Earlier this week, NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe offered something useful to Vancouver voters.
He proposed creating an Office of the Ombudsman to help level the playing field between the citizens and the bureaucracy. A good ombudsman can help resolve disputes before they go to court, thereby saving public funds.
Meanwhile, the Coalition of Progressive Electors mayoral candidate, Meena Wong, says she wants to give some Vancouverites a raise. That's why she'll announce plans later this morning for a minimum-wage law.
Regardless of their merits, these mayoral candidates likely won't be around to implement these ideas.
That's because with three candidates running against Gregor Robertson, there's a high likelihood that votes will split in a way to ensures Vision Vancouver will retain the mayor's chair. (I'm not even counting the independents like restaurateur Colin Shandler, who will also siphon away some anti-Robertson votes.)
It's reminiscent of the 1996 mayoral election when four candidates with reasonably high public profiles took on the incumbent, Philip Owen. Lawyer Carmela Allevato carried the torch for the Coalition of Progressive Electors. Another lawyer, Jonathan Baker, headed a slate called VOICE. The Greens ran environmentalist Paul Watson and Marc Emery was a well-known independent.
Owen won in a landslide as the anti-NPA vote largely fragmented in two directions. Allevato collected 26,143 votes, Baker had 10,703, and Watson was supported by 3,117 voters. Emery was fifth with 1,125 votes.
History repeated itself
A similar phenomenon occurred in 2011 when anti-Vision vote split between the NPA's Suzanne Anton and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver's Randy Helten. Robertson won more votes than the combined total of his two opponents.
This time around, the anti-Vision vote will go at least three ways.
Robertson's challenger from the left is Wong, a community activist. On the right is LaPointe, a former newspaper editor. And for those who used to like the NPA but can't stand who's in the party's backrooms, there's another option: lawyer Bob Kasting.
He's supported by some neighbourhood activists and the nascent Cedar Party, which argues that Vision governs in a high-handed manner.
Don't get me wrong. There is a growing number of people who want to throw Robertson out of office for a variety of reasons. They're just not likely to coalesce around one candidate in sufficient numbers to defeat him.
Many reasons why people won't vote Vision
There are those who hate grade-separated cycling lanes, the mayor's opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal, and the Vision-controlled park board's effort to stop cetaceans from breeding at the Vancouver aquarium.
These people probably never voted for Robertson in the first place. Their natural home is the NPA.
Other opposition has come from neighbourhoods who object to city planning processes that put developers' interests at the front of the line.
Usually, rezoning applications are worked out in advance with staff. The developer can use this as the basis for obtaining financing. And council will merely tinker with the staff's recommendations because to do otherwise could jeopardize the developer's ability to repay his creditors once the project goes ahead.
For those who've paid close attention to this, it's clear that the whole public process is mostly a sham. People who don't like it are apt to vote for Wong or Kasting, though some will cast ballots for LaPointe.
Other voters are extremely disgruntled about the lack of affordable housing. COPE is zeroing in on them. The problem that COPE faces is that most of these citizens are tenants or couch surfers.
Traditionally, tenants and couch surfers don't turn out in large numbers to vote in municipal elections. I'm not sure that COPE has a sufficient network of volunteers to get them to the polls this November.
Even Vision's base has concerns
Then there are those who are fed up with the Vision spin machine, which is often eager to smear its opponents.
Voters in this camp might like some of Vision's policies, such as its ongoing support for arts and culture or its efforts to increase the number of housing units or its record in reducing the city's greenhouse-gas emissions. This group likely supports Vision's introduction of grade-separated cycling routes on the West Side and downtown and appreciates the Vision-controlled school board's support for LGBT students.
Some of these types are civic workers who worry about a revived NPA privatizing their jobs.
They might think to themselves that Vision's record is pretty good in comparison to the previous NPA administration. But they also have serious problems with how the party communicates with the public, who's funding its campaign, and Vision's level of integrity. These voters are in a quandary and pose the greatest risk to the governing party retaining control over council.
They might plug their noses and vote for Robertson as the "least worst" of the bunch even though they would prefer a more accessible mayor who doesn't muzzle city staff. Or they might throw a vote to someone else because Vision has offended them in a deep way. Voters of this ilk (moderately progressive) might demonstrate their dissatisfaction in their choices for council, perhaps by putting an X beside fewer Vision candidates.
