Does it matter if Vancouver elects a mayor this year who has no experience as an elected official?
That's a question that some are asking in the wake of the NPA's decision to nominate businessman Ken Sim to head its ticket going into the October 20 municipal election.
He's not the only one who's never been elected to public office who's interested in the top job.
Independent Shauna Sylvester has been elected to the boards of Vancity and MEC, but not to park board, school board, council, the legislature, or Parliament. She's also vying to become Vancouver's next mayor.
Another independent, Kennedy Stewart, has been elected twice to Parliament in Burnaby. All of his graduate work as a political scientist has revolved around studying local governments.
But Stewart has never actually sat on city council and in recent years, hasn't spent very much time at all at Vancouver City Hall.
The only person seeking a Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination, Ian Campbell, has twice been elected to the Squamish Nation council. It has broad responsibilities, including negotiating land deals on behalf of its members.
Like Stewart, he's never had to vote on a rezoning application at Vancouver City Hall that upsets a neighbourhood group.
Then there's Patrick Condon, a UBC professor of urban design, who's being encouraged to run for mayor with the Coalition of Progressive Electors. While he knows a great deal about city planning, he's also never sat on Vancouver council.
Why is experience so undervalued in politics?
All of them would have a great deal to offer. They would bring unique and valuable experience to the job. But they haven't been doing the day-to-day work of listening to residents speaking about their concerns before council committees and at public hearings.
None of them has been as immersed in city issues over the past two terms as Vision Vancouver's Raymond Louie and Heather Deal, the NPA's George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball, or the de facto leader of the Vancouver Greens, Adriane Carr.
All five of these politicians have paid their dues by spending seven or more years on council. In Louie's case, he's been there for 16 years.
Deal served three years on park board and 13 years on council. They know what's going on in a multitude of communities across the city, whether they be ethnic, religious, cultural, or simply communities sharing a similar interest.
They've walked in Vaisakhi parades. They've attended the openings of the PuSh Festival. They understand the delicate dance of dealing with the Taiwanese and mainland Chinese communities while remaining on good terms with both.
Compared to them, NPA councillors Melissa De Genova and Hector Bremner are mere greenhorns.
A mayor deals with a complicated set of policies
The five most experienced Vancouver councillors have a deep understanding of the complex issues that come before them. They include but are not limited to:
* recognizing the motivations behind the Creative City Strategy and how this can be a tool of sustainable economic development;
* the economic upsides and downsides of developing rental dwellings rather than condos on industrial land on False Creek Flats, including on a huge section owned by the city;
* the implications of the Regional Growth Strategy on land-use planning;
* the legal obligations to consult with local First Nations and the city's reconciliation efforts to date;
* the links between local area plans and development applications (city hall watcher Michael Geller has pointed out that the mayoral candidates should also have some ideas about whether these plans should be created for Kerrisdale and Dunbar);
* whether the heritage conservation district in First Shaughnessy should be extended to other neighbourhoods or altogether scrapped;
* the character-home zoning review;
* how the Vancouver Charter limits council's authority in certain areas;
* what tools the Vancouver Charter provides for a mayor hoping to cope with the opioid crisis;
* the impact of the provincial government's encroachments into the traditional turf of municipalities around property taxation;
* how the city's procedure bylaw governs council debates;
* regulating the sex trade in the face of contradictions between a federal law and Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence;
* how the city can actually save money and enhance air quality over the longer term with policies that change the modal split between pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and motorists;
* measures the city has taken to adapt to climate change;
* sorting out the competing objectives of heritage preservation, adding housing supply, and preserving the character of neighbourhoods;
* the implications of the regional waste management plan on the municipal government;
* where the city is at with its goal of going to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050;
* keeping up to date with myriad changes to provincial liquor rules and how that can influence responses to licence applications that come before council;
* addressing how the face of homelessness is changing as housing prices rise and availability decreases, and what new measures might be necessary to grapple with this;
* and understanding all the city's zoning categories, not to mention having an idea of when it's appropriate to go forward with a CD-1 (comprehensive development) designation in return for community amenity contributions.
The value of politicians, like cars, diminishes with mileage
Political parties rarely value experience. They like finding something shiny and new to put in the window for voters.
Politicians are like automobiles. If they have a few miles on them, they're suddenly far less desirable to the public. Even if they're steady and reliable, their value continues to depreciate over time.
Again and again, a rookie with no experience at one level of government is suddenly thrust into the top job, whether that's locally, provincially, or federally.
Sometimes, it takes quite a while for them to figure out how to do that job effectively.
* Gordon Campbell was an experienced mayor but he blew the 1996 election in his first run as a B.C. Liberal leader because he didn't fully understand the nature of provincial politics;
* Larry Campbell's tenure as Vancouver mayor was marked by chaos and deep dissension, resulting in a party split that cost his team the 2005 election;
* Gregor Robertson made a magnificently unrealistic promise to eliminate homelessness by 2015 and didn't really find his feet as a mayor until five or six years into the job;
* Jagmeet Singh's federal New Democratic Party has lost six straight by-elections since he became leader in October 2017;
* Jack Layton fared quite poorly in his first couple of elections until he grasped that a simpler platform and attacking the federal Liberals would increase the NDP's chance of success;
* Doug Ford looks like he's probably going to blow the Ontario election tomorrow after winning the Progressive Conservative leadership, despite having no provincial elected experience;
* and, of course, Donald Trump has been mostly mired in scandal and conflict since becoming president less than two years ago.
Now, the NPA is going with a political neophyte in Sim.
Campbell has been more tested than Sim
Vision Vancouver will be running someone with more political experience, Ian Campbell, but not with any hands-on experience on city council dealing with angry and often media-savvy neighbourhood groups in Vancouver.
Neither Sim or Campbell has had to endure ongoing scrutiny from the sometimes ornery Vancouver media.
Bob Mackin and others will test their ability to remain the gracious, happy warriors that politicians must be to succeed in the modern era.
Affleck, Louie, Deal, Ball, and Carr are probably looking upon all of this with a certain sense of bemusement, knowing what's in store for those seeking the top job.
But for city staff, it must be alarming to consider that the next Vancouver mayor might need instructions on where to find the washroom at Vancouver City Hall.
That's to say nothing of how much time staff will have to spend briefing the next mayor on a raft of city policies.
The backroom boys and girls in politics love cooking up the next great idea to win an election.
That's what's led to the nomination of Sim and the likely coronation of Ian Campbell as leaders of their parties.
The media can do voters a favour by focusing less on the personal stories of all of the candidates and more on how they'll actually govern.
In the meantime, a good start might be to ask them if they know where the mayor normally holds news conferences inside Vancouver City Hall.
At this stage, I'd be surprised if more than one or two of the putative candidates for the top job could answer that one correctly.