As crazy as it sounds, Glen Chernen could become the next mayor of Vancouver

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      Mayoral elections are often a reflection of public sentiment.

      Sometimes, there's a large number of candidates but invariably, the race narrows down to two or three choices by the end.

      If the pattern holds, this is likely to occur in Vancouver, even though it now seems like there's a crowded field.

      Vision Vancouver will likely hold a mayoral nomination race pitting Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell against tech entrepreneur and former federal Liberal candidate Taleeb Noormohamed.

      This will lead to a sign-up campaign, bringing younger tech workers and Ismaili Muslims (like Noormohamed) into the Vision Vancouver fold.

      But I'm betting that in the end, the party establishment's support for Campbell will give him the nomination.

      Noormohamed could then leverage his campaign into a successful run for a federal Liberal nomination in 2019, perhaps in Vancouver Centre should MP Hedy Fry retire.

      He has nothing to lose by running for the Vision nomination and everything to gain.

      This would leave Campbell facing two serious independent mayoral candidates on the centre-left: NDP MP Kennedy Stewart and SFU public-practice professor Shauna Sylvester.

      Meanwhile, the NPA looks like it's in the process of evolving into an antideveloper party headed by Dunbar resident Glen Chernen.

      The proof will come on June 3 when the party nominates its mayoral candidate.

      The mercurial and unpredictable Chernen is going up against two conventional NPA types: courier company president and park commissioner John Coupar and bagel-company and home-care company founder Ken Sim.

      In the last election, Chernen ran for the Cedar Party and he's been involved in unsuccessful legal actions against Mayor Gregor Robertson. Chernen has also been an outspoken critic of the redevelopment of Oakridge Centre into a high-density mixed-use project.

      He's calling for a "revolution of transparency and accountability", anchored by the support of small business operators.

      Hector Bremner has distinctly different views on housing than Chernen and his supporters.
      Hector Bremner

      Schism over cause of high home prices

      A recent article by the Star's Jen St. Denis demonstrated Chernen's ties to HALT (Housing Action for Local Taxpayers). This group has repeatedly claimed that that the primary factors behind the high cost of housing have been corruption and offshore money.

      HALT members and Chernen have supported NDP Attorney General David Eby in the past in Vancouver-Point Grey. It's been a mutually beneficial relationship, with Eby gaining high political office and he, in turn, giving credence to their claims about the root causes of high housing prices.

      As former NDP federal candidate and HALT critic Victor Wong has pointed out, some HALT members are upper middle-class homeowners who grew up on the West Side, but cannot afford to buy in their former neighbourhoods.

      These are not people who would normally be attracted to the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors—as much as they might like COPE's similar focus on developers as the cause of high housing prices. 

      Meanwhile, the urbanist, pro-development wing of the NPA may coalesce around a new party headed by councillor Hector Bremner, who's a tenant.

      He's supported by some other tenants, notably Adrian Crook, the founder of the pro-density Abundant Housing Vancouver.

      So you can see why the Chernen and Bremner camps are so at odds with one another.

      When it comes to solving the housing crisis, they're at completely opposite ends of the debate. Chernen sees this as a problem that needs to be addressed through demand-side measures; Bremner promotes supply-side solutions. Each camp thinks the other is either colossally stupid or corrupt.

      In most of his public comments, Eby has also been a "demand-sider", calling for more taxes, more disclosure, and more onerous measures on foreign buyers. Hence his popularity with members of HALT and Chernen.

      Bremner, on the other hand, has considerable appeal to those who endorse the views of the most outspoken supply-sider in the city, Vancouver-False Creek B.C. Liberal MLA Sam Sullivan.

      Should Bremner run for mayor, he would have the support of many in the development industry, which feels it's repeatedly being smeared by Eby and the HALT crowd.

      This Sam Sullivan video presents the supply-siders' views on the cause of high Vancouver housing prices.

      But a problem facing the supply-siders is the likely presence of Vision's Campbell in the race.

      His party, under Mayor Gregor Robertson, has long advanced the supply-side argument, though not with nearly as much vigour as Bremner and local urbanists.

      Bremner and his young Turks, including members of the B.C. Liberals, would like densification to proceed far more rapidly.

      So voters can get supply-side heavy from Bremner and supply-side slightly less heavy from Campbell.

      Both would be characterized as developers' candidates, or even developers' stooges, by Chernen's supporters.

      Vision Vancouver's Ian Campbell's ties to the development industry would make him vulnerable to attacks from Chernen.

      Chernen has a constitutuency of voters

      I can envision a Chernen political leaflet featuring developers Francesco Aquilini and Peter Wall riding two thoroughbreds carrying the faces of Campbell and Bremner.

      This would demonstrate that two of the biggest property magnates in the city have two horses in the race.

      It's also conceivable that the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors will run a mayoral candidate.

      In doing this, it would abandon any progressive grouping with Vision Vancouver, the Greens, and OneCity Vancouver.

