12 noteworthy independent council candidates in the Vancouver civic election

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      Yesterday, I wrote a column expressing my disgust over the City of Vancouver not putting numbers beside candidates' names on the council ballot.

      While some may disagree with this point of view, there's no denying that independents face an extremely difficult challenge getting elected.

      That's not the case in cities in other provinces where a ward system makes it much easier for those who don't have party machines backing them.

      To help level the playing field, I'm highlighting 12 independent candidates below who are worth taking note of.

      There may be more worth profiling, but these are the ones who've caught my attention during the campaign.

      These snapshots should not be considered endorsements—merely guidance for voters to be aware of in case they want to conduct more research.

      These candidates also represent political views from across the spectrum. They're not bound by any party policies, either, so they're not beholden to backroom political operators.

      Keep in mind that if an independent loses in 2018 but still attracts a large number of votes, this person could be recruited by a political party to run in the future.

      We saw that in 2005 when a former independent council candidate, George Chow, was elected with Vision Vancouver. Chow is now a cabinet minister in the NDP government. The springboard for his political career was a strong run as an independent council candidate in 2002.

      So even if you cast a ballot for an independent and this independent loses, your vote may not be wasted.

      Think of it as an investment in this candidate's political future, particularly if they generate enough votes to put themselves into a position to be elected in a subsequent campaign, either municipally, provincially, or federally.

      Campaigns are great learning experiences and I applaud all of them for putting their names forward in a sincere effort to serve the residents of Vancouver.

      Taqdir Bhandal is appealing to environmentally minded voters who want to see the first woman of South Asian ancestry elected to council.
      Saman Shariati

      Taqdir Kaur Bhandal

      A keen environmentalist, Bhandal wants the city to draw upon Indigenous and global approaches to decrease the burning of carbon and promote zero-waste practices. A PhD candidate at UBC, she's also an advocate for a drastic increase in the supply and access to affordable housing.

      Bhandal has created a website, which outlines her views. Her PhD dissertation is on decolonial, intersectional pedagogies in Canadian medical and nursing education.

      "I cut my institutional teeth at the Dalhousie University Global Health Office as a Program Assistant during my time living in Halifax," Bhandal states on her website. "My work there focused mainly on the Advocates in Global Health Program (AGHP). The Global Health Office at Dalhousie University developed the AGHP with the aim to provide students with a holistic understanding of key issues in global health. This extra-curricular program is unique in its goal to promote interprofessional and student-faculty collaboration to allow learners to develop critical analysis of global health issues."

      During this campaign, she's given a great deal of thought about how Vancouver can adapt to rising sea levels, storm surges, and increased rainfall. She also wrote a commentary on Straight.com introducing herself to readers of this website and explaining her political priorities.

      You can follow Taqdir Kaur Bhandal on Twitter at @taqforcouncil. She hopes to become the first woman of South Asian ancestry to be elected to Vancouver city council.

      Sarah Blyth wants the next council to focus on housing and helping give a hand up to less fortunate residents of Vancouver.
      Amanda Siebert

      Sarah Blyth

      Perhaps the city's best-known independent candidate, Blyth is a former park commissioner and executive director of the Overdose Prevention Society. She became a hero to many Vancouverites when she and Ann Livingston created a pop-up supervised-injection tent in the Downtown Eastside in response to the fentanyl crisis.

      The society that she helped create is seen as a life saver by public-health officials and emergency responders.

      “My priority will be affordable housing,” Blyth told the Straight earlier this year. “More housing for the homeless, more co-op housing, more modular housing, more housing in general. Because everybody I know is having trouble.

      “And I want to work on behalf of all the frontline workers down here [in the Downtown Eastside], including ambulance and fire,” she continued. “I understand what they’re all going through right on the front lines. All the city workers and frontline workers in the crisis and the folks who are in the middle of the crisis, I think I understand what they need. So they would have a voice on council really pushing for what needs to be done.”

      You can follow Sarah Blyth on Twitter @sarahblyth.

      Graham Cook is a millennial who had high hopes for Vision Vancouver, but has been disappointed by its handling of the housing file.

      Graham Cook

      A former Vision Vancouver supporter, Cook abandoned the party because he was dissatisfied with its handling of the housing issue.

      "I was angry at seeing workers leave and companies refuse expansion. I was angry at watching friends and family move elsewhere in order to start a life," he writes on his website. "However, over the past months as I've met more and more Vancouverites and discussed the issues with them, that anger has been replaced by hope and a desire to serve this city. I am excited by the energy and passion being shown by residents across the political spectrum and I now know that this time will be different."

      He's president of the Huntington Society's B.C. chapter and is a project manager in the tech industry.

