These are strange days in Vancouver municipal politics.
Vision Vancouver, which has ruled the city for the past decade, could be being supplanted by the Vancouver Greens as the voice of voters freaked out about climate change.
The more traditionally left wing OneCity Vancouver or the Coalition of Progressive Electors might even be on the verge of an electoral breakthrough when voters go to the polls on October 20.
And the establishment burghers in the Non-Partisan Association are facing an insurgent challenge from a populist who spends enormous amounts of time investigating land deals and argues that the removal of the viaducts is a "money grab" by real-estate interests.
I'm talking about Dunbar resident Glen Chernen, a former Cedar Party candidate who's been green-lit by the NPA board to seek the party's mayoral nomination.
On June 3, he'll face NPA park commissioner John Coupar and businessman Ken Sim.
Coupar is president of Novex Delivery Solutions, which has branded itself as Vancouver's greenest courier company. It's done this by driving down its carbon footprint in a number of ways, including through the use of Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles.
In seeking the NPA mayoral nomination, Coupar says that he wants to be like a former NPA mayor, Philip Owen: a good listener who learns from what he's hearing in the community.
The Lord Byng grad has been on the Vancouver park board since 2011 and is a former president and executive director of the Friends of Bloedel Association.
But here's something that could hamper his chances: Coupar voted with five other park commissioners to ban the display of whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park.
Given his experience and his centrist politics, Coupar should be a shoo-in for the NPA mayoral nomination.
However, Vancouver Aquarium supporters have formed a sizeable voting bloc at NPA nominating meetings in the past.
It remains to be seen whether they'll punish Coupar for not fighting harder to permit the facility to house injured or "stranded" cetaceans in Stanley Park.
Coupar has also ticked off the sometimes politically active local cannabis community by voting with the majority against permitting the 4/20 event at Sunset Beach Park.
Meanwhile, Sim is a successful businessman but relatively unknown to many residents of Vancouver.
The UBC Sauder School of Business grad was mentored by philanthropist and money manager Milton Wong when he and a friend launched the home-care company Nurse Next Door in 2001.
Twelve years later, Sim founded Rosemary Rocksalt bagels.
“I've spent years supporting causes related to the Downtown Eastside and am disappointed with the lack of progress on issues related to mental health, addiction and homelessness—despite the fact significant money has been spent,” Sim said in launching his campaign. “I believe it is time we bring real change to help our vulnerable sisters and brothers living in this city.”
Sim, like Coupar, is trying to appeal to more progressive-minded, centrist members of the NPA.
They're both chasing a similar ideological constituency within the party.
Then there's Chernen, who's told the media that he hasn't held a conventional job for 20 years and lives off his investments.
He's playing the corruption card in this campaign much like Attorney General David Eby did in his successful bid to win reelection in Vancouver–Point Grey in 2017.
Chernen, like Eby, is being supported by members of a grassroots group called HALT, which is an acronym for Housing Action for Local Taxpayers.
In their opinion, high housing costs and a shortage of rental accommodation are inextricably and significantly linked to backroom deals between politicians, bureaucrats, and deep-pocketed developers.
Politicians like Eby appeal to voters who believe that the fentanyl crisis is somehow causing sky-high prices for single-family homes, as well as being linked to money laundering in local casinos and the massive movement of illicit cash from China.
It's a breathtaking conflation of issues that attracts enormous media attention, even as it overlooks other factors driving up housing prices, including a shortage of supply.
Thanks to sustained low interest rates and migration, the cost of a home has risen sharply in other rapidly growing and popular urban markets with thriving tech sectors, such as New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. But they're not linking fentanyl dealers and casinos to the high residential real-estate prices in those cities.
Yet local journalists eat up any connection between fentanyl and casino money laundering to the lack of housing affordability here, thanks in part to Eby's mastery of media relations.
This, in turn, is giving legitimacy to the Chernen campaign as both he and Eby complain about some of the same things and they both attract some of the same supporters.
Economically literate backers of Coupar and Sim must sometimes just shake their heads in wonder over how fentanyl dealing could be considered by anyone to be a serious factor behind rising home prices.
But will there be enough of them at the June 3 NPA meeting to deny Chernen the party's mayoral nomination?
After all, politics is a game of numbers.
According to NPA president Gregory Baker, anyone who votes must live in Vancouver. There are 4,700 party members who meet this criteria.
NPA councillor Hector Bremner claimed that he signed up more than 2,000 members before the party board vetoed his bid to become the mayoral nominee.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that almost all of Bremner's supporters stay home on June 3 because their preferred candidate isn't running.
Another mayoral aspirant, engineer George Steeves, also wasn't green-lit by the NPA board, so some of his supporters might also stay home.
This would leave a maximum of about 2,700 NPA members showing up to vote.
But buying a $10 membership to vote in a nomination meeting doesn't necessarily mean the person will show up. Especially when the location is far on the West Side near Chernen's base in Dunbar and is not that easily accessible by transit. It's an expensive cab ride from the downtown core.
Turnout was a factor in 2005 when Christy Clark's supporters didn't come to a downtown hotel for the NPA mayoral-nomination vote. That enabled then NPA councillor Sam Sullivan to pull off an upset.
Let's say 2,000 people decide to vote at the NPA meeting on June 3.
That's a 42 percent turnout of eligible voters, which would be slightly lower than the 43.4 percent turnout in the 2014 Vancouver election.
According to Baker, the candidate with the most votes will win the NPA mayoral nomination.
There's no need for an absolute majority. There won't be a run-off after the first ballot with the third-place finisher dropping out.
That means that if Sim or Coupar comes third, their supporters won't be able to join forces on a second ballot to stop Chernen.
Under these circumstances, Chernen could conceivably win the NPA mayoral nomination with just 700 votes.
If there's any ABC movement—anybody but Chernen—this will have to be organized in advance of the one and only ballot.
Given Sim's low public profile and lack of municipal elected experience, he has to be seen as a longer shot to win the NPA nomination, let alone become mayor.
Sim would likely prefer the reasonable and experienced Coupar over the mercurial Chernen, who has the backing of those most apt to blame Chinese immigrants and investors for high housing prices.
This is why I wouldn't be surprised if Sim will withdraw his name from consideration over the next 10 days and throw his support behind Coupar.
Sim might be nudged to do this by senior B.C. Liberals who loathe the thought of Chernen being given a bigger platform to trash their party and their leader, Andrew Wilkinson.
If Sim decides to pull out of the race, Chernen's likelihood of becoming mayor would diminish considerably—even if the Vancouver Aquarium's supporters refuse to back Coupar's candidacy.More