5 schisms that could determine the outcome of the Vancouver election in 2018

    1 of 6 2 of 6

      Elections offer visible demonstrations of what's percolating in the minds of the public.

      Across Canada in October 2015, people were clearly sick of Stephen Harper's rule.

      Justin Trudeau promised "real change", capturing a majority.

      In 2017, there was a growing divide between Vancouver Island/Lower Mainland and the rest of British Columbia.

      The NDP and Greens performed well on the island and in the 604 area code.

      The B.C. Liberals won landslide after landslide in the 250 area code on the mainland east and north of Mission.

      The result was a minority NDP government propped up by the Greens. 

      MLAs from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island largely rule the province.

      What are the schisms in the upcoming Vancouver municipal election? And how might they manifest themselves on voting day on October 20?

      Below, I've highlighted five political axes worth thinking about.

      Coalition Vancouver's Glen Chernen and Wai Young are positioning themselves to become the voice of South Vancouver after the next election.

      1. North-south divide

      Many people living south of 16th Avenue are furious at Vision Vancouver. And they worry that more Vision-like changes will be coming if they don't get out and vote.

      These are not the types to be doing cartwheels over Vancouver becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020.

      Many of them in Marpole rose up against the arrival of temporary modular housing for the homeless. This form of accommodation has largely been accepted north of 16th Avenue.

      The Marpole neighbourhood plan also caused intense anxiety among homeowners, leading to significant amendments.

      Over in First Shaughnessy south of 16th, many homeowners are livid over council's decision to designate their neighbourhood as a heritage conservation area. Some may support the preservation of individual homes, but the blanket fiat has undermined property values.

      A fair number of residents in the Oakridge area are irate over a rooftop park in the redevelopment of the shopping centre at the corner of West 41st Avenue and Cambie Street.

      The developer introduced some adjustments, putting more park space at ground level and making it easier to reach the rooftop. But the initial idea, not to mention the scale of the densification, has left a legacy of bitterness.

      Then there is Vision's mania for separated bike lanes and its desire to take down the viaducts. People on the south side of the city often drive into downtown Vancouver. These motorists are among those most opposed to more separated bike lanes and most incensed about the looming loss of the viaducts.

      But the biggest issue of all could be densification. Vision Vancouver has supported it. Yes Vancouver supports it. The Greens, at least philosophically, think it's good for the planet if cities concentrate development.

      Ecodensity isn't just a term dreamed up by former NPA mayor Sam Sullivan. When more people are living in neighbourhoods, this can promote greater sustainability and higher transit use.

      The Coalition of Progressive Electors and OneCity Vancouver are among the most vocal supporters of temporary modular housing and actions to support tenants.

      For homeowners on the south side of the city who want to preserve the status quo, or even turn back the clock to a simpler era, these ideas are anathema.

      Coalition Vancouver mayoral candidate Wai Young, more than anyone else, has been their voice in this campaign. Compared to her, the NPA's Ken Sim is milquetoast.

      Unless Sim inserts himself more forcefully into this campaign, he could easily be eclipsed by Young as the voice for South Vancouver. 

      Sim might still hold Kerrisdale, Shaughnessy, Dunbar, and Southlands, because the NPA always wins those areas.

      But there is potential for a Coalition Vancouver tidal wave to wash across South Vancouver, which could lead to a transformation of Vancouver politics with the emergence of a harder-right party.

      Hector Bremner (with wife Virginia) is going to need tremendous turnout by millennials to win this mayoral election.

      2. Millennial-boomer divide

      There is a huge number of millennials living in Vancouver. 

      In the 2016 census, nearly 28 percent of the city's residents—174,100—were between the ages of 25 and 39.

      That's significantly higher than the 134,720 Vancouver residents who were 60 years of age or older.

      There were 93,735 people in their 40s and another 88,945 people in their 50s.

      These millennials are not of one mind, just as South Vancouver residents are not of one mind.