      Cook is not soliciting donations for his campaign. Instead, he's encouraging supporters to donate to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society or other worthwhile charities.

      He describes himself as a "young progressive" and he's an advocate for sustainable transportation and reconciliation with First Nations.

      You can follow Graham Cook on Twitter @kgrahamcook.

      Yaletown resident Adrian Crook has been one of the city's most vocal advocate for increasing the housing stock.
      Charlie Smith

      Adrian Crook

      Crook is a cofounder of Abundant Housing Vancouver and the author of the 5 Kids 1 Condo blog.

      A well-known urbanist and video-game maker, Crook has created an attractive website offering a detailed platform in a number of areas.

      The cornerstone is fast-tracking and incentivizing construction of housing with community benefits, such as purpose-built rental, land trusts that are immune to speculation, co-ops, and buildings that house seniors.

      He wants homeowners to be able to redevelop new forms of accommodation on their own lots and prezone the city's lowest-density areas.

      One of his ideas is an "Affordable Housing Accountability dashboard". According to his website, this would "report to Vancouver residents how the City is improving key measures of livability: rental vacancy rate, empty homes, evictions, demolition replacement ratio, median rent, population forecasts, housing creation rate and more".

      You can follow Adrian Crook on Twitter @adriancrook.

      Hamdy El-Rayes has focused a great deal of attention on housing in this campaign, suggesting UBC could do more to provide shelter for its student body.

      Hamdy El-Rayes

      Founder of the Mental Wellness Support Foundation, El-Rayes is the author of Mental Wellness: A Spiritual Journey and a former Green candidate in the provincial constituency of Vancouver-Fairview.

      "The City of Vancouver has been going through the worst housing crisis ever," he states on his website. "The majority of the millennials are unable to afford buying a home to call their own. The crisis has extended from unaffordability of owning to unavailability of affordable rental housing. I am campaigning for an affordable, livable, drug-addiction free city."

      He's calling for more housing on UBC's Point Grey campus, which would lead to more rental inventory in Vancouver. He notes that that the cost of doing this at UBC is far less than on land in Vancouver.

      "About 25% of the city households live on less than $35,000 a year," he states. "The City is in dire need to protect existing low-rental housing inventory from demo-eviction and establish bylaws to secure housing for tenants in case developers request demolition of their buildings."

      He's also calling for disallowing Airbnb until the city has enough rental units to house its residents and it's able to enforce its bylaw on short-term accommodation.

      You can follow Hamdy El-Rayes on Twitter @DrHRayes.

      If you think socialism has caused misery for western civilization, then Justin Caudwell is your man for Vancouver city council.

      Justin Caudwell

      He has created a website, produced a campaign video, and promised to be the voice of millennials on council. He's also an employee of Marine Chrysler, an ardent capitalist, and features a photo of Stephen Harper beside him on his Twitter feed.

      That should give you some idea about where he lies on the political spectrum. He makes no secret of his disdain for socialism. 

      "I was born in Vancouver in 1988 and have lived here ever since," Caudwell writes on his website. "As a millennial Vancouverite, I understand the pain our lower class communities, and our younger population are feeling due to our current real estate crisis. I believe most young people in Vancouver have given up on the entire political process due to them feeling underrepresented by government. Myself, along with thousands of citizens agree that this is my generation's time to step up and take leadership. Instead of waiting and complaining, I've decided to run for City Council."

      An advocate for greater density, he's tweeted that no matter where a roof is, if it's under three storeys, land is being wasted.

      You can follow Justin Caudwell on Twitter @jacecaudwell.

      Wade Grant sees Vancouver's diversity as one of its greatest strengths.

      Wade Grant

      A former Musqueam councillor and former member of the Vancouver police board, Grant is promising "leadership that embraces diversity".

      His family is of mixed Chinese and Indigenous ancestry—and on his website, he describes the city's diversity as "our capital that will help us lead the world in figuring out how to live together with hope and harmony for a better future, in spite of our differences".

      "My entire life, people throughout the community, my mentors and my family have instilled in me the values needed to be a leader that everyone can trust," he writes. "They have taught me to be a leader who listens with humility, embraces people from all walks of life and works diligently to build a consensus. I continue to live and breathe those virtues."

      A father of two, Grant has received endorsements from First Nations leaders, including B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Terry Teegee and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs vice president Chief Bob Chamberlin.

      You can follow Wade Grant on Twitter @WadeGrant

      At 24 years of age, Abubakar Khan is hoping to become the youngest member of Vancouver city council.

      Abubakar Khan

      A third-year sociology student at UBC, Abubakar Khan hosts a podcast called The Chosen One, which tackles serious issues, including mental health, addiction, racism, and homelessness.

