Independent council candidates' reasonable request spurned by city manager Sadhu Johnston

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      The last independent council candidate to get elected in Vancouver was Carole Taylor back in 1986.

      She had a high public profile as a former broadcast journalist and as the wife of a popular former mayor.

      Taylor was also very wealthy, so she had the resources to let people know she was running. And she was denied an NPA nomination after one of her opponents, Gim Huey, packed the nomination meeting with his supporters.

      As a result, she benefited from massive media coverage, which fuelled her campaign. 

      The stars aligned and she made it onto council, whereas Huey went down to defeat.

      Since then, not a single independent has been elected to council, in part because of the city's at-large voting system.

      That makes it difficult for independents to get their message out because they have to reach voters across the city rather than in a smaller constituency, or ward.

      This year, five better-known independents wrote an open letter asking for a break from the city.

      They wanted numbers beside the names of everyone on the ballot, which would make it easier for them to encourage citizens to save a vote for them.

      The city manager said "no".

      Sadhu Johnston told the Vancouver Courier there's already too much information on the ballot.

      His next concern, according to the Courier's Mike Howell, was that this would create an "order bias".

      Finally, Johnston stated that there is a concern because in some cultures, there's a negative or positive association with certain numbers.

      He's likely referring to the number four in Cantonese, which sounds similar to the Cantonese word for "death", and for number eight in Cantonese, which sounds similar to the Cantonese word for "wealth".

      Meanwhile an independent mayoral candidate, who specialized in election systems as an academic, has long argued that Vancouver's voting system is racist.

      That's because the at-large system discriminates concentrated minority populations—a viewpoint reflected in many U.S. court decisions involving multi-member districts.

      Last week, Kennedy Stewart said that if he's elected mayor and the province doesn't allow the system to be changed, he'll seriously consider launching a constitutional challenge.

      If Stewart is mayor, the city manager will be Johnston. This is the same bureaucrat who's thwarting independent council candidates by not giving them a more competitive chance by including numbers on the ballot.

      In his years as deputy manager and city manager, Johnston, like the Vision Vancouver-controlled council that brought him in from Chicago, has never publicly demonstrated any urgency to address the discriminatory aspects of Vancouver's anachronistic election system.

      Yet Johnston could soon be answering to a mayor who's made this his life's work as a graduate student and later as a professor at SFU.

      The last time a new political group took control of city council was in 2008.

      On election night that year, I suggested on Shaw TV that the then city manager, Judy Rogers, might want to brush up her résumé because she might soon find herself out of a job.

      In that vein, Johnston's refusal to accede to the independent council candidates' very reasonable request for a numbered ballot will not sit well with any future members of council who already have deep concerns about the fairness of Vancouver elections.

      This may not make or break Johnston's future with the city, but it does suggest that he's out of touch with the sentiment of some in the community, who are sick of political parties retaining a stranglehold on power in Vancouver.

      These five independent candidates—Rob McDowell, Erin Shum, Wade Grant, Adrian Crook, and Sarah Blyth—have collectively volunteered more time on municipal issues than the council slates of any party in this election.

      Johnston's decision was disrespectful to these engaged citizens who've given of themselves for the betterment of our city.

      And if Johnston ends up being fired after the election when a new crew takes power, one reason might well be his lack of initiative in levelling the playing field for independent political candidates in elections.

      These five independents, unlike Carole Taylor, are not rich, are not married to a popular former mayor, and aren't receiving great gobs of media coverage in their campaigns to become city councillors.

      But like Taylor, they all have something worthwhile to offer the voters of Vancouver.

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