5 things to watch on election night in Vancouver

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      With 71 candidates for Vancouver city council, 21 candidates for mayor, 33 candidates for park board, this is not going to be an easy election for voters.

      Further bewildering the electorate are the 11 party names on the ballot.

      These are the various elector organizations this year: Yes Vancouver, Coalition Vancouver, IDEA Vancouver, NPA, Vision Vancouver, Vancouver 1st, Greens, COPE, OneCity, ProVancouver, and Work Less Party.

      Try to imagine yourself as a new Canadian, recently made a citizen, and eagerly entering the voting booth in Vancouver for the first time and seeing this. It's nuts.

      Beyond the confusion of the public, here are five things I'll be watching for on election night on October 20.

      Stephen Hui

      1. Voter turnout 

      If there's a high turnout that includes many renters, that's good news for progressive parties. In 1990, for example, COPE nearly took control of council when there was a 52 percent turnout.

      The turnout was around 50 percent in 2002 when COPE won a landslide.

      But in 1996 when it snowed on election day, only 32.1 percent of eligible voters showed up to the polls. And the NPA, led by Philip Owen, captured every seat.

      In 2014, the turnout was 43.7 percent. There were enough tenants and enough cyclists showing up to ensure that Vision Vancouver retained control of council.

      This occurred in the face of a stronger challenge from the NPA than in the two previous elections.

      In recent elections, the city has sharply increased the number of days for advance voting, which can help increase turnout.

      Social media also makes it easier for candidates and parties to encourage their supporters to vote.

      In light of that, it's hard to imagine turnout dropping to the level seen in 1996. But if there is a low turnout, that will invariably help Ken Sim and the NPA because its older base of homeowners on the southwest side of the city will, for the most part, show up to vote. 

      Yes Vancouver was created to "legalize" housing and move beyond a 90-year-old town plan that has restricted the development of four-storey apartment buildings in most of the city.

      2. Will new parties gain a foothold?

      In the at-large system, where candidates are elected on a citywide basis, it's very difficult for organizations like OneCity, Coalition Vancouver, ProVancouver, and Yes Vancouver to create brand awareness. This is particularly so under more restrictive election-financing rules introduced by the NDP government.

      If the names of these organizations have not caught on, they could face the fate of other parties that have risen and fallen in recent years.

      That would leave the better-known Greens, NPA, COPE, and Vision Vancouver scrapping it out for the 10 seats on council.

      High name recognition will give a boost to individual candidates, such as Adriane Carr, Jean Swanson, Melissa De Genova, and Heather Deal. They will all likely attract more votes than anyone else on their respective slates.

      For political keeners, this is the really interesting question: who will rank second and third on their respective slates? That could determine the makeup of the next council.

      This also applies to Coalition Vancouver for a different reason. 

      I've said in the past that the party's mayoral candidate Wai Young could be laying a foundation for a run for a Conservative nomination in 2019.

      But the same could be true for members of her council slate.

      If either Penny Mussio, Morning Li, or Ken Charko win a large number of votes on election night, they could be primed to make a run for Parliament with the Conservatives in 2019.

      Independent Erin Shum will be jumping with joy if she's elected on October 20.

      3. Do independent council candidates have a chance?

      In the last seven elections, here are the highest vote totals for independents:

      1996: Stephen F.Y. Chong 9,531

      1999: Nancy Chiavario 29,800

      2002: George Chow: 17,849

      2005: Kevin Potvin 10,806

      2008: Lea Johnson 10,947

      2011: Sandy Garossino 20,866

      2014: Lena Ling: 8,197

      The high-water mark came when a high-profile former park commissioner and city councillor, Chiavario, was spurned by her party, the NPA, and was still nearly elected to council. She came 11th in the race for 10 seats in 1999.

      The next two best performances came from candidates with considerable appeal on the West Side of Vancouver: Garossino and Chow, who was a resident of Shaughnessy at the time.

      In three of the last seven elections, the top-performing independent had a Chinese surname.

      Add it all up and it suggests that the independent to watch in this election is Erin Shum, who's wrapping up her first term as park commissioner after leaving the NPA caucus.

      She's an elected official who has had ties to the NPA with a Chinese surname and strong roots on the West Side. This might make Shum the perfect independent, given the recent history of independents.

      Another former park commissioner, Sarah Blyth, is also running as an independent. There are two other independents with reasonably high name recognition: former NPA candidate Rob McDowell and former police board member and ex-Musqueam councillor Wade Grant.