      His platform focuses on ending isolation and loneliness in the city through several means, including using the property endowment fund to build affordable housing and encouraging intergenerational housing with seniors and young people under the same roof. This includes creating rentee-placement platforms and bylaws to improve safety for seniors.

      Khan also helped organize the National Day of Against Racial Discrimination in Vancouver, raised funds for the Alma Mater Society food bank, and worked with the Sikh community to feed the homeless through his mosque.

      "He opened the doors of his religious community centre to those in need of shelter in the freezing winter storms of 2017, and brought 1500 people together in front of a blazing Olympic Cauldron to rally the City in commemoration of innocent lives lost to a lone wolf gunman," Khan's website states.

      The American-born Khan has also opposed the caste system in South Asia. He's a Rajput by birth, but insists that he has no right to feel superior to a Jatt or Pathan. And he's urged other Pakistani-Canadians to reject these views, too.

      You can follow Abubakar Khan on Twitter @khan4council.

      Rob McDowell ran as an NPA council candidate in 2014, but this time he's going the independent route.

      Rob McDowell

      A former diplomat who speaks fluent Mandarin, McDowell is also a keen supporter of the arts and a member of the city's LGBTQ advisory committee.

      On his website, he promises that if he's elected, he "will use his mediation and diplomatic skills to ensure that steady, strong and effective leadership returns to the governance of Vancouver City Council".

      He's received hearty endorsements from three councillors not seeking reelection: George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball, and Tim Stevenson.

      According to Stevenson, McDowell helped the LGBTQ advisory committee bring forward several motions to council, "including those related to banning conversion therapy, establishing an LGBTQ archive, a provincial policy for rainbow crosswalks and other LGBTQ representation, and the ways our community can assist our aging population". 

      Affleck stated that he's known McDowell since 1985 and believes that he's one of the best candidates running for office.

      "His ability to listen carefully, understand complex reports and think logically will help him in this position immensely," Affleck stated.

      You can follow Rob McDowell on Twitter @R_McDowell.

      Elke Porter's campaign slogan is "clean, green with an accessible scene".
      Elke Porter

      Elke Porter

      A long-time resident of Vancouver, Porter is fluently bilingual in English and German and is a keen environmentalist with an interest in arts and culture. She also runs the Westcoast German News blog and has been involved in many volunteer activities, including with her parent advisory council.

      A member of the German Canadian Business Association, Porter has great sympathy for small business owners facing huge challenges with higher property taxes.

      Her campaign slogan is "clean, green, with an accessible scene".

      "Businesses that have been around for 30 to 40 years are going under and being shut down at alarming rates," she writes on her website. "We need to support our small business owners, especially those who are part of the fabric of community and make Vancouver the interesting place it is today."

      You can follow Elke Porter on Twitter @ElkePorter.

      Françoise Raunet is eager to get on council to help the city respond to the climate crisis.

      Françoise Raunet

      Raunet is a French immersion teacher in Vancouver and ran for the B.C. Greens in Vancouver–Point Grey in 2011 and 2013, losing to Christy Clark the first time and to David Eby the second time.

      Raunet is a progressive candidate who's keenly aware of the seriousness of the climate crisis.

      "Addiction, homelessness and hopelessness plague our communities," she writes on her website. "Nature is crying for help too. Species are going extinct faster than ever. The oceans are filling with plastic, and fresh water supplies are dwindling. The next few decades are crucial if we are to survive the 21st century." 

      She's calling for renewable energy grids, grants for artisan carts and small business, and protection for renters.

      "When developers and global corporations come asking for favours we need a city council made up of people willing to push back in the public's interest," Raunet declares. "I am one of those people."

      You can follow Françoise Raunet on Twitter @FrancoiseRaunet.

      After one term on the park board, Erin Shum is ready to make the leap to city council.

      Erin Shum

      Elected as an NPA park commissioner in 2014, Shum has worked with and been an advocate for children on the autism spectrum. She also opposed higher user fees at the park board, which set her apart from other commissioners.

      She left the NPA caucus after alleging she was being bullied—a claim that's been denied by her former colleagues—and is now seeking to be elected to council as an independent.

      Shum was the commissioner to vote against a park board motion calling for an end to the display of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.

      She's received several endorsements, including from Green council candidate Michael Wiebe and soon-to-depart NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball.

      Shum's website focuses on several issues, including child care and seniors care, safe streets, and complete communities.

      "Erin’s plan for complete communities includes: reducing parking rates and increasing parking time limits in certain areas, expediting permitting for commercial and residential building, renovations, and remodeling, providing more funding and autonomy to the Park Board to maintain, update and retrofit vital infrastructure, and better preparing our city for emergencies," her website states. 

      You can follow Erin Shum on Twitter @ErinYVR.