Two civic-election observers suggest that although Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is favoured to win another term, he doesn’t have a lock on it.
Part of the reason is Meena Wong, who pollster Mario Canseco described as the “wildcard” in the November 15 election.
Canseco, vice president for public affairs at Insights West, and Patrick Smith, professor of political science and urban studies at SFU, were being asked about which contests they’re paying closer attention to in the Lower Mainland.
Among the bigger cities in the region, only a handful appear to be interesting if one were to look at elections as horse races.
Mayor Derek Corrigan of Burnaby and Mayor Malcolm Brodie of Richmond are expected to cruise to new terms. That can be said as well for Mayor Darrell Mussatto of the City of North Vancouver.
Three mayors didn’t have challengers, and were acclaimed. These are Mayor Michael Smith of West Vancouver, Mayor Richard Walton of the District of North Vancouver, and Mayor Lois Jackson of Delta.
Port Moody is among those that interests Smith.
Mike Clay, who was elected mayor of Port Moody in 2011, is facing a challenge from Gaetan Royer, who has extensive experience in managing city affairs. Royer was a former city manager in Port Moody, and has worked as a senior manager in Surrey, Metro Vancouver, and Whitehorse.
“It’s not very usual that you get senior bureaucrats running for the same job that they were reporting,” Smith told the Straight in a phone interview.
The SFU academic also mentioned New Westminster, where four-term mayor Wayne Wright is fighting a challenge from councillor Jonathan Cote. “We have a current councillor who had thought he understood that the current mayor is not going to run,” Smith said.
Smith and Canseco agree that Surrey is going to be an exciting one.
“We got an old ex-mayor, we got the popular current mayor departing for federal politics, and her handpicked version seems to have some challenges that will play out in a rather interesting way,” Smith said, referring to Doug McCallum, mayor Dianne Watts, and her endorsed candidate, councillor Linda Hepner.
If it were just a contest between Hepner and independent councillor Barinder Rasode, Smith suggested that Hepner would have the “inside track”.
“Benefits of incumbency,” the SFU professor said. “She [Hepner] has a little bit of the Dianne Watts slipstream still working for her.
“But the re-introduction of former mayor McCallum, I think if he took 15 or 20 percent of the vote, that could turn things upside down,” Smith also said.
As for Vancouver, Smith talked about some of Robertson’s “vulnerabilities”.
One is how Robertson and his Vision Vancouver caucus angered neighbourhoods by the way they handled issues like development and bike lanes.
Then there’s Meena Wong, who is running for mayor with the Coalition of Progressive Electors, a party that was the sidekick of Vision in the last two elections.
“One of the things that my former colleague—now member of Parliament—Kennedy Stewart would always remind me was that it doesn’t take a very big switch in a small size electorate to have a rather dramatic change in the outcome,” Smith said.
Smith also said: “Collectively, there may be, you know, two or three places where there’s bleeding [on Robertson and Vision’s side] that goes on, and if Meena Wong did take some, then that, combined with some of the errors that I think the Gregor administration has made, makes him a little more vulnerable. You have to say he’s the...frontrunner though.”
For Canseco, there are a couple of issues at play in Vancouver.
One is that a big number of residents feel that city hall under Robertson and Vision hasn’t been transparent, and it’s something that the incumbent party’s main rival, the Non-Partisan Association, seems to be handling well.
“That definitely plays into the hands of what the NPA has been talking about as far as making it a much more transparent city,” Canseco said.
However, Canseco also said that given the NPA’s branding and what it represents to the city historically, “it’s going to be tougher for some of those who may have supported Gregor in the past two elections to go to the NPA”.
Then there’s Wong of COPE.
“Robertson never had to face a candidate from COPE in his first two mayoral races,” the pollster said. “You could have conceivably some of those votes that would go to Gregor in any other election without a COPE candidate suddenly going to COPE, and that could turn into a much closer race as we get closer to the election date.”
Canseco is reminded of the 2006 federal election, recalling how then Liberal prime minister Paul Martin told voters that a vote for Jack Layton of the NDP would let Stephen Harper of the Conservatives win. “It’s kind of a similar scenario,” he said.
According to Canseco, the past two elections have been essentially a two-party contest. “We have a two-party system, and you have a lot of independent candidates who are running, but they were never going to get anywhere near the level of support that the NPA and Vision have,” he said. “Now COPE has a candidate who’s been very vocal about what she wants to do particularly when it comes to unoccupied houses, the one-dollar-a-day proposal for transit, which is very problematic in a way, but it appeals to the kind of voter who usually goes to Vision, and if they [COPE] continue on this trend, if she [Wong] starts to climb the charts, then who knows where it’s going to go.”
Canseco said the extent to which Wong is going to eat votes from Robertson is a question that many are asking.
“Ultimately,” Canseco said, “it will show that there is a high number of residents who are going to have to ponder their options.”