This year, Vancouver's annual homeless count was as bad as ever.
It located 2,181 people who didn't have a place to call home.
Of those, 659 were living rough in the streets, parks, underground parking garages, and other outdoor locations. Another 1,522 were being housed in shelters at the time of the count on March 13 and 14.
As the Straight's Travis Lupick reported earlier this year, a stunning 40 percent were Indigenous even though they comprise just 2.2 percent of Vancouver's population.
It's a devastating indictment of Vision Vancouver, which has been in control of city hall since 2008 and which once promised to abolish homeless.
Vision Vancouver's council candidate in last October's by-election came fifth because of the high cost of housing. It was a brutal repudiation of Mayor Gregor Robertson's handling of this issue.
This devastating loss likely pushed him to decide not to seek reelection.
Four veteran Vision councillors are also done with electoral politics: Kerry Jang, Andrea Reimer, Tim Stevenson, and Geoff Meggs, who quit to become the senior staffer in the premier's office.
It's like the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. Who's the next one to fall? Raymond Louie? Heather Deal? Will there be none of them left by the time the election is held?
But the Vision Vancouver braintrust can't stomach the thought of losing power because they're so imbued with the notion that they're best suited to solve the city's biggest challenges.
Only they can address homelessness.
Only they can deal with the opioid crisis.
Only they can make the city sufficiently resilient to withstand the very real perils of climate change.
Only they can ensure that those with mental-health issues are treated properly and with the appropriate level of compassion.
There's a whiff of noblesse oblige—the inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward the less privileged.
But those who are less privileged often don't feel like they're the beneficiaries of Vision's willingness to allow developers to tear down apartment buildings to build expensive condos or far more expensive rental units.
So what did Vision Vancouver do?
The obvious choice was to sit out this mayoral election—take two minutes in the penalty box for bad behaviour—and allow a perfectly qualified progressive like NDP MP Kennedy Stewart or SFU public practice professor Shauna Sylvester to duke it out for the mayor's chair.
But instead, the Vision gang decided to recruit Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell to run as a mayoral candidate.
As a result, Vision Vancouver risks splitting the vote in a multitude of directions, enabling someone like the NPA's outspoken populist, Glen Chernen, or former Conservative MP Wai Young to become mayor.
We could easily see a repeat of the October by-election when the NPA council candidate, Hector Bremner, won with a mere 27 percent of the vote.
This "big idea" isn't without risks
The same gang that gave us Robertson is now backing Campbell's candidacy.
It's being presented as a "big idea", in the words of Coun. Andrea Reimer.
That's because Campbell's election can advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. It would provide an outstanding role model for Indigenous youth to see him as mayor.
There are many good things to say about Campbell. He's exceptionally bright. He's worked with the City of Vancouver on many worthwhile projects.
With his 20 years' experience in Indigenous governance, he has more political and governing experience than anyone else in the race.
He has the support of many respected Indigenous people in the region, including Chief Robert Joseph, the man behind the city's two phenomenally successful walks for reconciliation.
Campbell has also demonstrated his progressive politics in opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline and by backing Jenny Kwan's bid to become the NDP MP for Vancouver East.
But as the political spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, Campbell has also been associated with two massive developments that could be the subject of major rezonings in his term of office, should he become mayor.
These are the Jericho lands and the RCMP's former B.C. headquarters on Heather Street.
Then there's the nagging question of the three-hectare Molson Coors brewery site, which was bought by Concord Pacific for $185 million.
It's zoned industrial and under the regional growth strategy, it would have to stay industrial. But a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in 2014 may have left an opening for it to become a large residential development.
The Squamish Nation owns a 4.5-hectare parcel of land nearby, which it has talked about developing.
Should the brewery site be rezoned for high-density residential development, it will boost the value of the other property.
This is the type of issue that a candidate like Chernen would feast upon, given his history of roasting other high-density developments promoted by Vision Vancouver.
Young, the former Conservative, would point to this and cite it as another example of Vision Vancouver favouring its friends.
Campbell could be framed by his opponents as the developers' chosen candidate, which isn't ideal for anyone wanting to become mayor these days.
Stewart and Sylvester wouldn't carry this baggage into an election campaign.
Vision's brand is the problem
Vision Vancouver's backroom operators probably believe in their hearts that nominating Campbell for mayor will advance reconciliation.
But what if he ends up getting slaughtered, just like Diego Cardona did when he was the party's sacrificial lamb in the October by-election?
After all, the Vision Vancouver brand is not exactly a vote winner these days.
A Campbell thrashing wouldn't advance reconciliation.
It would only serve to widen the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Vancouver.
That could then be followed by the resounding defeat of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver Granville in the 2019 federal campaign because of the Trudeau government's support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
The reconciliation project would continue, but not with quite the same level of confidence among those who are most enthusiastic for it to succeed.
That's one of the potential legacies of Vision Vancouver's latest political gambit to retain control over city hall.
This movie isn't over yet.
There are several potential endings.
One features a joyous Ian Campbell in front of a microphone thanking the voters for electing him. In this scene, television cameras scan the room, capturing a teary-eyed audience overcome with emotion because an Indigenous person has become mayor.
It's an image that would cement Vancouver's global reputation as a bastion of open-minded thinking. It would reflect the citizenry's willingness to turn the page on nearly two centuries of sordid history.
But keep in mind that this isn't the only outcome.
Residents could end up with another memorable image: the Vancouver equivalent of a Rob Ford or Donald Trump going up to the microphone to thank residents for electing him or her as mayor.
And after this election, that mayor could decide to start slashing the city budget and chairing the police board in ways that roll back the clock on reconciliation.
If that were to occur, progessives could squarely place the blame on Vision Vancouver for not fully appreciating how toxic its brand had become by 2018.
Afer the last election, I was on a panel with a journalist who likened the mayor's staff to a bunch of characters in The West Wing.
But for me, the people in charge of Vision Vancouver sometimes seem more like the figures depicted in The Best and the Brightest.
This was David Halberstam's riveting and epic examination of how arrogant and elitist intellectuals in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations dragged the United States into the Vietnam War.
That's what ultimately led to the election of the reactionary Richard Nixon as U.S. president.
For anyone who picks up the book, it's a reminder that noblesse oblige sometimes comes with a heavy price.More