Random thoughts about the politics of Ian Campbell's decision to halt his Vision Vancouver mayoral run

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      This is the week when Vancouver mayoral candidates must decide if they're going to hold 'em or fold 'em.

      That's because Friday (September 14) is the deadline to register with city hall to have names put on the ballot for the October 20 election.

      The first declared candidate to fold was Vision Vancouver's Ian Campbell, who pulled out of the race yesterday.

      The primary beneficiary of this move is Shauna Sylvester.

      She's an SFU professor, long-time climate activist and internationalist, and former Vision director who's running as an independent.

      Earlier this year, the party undermined her candidacy by not asking the membership if it wanted to support a mayoral candidate, despite earlier suggesting this would happen. That suggestion was what led Sylvester to enter the race.

      Instead, Vision kingpins like Coun. Andrea Reimer and the mayor's former chief of staff, Mike Magee, foolishly charged ahead and backed Campbell, even though he hadn't gone through any serious formal vetting process. Big mistake.

      That, in turn, might have contributed to veteran Vision councillor Raymond Louie's decision not to seek reelection, weakening the party's chances in the election.

      Campbell's statement yesterday included the curious comment that he's "reflected on the political landscape and my complicated personal journey" in making his decision.

      These are code words for "I wasn't prepared for how dirty politics can be—and I didn't fully realize that things I might have done as a young man were going to be used by my hardball opponents to smear me."

      The prime beneficiary of Campbell's withdrawal is independent mayoral candidate Shauna Sylvester (seen with former mayor Sam Sullivan and musician Mohamed Assani at the Indian Summer Festival opening party).
      Charlie Smith

      I had a hunch that something was up with Campbell's campaign when his backers suddenly started showing support for Sylvester.

      When I wrote an article praising her seriousness in advancing a wide range of policies, it was retweeted by Magee. And even though environmentalist David Suzuki had endorsed Campbell, he recently offered up a statement praising Sylvester.

      That's not normally done when you're in another candidate's camp.

      Magee and friends should realize that if they demonstrate too much public support for Sylvester, it has the potential to harm her chances because it will tie her more closely to the very damaged Vision brand.

      After 10 years in power, it's time for Reimer, Magee, and the other Visionistas who backed Campbell to lay low for a while if they truly want Sylvester to win.

      After all, she's already been metaphorically knifed once by her former party when it didn't ask the members if they wanted to run a mayoral candidate. Do they really want to do it a second time—even with the best of intentions?

      With Campbell out of the race, it still won't be easy for Sylvester. That's mainly because she's not as well known as three of her opponents: NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, Yes Vancouver's Hector Bremner, and Coalition Vancouver's Wai Young, who's a former Conservative MP.

      Stewart and Bremner, a Vancouver councillor, will be duking it out to woo those who supported Campbell. That's demonstrated by the following tweet by federal Liberal political organizer Mark Marissen, who's backing Bremner.

      The Bremner camp is trying to make the case that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion is not a local issue—and if Stewart truly cared about this, he would have remained an MP in Ottawa to fight it.

      Stewart's people can rightly say that Bremner's camp has never demonstrated serious concerns about the climate implications of the pipeline project. Moreover, Bremner was a former political aide to former deputy premier Rich Coleman, who promoted the climate-altering liquefied-natural-gas industry.

      Fossil-fuel industry supporters will often say things like "pipelines are not a local issue".

      However, that overlooks how voters who care deeply about the climate behave when they enter the ballot box.

      For them, the climate is a voting issue—federally, provincially, and locally. It helps explain why Stephen Harper is no longer prime minister, Christy Clark is no longer premier, and Gregor Robertson won three terms as mayor.

      Climate voters don't feel right casting ballots for candidates who don't reflect their deepest values. This explains why the B.C. Greens siphoned so many votes from the B.C. Liberals in the last provincial election. 

      The image of NDP MP Kennedy Stewart being arrested with federal Green Leader Elizabeth May helped reinforce the independent mayoral candidate's street cred on climate change.
      Green Party of Canada

      Even if Stewart can't stop a pipeline as mayor, his decision this year to get arrested outside the Kinder Morgan gates in Burnaby will resonate with climate-conscious voters.

