name forward, another possibility might be Mira Oreck, who ran for the NDP in Vancouver Granville in the last federal election.
Oreck, who works in the premier's office, is as orange as they come, but from her days in the Vision Vancouver backrooms, she also understands how deeply Vancouverites are concerned about climate change.
Libby Davies could have even more appeal to the climate-justice movement, given her history of activism and willingness to take on the corporate sector. But Libby Davies' heart has always been on the side of the poor.
This means that if she were to become mayor, addressing income inequality and housing would take priority over anything else. And that could conceivably influence how she might deal with senior levels of government, particularly when it comes time to making compromises to achieve political objectives.
Whereas Robertson invested a great deal of political capital on bike lanes, green buildings, and climate adaptation, Libby Davies would set her sights on fighting poverty first and foremost.
Vancouver needs a mayor who will fight poverty with relentless passion, which it didn't have during the Robertson era.
But it also needs a mayor with a long-term vision to ensure that the city is prepared for the climate hell that's inevitably going to come. Robertson succeeded magnificently in this regard, though much more needs to be done.
What about Spencer Chandra Herbert?
We had a small taste of the looming climate hell last summer when forest-fire smoke shrouded the city for extended periods.
In the words of UBC air-quality expert Michael Brauer, this could be considered "the new normal" for B.C. cities at certain times of the year.
One progressive candidate who could easily win the mayor's chair is Spencer Chandra Herbert, the popular NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End. He's a friend of the tourism industry and small business, as well as the arts and cultural sector.
Chandra Herbert has been among the city's greatest champions for the LGBT community.
Chandra Herbert also has a great deal of credibility with voters concerned about climate change and affordable housing. Like Robertson in his early days as mayor, Chandra Herbert could appeal to voters with green, red, and orange dispositions.
However, he likely wouldn't have anywhere near the same resonance in East Vancouver as either of the two Davies.
Because the NDP is barely hanging onto power in Victoria, it's unlikely that Chandra Herbert would quit the caucus at this time to run for mayor. And if he did, he might face a tremendous backlash from his party, which could jeopardize his chances of winning.
It leaves progressive voters in a conundrum if they heard the recent NDP throne speech and don't have confidence in John Horgan to keep up the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.
Would Don Davies stand up to the premier were Horgan and his cabinet to back down on the pipeline in the face of pressure from the Trudeau Liberals and the media?
Would Libby Davies be prepared to tone down the anti-pipeline rhetoric in return for more federal funding for social housing?
These are questions that can only be genuinely answered if either one of them is elected mayor.
Zeitgeist of Vancouver revolves around climate
Because this pipeline would increase tanker traffic by nearly seven times in Burrard Inlet, it poses a legitimate threat to Vancouver's tourism sector, not to mention the beaches and marine life that are so treasured by residents.
It also locks Canada into higher greenhouse gas emissions for decades.
Mainstream media commentators rarely mention climate change in connection with the pipeline, but Vancouver voters aren't stupid.
They can sense how high the stakes are for the city if this pipeline is completed.
Well-educated millennials, in particular, know that they'll be living with the life-threatening effects of climate change for the rest of their lives.
If Trudeau gets his wish and this pipeline expansion is completed, Alberta and oil-company shareholders will enjoy most of the benefits.
These will come in the form of more royalties for the Notley government and higher prices on the international market for the corporations.
B.C. residents and marine life, including orcas and sockeye salmon, take a big chunk of the risk.
It's a raw deal for Vancouver and a good deal for former Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney, who's being backed by Big Oil in his effort to become the next premier of Alberta.
Kenney has had great success selling the benefits of this pipeline to the climate quislings in the B.C. Liberal party.
You can bet that supporters of the pipeline are going to do what they can to elect someone, anyone, who will undercut the current mayor's consistent position that the Kinder Morgan project is unacceptable to Vancouverites.
Mayor Robertson understands all of this, which helped him get reelected in 2014 despite public outrage over other issues.
He gets climate change in his heart and in his mind. I suspect he thinks about climate change at least once a day and has been doing so for years.
With him and Coun. Andrea Reimer leaving municipal politics, climate-minded voters will be looking for a mayoral candidate who reflects this deep concern over the future of humanity on Earth.
That's because this overarching worry about greenhouse gas emissions is now etched deeply in the soul of the city, thanks to the efforts of climate leaders like David Suzuki and retired academic Bill Rees.
It's worth noting that over the past few years, Suzuki has endorsed politicians who were red (Joyce Murray), orange (Charlie Angus), and green (Andrew Weaver). Like a growing number of Vancouverites, Suzuki is a climate voter. Party labels aren't so important to him.
Here's the upshot: in addition to the city's long-standing red and orange hues, there's now a profoundly greenish tinge to the electorate. It can't be denied. That was apparent in the school-board results.
As I stated at the outset, a mayor reflects the hopes, fears, and aspirations of a preponderance of the citizenry of a city.
One of the defining spirits of Vancouver is a deeply felt climate consciousness. It exists to a degree unsurpassed anywhere in Canada with the exception of the Gulf Islands and Greater Victoria and is perhaps most pronounced among well-educated young people.
This will be reflected in Vancouver's choice of its next mayor.
Any mayoral candidate—either blue, red, or orange—who ignores this does so at their peril.
At this point in its history, the city might even be ready for a genuine climate activist with connections to younger residents, like Ben West, to take the reins at Vancouver city hall.
Stranger things have happened in other cities.
Nobody expected Naheed Nenshi to come out of nowhere and lead Calgary in a different direction. Nor did anyone anticipate that a right winger like Rob Ford could become mayor in a cappucino-loving city like Toronto.
Stay tuned. There's still room for plenty of surprises in the next Vancouver election.