LaPointe is doing a hard sell on this crowd by emphasizing how he would head a transparent government. His proposal for an ombudsman is a key part of this message.
Robertson can fall far and still win
Robertson took 77,005 votes last time in a three-person race. Anton ended up with 58,142 votes and Helten had 4,007. The fourth-place finisher, limousine driver Gerry McGuire, was the only other mayoral candidate to top 1,000 votes.
This year, Robertson will probably win the election even if his support falls by 25 percent. He would still have nearly as many votes as Anton received in 2011. If turnout was sky-high, the remaining votes could still split this way: LaPointe (50,000), Wong (35,000), and Kasting (10,000).
It's still a Robertson victory.
That's just one scenario, but you get the picture. It's going to be extremely difficult for the NPA mayoral candidate to match Anton's total given that LaPointe has far lower name recognition, no experience in municipal politics, and a higher likelihood of losing votes to a third candidate (Kasting).
LaPointe doesn't even live in Vancouver, which is another problem facing his party.
Meanwhile, Wong is unlikely to generate the 50,000+ votes necessary for her to win the election, given her party's lack of money and COPE's heavy reliance on tenants rather than homeowners. COPE may have enormous sympathy for the campers in Oppenheimer Park, but many voters don't.
Kasting's prospects are far worse. The record of independents shows that he would be lucky to reach 10,000 votes this year.
When you lose you sometimes win
So why are they running?
LaPointe, no doubt, wants the job, but not enough to move to Vancouver in advance of the election. For him, the upside of this mayoral race is it will boost his name recognition.
It will also bring him to the attention of those who might want to recruit him to run in a subsequent federal, provincial, or municipal election. He's like a kid learning to ride a bike with training wheels. He'll get better over time.
LaPointe may put in a strong enough performance to help elect at last three or four NPA politicians (George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball, Melissa De Genova, and possibly Ian Robertson) to council.
If he achieves this objective and the Greens elect at least two and possibly three (Adriane Carr and either Cleta Brown or Pete Fry), then Vision will have lost control of council. And don't discount the possibility of COPE getting former councillor Tim Louis or community activist Sid Chow Tan elected.
If Vision Vancouver loses control of council, LaPointe could claim a victory of sorts on election night and move on with his life.
For years, Wong's goal has been to get elected as the NDP MP in Vancouver South. Redistribution has moved some Conservative voters into the new federal riding of Vancouver Granville, which is good news for her party.
If Liberal support were to collapse because of a major gaffe or scandal involving Justin Trudeau, Wong might get lucky.
As COPE's mayoral candidate, Wong will boost her profile while meeting many voters. If she campaigns hard on the south side of the city, she will forge stronger connections with Vancouver South residents in advance of the next federal campaign.
I've always felt that the NDP had a "two-election strategy" in Vancouver South, knowing that Wong wouldn't win in 2011. However if the Liberal incumbent Ujjal Dosanjh lost in 2011 (which occurred), it would increase the chance of Wong winning the seat in 2015.
People should view her run for mayor through that lens. They can still vote for her if they think she's the best choice. But they shouldn't kid themselves about her chance of winning.
So what about Kasting, a lawyer who has represented clients who have taken the city to court? In his profession, someone who's really good at bringing in paying clients is called a rainmaker.
Running for mayor is a perfect rainmaking opportunity, even if Kasting ends up far back of the pack on election day. It may not be his motivation for running, but it's likely one of the consequences.
So you can see how LaPointe, Wong, and Kasting can all come out ahead even if they lose the mayoral election.
Real race is for council
In the meantime, the Vision electoral machine is kicking into high gear with a slate of candidates out raising money, wooing volunteers, and getting ready for the big show in November.
Vision operatives are smart enough to know that the mayor's race is probably already over. Their biggest challenge will be ensuring that other Vision candidates get across the finish line ahead of the competition.
It's why you'll see new Vision council candidate Niki Sharma and incumbents like Heather Deal, Geoff Meggs, and Andrea Reimer showing up in party news releases. Vision will also pick its council candidates carefully to appear at debates.
That's because the real race in this Vancouver election is for control of council. The media should recognize this and focus more attention on council candidates over the next two months rather than simply repeating whatever various mayoral candidates say at scripted news conferences.