      This is more likely to occur if Vision Vancouver is offered five nominations on a so-called unity slate with the Greens and OneCity Vancouver through negotiations being facilitated by the Vancouver and District Labour Council.

      Under this scenario, the Greens might run three candidates for council and OneCity Vancouver would run two candidates.

      It could win the Greens' approval should councillor Adriane Carr be promised a seat on the Metro Vancouver board.

      However, there's still a chance that Carr could enter the mayoral race.

      She's not as much of a supply-sider on housing as Vision Vancouver politicians, which creates tensions from time to time.

      This is the case even though they sing from the same song sheet on bike lanes, green buildings, and ending the display of whales and dolphins in the Vancouver Aquarium.

      A COPE mayoral candidate would likely be another demand-sider, particularly if it turned out to be antipoverty activist Jean Swanson.

      If Kennedy Stewart gains the support of the NDP's political machine in Vancouver, he could be  strong contender in the race to become mayor.

      Chernen is at the most extreme end of the scale in arguing that corrupt developers are ruining Vancouver.

      His nostalgia for a simpler time when young people could buy single-family homes in the city has the potential to resonate with so-called "low-information" voters.

      These residents don't pay much attention to patterns of immigration, interprovincial migration, and rates of millennial household formation.

      They don't put a lot of thought into the impact of sustained low interest rates over a generation on the price of housing.

      They don't sit in Starbucks coffee shops discussing the pros and cons of quantitative easing. They don't lose sleep at night worrying over the carbon dioxide count exceeding 410 parts per million in the atmosphere.

      Chernen doesn't look at the world through a class lens, unlike anyone who might step forward for COPE.

      That makes him more appealing to mid- to upper-middle-class residents who vote at higher rates than the urban poor.

      These are the types who don't want developers "wrecking" neighbourhoods like Dunbar, West Point Grey, and Marpole with more density.

      Chernen's potential base has no patience with the city spending millions to build bike lanes and the province spending many more millions on modular housing to shelter the homeless in their neighbourhoods.

      Independent candidate Shauna Sylvester has given a lot of thought about how to counter populist candidates who pander to voters who feel dealt out by political elites.
      Greg Ehlers

      Data junkies will try to counter Chernen

      At the other extreme on housing is Bremner, followed by Campbell and then Stewart and Sylvester. They're all far more data-driven in their analysis of housing issues and none could be characterized as anti-immigrant.

      Stewart, in particular, is trying to present himself as a friend of tenants, knowing that they form a substantial voting bloc in Vancouver. 

      Political insiders often talk about the "ballot question" in elections.

      It refers to the central issue that determines how most people vote.

      Some in Vision Vancouver hope to motivate the public to want to elect the city's first Indigenous mayor.

      As worthwhile as this might be, it's hard to conceive that this can compete with the debate over housing.

      No matter what Vision Vancouver does at this stage, it's unlikely to win the housing argument. That's because it's disliked by many of the most ardent supply-siders for being too half-hearted and it's largely loathed by the demand siders like Chernen for caving in to developers.

      That could doom the chances of anyone who gets the Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination.

      Chernen could easily emerge as the preferred choice of those who blame foreigners and developers for the high cost of housing. There are many voters in this camp in Vancouver, including immigrants and Canadian-born people of colour.

      He might then be countered by the pro-development Bremner and the more nuanced, soft-left campaigns of Stewart and Sylvester.

      Sylvester has potential to pick up support from well-educated voters with an environmental bent who tend to be suspicious of Big Labour's stranglehold over the provincial NDP. She would attract a lot of votes from women. 

      Stewart is a New Democrat running in what has now become an NDP town. If he gets the support of the party machine (and the premier's Big Labour–loving chief of staff, Geoff Meggs), he could be a formidable candidate.

      In the end, if either Sylvester or Stewart emerge as contenders in a two-person or three-person race, they could be facing two radical alternatives: the pro-density Bremner and the anti-density Chernen.

      It's hard to imagine Bremner's viewpoint gaining a great deal of traction outside of the downtown core, given the long-term opposition to densification in many areas of the city.

      UBC-educated Julia Shaw is a specialist in how memories, including false ones, are created—and she's concluded that people over 40 often look upon the past as better than it really was.

      Chernen would be the candidate trying to appeal to Vancouverites who look at the past through rose-coloured glasses.

      Nostalgia can be a powerful political weapon.

      "Make America Great Again" resonated with the masses in the fly-over states for that very reason. 

      Psychologist and science writer Julia Shaw pointed out in her book, The Memory Illusion: Why You Might Not Be Who You Think You Are, that there's a common bias toward believing that things were better in the past than they are today.

      "This can be hijacked by people in politics who talk about the good old days," Shaw told the Straight in 2016. "What they're doing is utilizing this reminiscence bias that people especially over the age of 40 have. They're reinforcing it and essentially distorting what actually happened."

      That's what makes Chernen a potent force in Vancouver politics.

      That's why his candidacy must be taken seriously, even by those who think he's a fool.