      But young people, including the 44,150 between 20 and 24 years of age, form a powerful voting bloc in Vancouver.

      Their biggest frustrations are housing and, for some, existential angst about climate change.

      Coalition Vancouver isn't offering them very much at all. It's a party targeting older voters and retaining the status quo.

      The Vancouver Greens, Yes Vancouver, OneCity Vancouver, and COPE, on the other hand, all have advanced policies with considerable appeal to younger voters.

      In the case of the Greens, they're pledging to include 50 percent below-market-rate housing in all new multi-residential developments.

      In addition, the Greens want to allow two or more secondary suites to be added "for retention and conversion of character homes".

      Yes Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner's slogan is "let's fix housing". His party's lengthy housing plan calls for significant densification of huge areas of Vancouver now occupied by single-family homes.

      OneCity Vancouver has talked a great deal about better childcare. It says that its land-value capture tax could help fund 5,000 nonmarket housing units per year.

      A central pillar in COPE's platform is a rent freeze. The party argues that this can be achieved through city bylaws.

      For its part, Vision Vancouver's promotion of cycling, reconciliation with First Nations, and climate-change adaptation measures have resonated with some younger people.

      In the past year, Vision Vancouver has also ramped up its response to the housing crisis. This has come most notably by allowing duplexes in single-family areas and by approving 600 units of temporary modular housing. However, it may be seen by some millennial voters as too little too late.

      In recent elections, the NPA has had trouble gaining traction with young voters. 

      This time, it's using imagery of its 40-something mayoral candidate, Ken Sim, and a promise of more secondary suites as lures for these voters.

      The key will be turnout.

      If millennials show up at the polls in large numbers on October 20, this will likely be bad news for Wai Young's Coalition Vancouver and good news for Yes Vancouver, COPE, and OneCity.

      It may not play out as well for the NPA and Vision Vancouver, whose traditional voting bases are aging. 

      Independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart is an increasingly rare species in the Vancouver election—a heterosexual white male—and if elected, he could be joined by a record number of female councillors.

      3. Gender divide

      In many elections, there are significant differences in voting patterns between the male and female populations.

      There are also discernible differences when it comes to sexual orientation, religion, and racial ancestry.

      Vision Vancouver was rewarded in the last three elections for its tremendous outreach efforts to the LGBT population through progressive policies in this area at the city, school board, and park board levels of government. This may help the party withstand annihilation in this election.

      OneCity Vancouver is emphasizing that it's almost entirely comprised of female candidates, with only one man, LGBT activist Brandon Yan, on the ticket.

      A party made up of many millennials, OneCity has nominated a progressive young United Church minister, Christine Boyle. Expect her to have considerable appeal with progressive Christians in Vancouver.

      Meanwhile, the NPA board tried to boost its appeal to female voters by nominating five women among its eight council candidates. There's not a straight white male on the list.

      The Greens are led by two-term councillor Adriane Carr, who may be the best-known name on the entire ballot this year. The only other candidates with as much profile might be Vision Vancouver's Heather Deal or COPE's Jean Swanson.

      Their high name recognition—along with that of the NPA's Melissa De Genova, Vision Vancouver's Catherine Evans, and COPE's Anne Roberts—suggests there might be a large number of women elected to council this year.

      Two mayoral candidates, Young and independent Shauna Sylvester, also have an outside chance of getting elected, depending on turnout.

      Will the presence of so many strong women increase turnout among female voters? Could that be a decisive factor for the fate of some candidates?

      Traditionally, female voters as a group have tended to be more supportive of progressive parties than male voters as a group.

      Lower turnout usually benefits right-of-centre parties because high-income males, homeowners, and older voters are often their bedrock of support. These are the people who are the most likely to cast ballots in every election.

      However, the high cost of housing and shortage of rental accommodation could persuade far more younger people and tenants to vote. They have a genuine interest in the outcome of this election because the stakes are so high for them.