      Three of these four independents are more likely to drain votes from NPA candidates. Blyth is the only one with deep roots on the left, which came as a result of her efforts to save addicts lives in the Downtown Eastside.

      In 2014, Vision Vancouver's Geoff Meggs was elected to the 10th and final spot on council with 56,831 votes.

      If there's a similar turnout this year, Shum may need at least 50,000 votes to get elected this year.

      It's not impossible—she received 56,762 votes in 2014 with far lower name recognition than she has now.

      Still, this will be tremendously difficult to achieve, given how independents have fared in previous civic elections. 

      Keep in mind that in 2011, Adriane Carr shattered the NPA-Vision-COPE monopoly on council seats by barely coming in 10th as a Green candidate. Carr ended up being the big story of the election.

      If Shum pulls off a similar feat, this would emerge as one of the most noteworthy aspects of this campaign.

      NPA candidate David Grewal has not received much media attention, but he has a chance of becoming the first Vancouver councillor in history who traces his roots back to Punjab.

      4. David Grewal's vote total

      One thing that's always struck me about Vancouver elections is the propensity of the Indian community on the city's southeast side to back the winner.

      In provincial elections, the constituency of Vancouver-Fraserview, which is home to the Ross Street temple, has gone with the winning party in the legislature in every campaign since the electoral district was created in 1991.

      Since the mid 1980s, the riding of Vancouver South has often been represented by government MPs. The only exception was the period from 2006 to 2011 when Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh was on the Opposition side of Parliament.

      Businessman David Grewal is a first-time council candidate with the NPA and a resident of Southlands. He's been endorsed by the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners' Association.

      Grewal opposed the rezoning of the Casa Mia estate on Southwest Marine Drive into a care home for seniors. Expect him to do well in the antidensification NPA heartland on the southwest side of the city.

      If he gets a significant boost from the Khalsa Diwan Society, which operates the temple, it's possible for Grewal to pick up more NPA votes than his party colleagues (with the exception of De Genova) on the southeast side of the city. De Genova is popular in that part of town for her long-time advocacy for the Killarney Seniors Centre.

      As a result, Grewal could surprise people by coming second on the NPA council slate, ahead of the better-known park commissioner, Sarah Kirby-Yung.

      If he accomplishes this, Grewal has an outside shot of becoming the second person of South Asian ancestry ever elected to Vancouver city council and the first since Setty Pendakur won a seat in the 1970s.

      Earlier this year, Grewal told the Straight that he speaks Punjabi. This means he could become the first Vancouver city councillor who traces his family roots back to Punjab, which is a state in northwestern India.

      Grewal isn't the only council candidate in the race with Punjabi roots.

      Yes Vancouver has two candidates of Punjabi ancestry: Cobs Bread franchise owner Brinder Bains and pharmacist Jaspreet Virdi.

      If Yes Vancouver's Hector Bremner surprises people and attracts a tidal wave of support on election night, particularly within the Filipino and South Asian communities, it could conceivably put either of them on council, too.

      But here's the advantage for Grewal. The South Vancouver-based Virdi, in particular, is likely to drain votes away from other NPA candidates in that part of town, which could leave Grewal as the second-highest-ranking member of his council slate by the end of the night.

      COPE's home page makes it clear where the party stands in this election.

      5. The effectiveness of COPE's hardline approach 

      The left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors is running a campaign that bears some strong resemblances to the class-based battles waged by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries and the British Labour Party in the 2017 U.K. election. 

      COPE's pitch is fiercely populist, anti-establishment, and uncompromising in its Robin Hood-like appeal to low-income voters and those who feel that the rich are making off like bandits in Vancouver.

      Its calls for a mansion tax, a rent freeze, and pushing the province to sharply increase the amount of temporary modular housing have not been embraced by any of the high-profile mayoral candidates. So COPE is not endorsing any of them.

      Vancouver has never seen a political campaign quite like this since the recessionary times of the 1980s, when true left wingers like Bruce Yorke and Bruce Eriksen didn't hide their contempt for the city's business class.

      Will it resonate with the electorate in 2018? Or will the more moderate approach of former COPE politicians a decade ago, such as David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth, still prove to be the best pathway to power for the left in Vancouver?

      These days, that's represented by OneCity, which is hoping to ride a feel-good, millennial-friendly video rendition of "We're Here For a Good Time" into the council chamber.

      If all three COPE candidates are elected, it will send a signal to the rest of the country that a more radical approach can reap results at the ballot box.

      This, in turn, could persuade the federal New Democrats to take a left turn in advance of the 2019 election to regain some relevance with their base.