      Then there's Sylvester, who's long-term record of advocacy on climate change vastly exceeds any other candidate left in the mayoral race. In 2015, she wrote a five-part series for the Straight on the COP21 negotiations in Paris, demonstrating her deep understanding of and commitment to curbing greenhouse-gas emissions long before she ever considered entering a mayoral race.

      But she and the other woman in the race, Young, each have a dilemma.

      If they place their name on the ballot by the Friday deadline, they risk splitting the vote and helping elect a candidate whom they might least want to be mayor.

      In Sylvester's case, that would probably be the NPA's Ken Sim.

      That's because the NPA is evolving into a NIMBY-ish outfit that will likely want to preserve the status quo of keeping 70 percent of Vancouver as single-family neighbourhoods, even if it means far more hardship for tenants and seniors.

      An NPA majority could conceivably dismantle the Downtown Eastside area plan, clearing the way for Sim's friend, billionaire Chip Wilson, to gentrify his property holdings in the area and drive some of the poorest residents out of the neighbourhood.

      When businessman Ken Sim saw an opportunity to become mayor by seeking an NPA nomination, he grabbed it.
      Charlie Smith

      Sylvester will also have serious concerns about Bremner over his record on climate change.

      It will grate on her every time Bremner claims that Vision's climate solutions were "gimmicky", given that she's a primary reason why council voted to set of goal of Vancouver becoming 100 percent reliant on renewable energy by 2050.

      To Sylvester, that's no gimmick. That's about the survival of the human species on Earth, especially if Vancouver's example is ultimately copied by other cities, provinces, states, and countries.

      In Young's case, she could split the right-wing vote, denying Sim a victory and helping the NDP's Stewart become mayor.

      Young's NIMBY-ish desire to preserve single-family neighbourhoods and her opposition to modular housing also put her at odds with Bremner, who's made no secret of his wish to densify areas outside of the downtown core.

      Elections are often about momentum. So even if a candidate is a bit further behind in a poll, like Sylvester and Young were in a recent survey by Mainstreet Research, that doesn't mean they can't make gains as voting day approaches.

      Naheed Nenshi came from the back of the pack to win the Calgary mayoral election in 2010.

      We also saw that in the 2015 federal election when Justin Trudeau's Liberals catapulted from third place into winning a healthy majority.

      Yes Vancouver's Hector Bremner's calls for more density stand in sharp contrast to Wai Young's more NIMBY-ish approach of preserving single-family neighbourhoods and opposing modular housing for the homeless.

      Female candidates face fundraising challenges

      At the same time, elections are expensive—and donors are less likely to materialize if a candidate is far back in a poll, especially if that candidate is female.

      “Men don’t give to women, and women don’t give to women, by and large,” NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball told the Straight in 2016. “They give to male candidates, and so that is very difficult.

      "So when you’re faced with a very small budget, you have to be extremely clever and careful so that you can get your message out to as many people as possible," Ball continued. "And that requires more work.”

      Sylvester has tried to overcome structural barriers against a woman becoming mayor by flooding the media with policy pronouncements on housing, climate change, the opioid crisis, seniors, small business, and strengthening the relationship between citizens and city hall.

      Ball also said in 2016 that it often takes longer for women's opinions to be valued at the same level as men's opinions in politics—and for Sylvester and Young, there are only 39 days until voting day.

      As a result of these factors, it's possible that this mayoral contest could boil down to a contest between two white men, Bremner and Stewart.

      That's despite speculation earlier this year that Vancouver might elect either its first woman or its first nonwhite mayor (or, in Young's case, both).

      In light of all this, it's going to take some nerve for Sylvester and Young to hold 'em, as they say in poker matches, and place their names on the ballot by the end of the week. 

      I'm betting all my chips that both are going to say in the game.

      And in Sylvester's case, she still could end up winning the election if enough voters conclude that she's the "least worst" candidate for mayor—and if she receives a truly hearty endorsement from David Suzuki.

      Young's only serious shot at victory would come if Sim were to pull out of the race. At the moment, that doesn't look very likely.