      If it's a change election—and one of those changes is the millennials asserting their power by showing up on election day in large numbers—that could have a profound impact on the results.

      It could conceivably lead to the near-obliteration of traditional parties. That would leave the media with lots to write about after the election.

      Vision Vancouver's multilingual Wei Qiao Zheng is making his first run for council.

      4. Language divide

      People of different racial backgrounds are not of one mind when they vote. 

      There is a great deal of ideological diversity within communities, whether they're white, Chinese, South Asian, or Latin American.

      It's wrong to reduce people to one aspect of their identity, too, because we are all comprised of a multiplicity of dimensions. Our class, educational level, personal interests, religious beliefs, occupation, sexual orientation, gender, country of origin, neighbourhood of residence, and other factors all contribute to the formulation of our identities.

      But in this election, there are only two party mayoral candidates who are telling the public that they can speak a Chinese language fluently.

      Wai Young's first language is Cantonese. Vancouver 1st's Fred Harding speaks Mandarin.

      That should give them an edge with first-generation immigrants who trace their roots back to China. That's because they will have many more opportunities to get their message across in the Chinese-language media.

      Similarly, Vision Vancouver has a fluent Mandarin and Cantonese speaker, Wei Qiao Zheng, running for council. He's well known among mainland Chinese immigrants because he hosts a popular TV show on the multicultural channel. Zheng also speaks German.

      Another Vision candidate, Diego Cardona, speaks Spanish fluently in a city with a growing number of Spanish speakers.

      The NPA's David Grewal speaks Punjabi, and fellow slate member JoJo Quimpo speaks languages of the Philippines.

      Yes Vancouver's slate includes candidates who can speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and Punjabi. Mayoral candidate Hector Bremner's wife Virginia is from the Philippines, which gives him an edge in this community.

      Here's the reality: the Greens, OneCity, and COPE just can't match the other parties in language proficiency with their council slates.

      That could present a huge challenge for them, considering that 274,210 people's mother tongue was neither French or English in the 2016 census.

      How that plays out on election day is anyone's guess.

      COPE wants to impose a surtax on expensive homes to pay for temporary modular housing for the homeless.

      5. Ideology or the climate? What comes first?

      This might be the most intriguing question of all in our increasingly polarized political world.

      If extreme views are gaining more traction, this is where it could lead:

      * Coalition Vancouver will supplant the NPA as the voice of those who vote B.C. Liberal in provincial elections.

      * The left will experience a revival, like it did in the early 1980s, when several COPE candidates were elected. All three COPE council candidates might even make the top 10 in 2018.

      But the political axis is not only a left-right divide.

      It also splits between voters who feel that climate change is by far the most important issue and those who see climate change as one of several issues worth addressing.

      For those who feel that the climate issue is paramount—affecting the future of humanity on Earth—their votes could be cast in the following way:

      * Support the four Green council candidates.

      * Vote for OneCity's Christine Boyle, as well as the three COPE candidates.

      * Save two votes for Vision Vancouver's Heather Deal and Tanya Paz, who have long-term track records in tackling climate change.

      This might be the greenest possible configuration for the next Vancouver council, with Sylvester occupying the mayor's chair.

      For those green-minded voters who can't stomach voting for one or more of those parties, there are two independent council candidates, Tadqir Bhandal and Graham Cook, who have also put climate change at the top of their agendas.

      And independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart has a solid record on climate change, even if some of the union leaders backing his campaign are eager to see more liquefied-natural-gas plants in the province. 

      So far, climate change hasn't emerged as a big issue in a campaign that's been dominated by discussions over housing and bike lanes. But the climate is something that percolates below the surface in the minds of many voters. The biggest beneficiary of this mindset are the Vancouver Greens.

      If they top the polls in the council race, just as they did in the last school board election, perhaps the other parties will start giving this topic more attention in the future.