According to pollster Mario Canseco, B.C.’s municipal elections have some of the lowest turnouts in the country. In the last Toronto campaign, 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, whereas in Vancouver only 34.6 percent participated. In Surrey, it was even worse with a 25.2-percent turnout, and in Burnaby, it was even lower, at just 23.3 percent.
The electoral system is one reason why. In the Lower Mainland, councillors are chosen on a citywide basis rather than in neighbourhood constituencies as in many large Canadian cities. There’s also no proportional representation. Those who vote mostly mark an X beside names they recognize or party brands that they feel they can trust.
The system promotes party politics, because candidates must join forces to raise enough money to have a chance of getting elected. A good independent faces a nearly impossible task in larger centres such as Vancouver, Surrey, and Burnaby.
Because of widespread concern over low voter turnout, we’ve compiled a Straight slate to shed more light on candidates worth supporting. Don’t consider these as endorsements, just recommendations to help readers who haven’t paid much attention to civic politics. We’ll begin in Vancouver, where 10 councillors, nine school trustees, and seven park commissioners will be elected.
Gregor Robertson (Vision Vancouver)
For voters most concerned about the environment, there really isn’t any other choice for mayor of Vancouver. A vote for Coalition of Progressive Electors candidate Meena Wong will help a more conservative candidate, the NPA’s Kirk LaPointe. That’s because this Vancouver mayoral election has become a two-man race, largely due to the influence of big money, despite Wong’s spirited campaign.
LaPointe is backed by some of the most right-wing businessmen in the province, including several directors of the ultraconservative Fraser Institute, which promotes privatization of public services, including education. Do we really want to turn over the mayor’s chair to a candidate supported by some of the same free-market ideologues behind Stephen Harper? Some of LaPointe’s backers support the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal, which will bring more than 300 additional oil tankers to Burrard Inlet every year for relatively little benefit to the B.C. economy. LaPointe has refused to oppose the project.
Robertson isn’t perfect by any means. Community amenities such as childcare and parks are negotiated in secret in return for higher density in spot rezonings, which are then rubber-stamped after public hearings that sometimes seem like little more than a sham. Residents have taken the city to court on several occasions, arguing that the planning process is stacked in favour of developers, who fund Vision Vancouver campaigns.
However, there is one sign of progress. Vision Vancouver had its ass kicked by residents of Grandview-Woodland after the city floated the idea of 11 towers between 18 and 36 storeys near Commercial-Broadway Station. The city beat a hasty retreat in the face of intense opposition, suggesting that Robertson may be a little more humble in his dealings with neighbourhoods if he’s reelected to a third term.
At the same time, Robertson has helped make Vancouver the most LGBT–friendly city in North America. He has focused far more attention on arts and culture than any of his predecessors. Under Vision Vancouver, we’ve seen a plethora of concerts in local parks and the revival of the York Theatre on Commercial Drive.
In recent years, traffic on major arteries has been diverted to make room for Carnaval del Sol, TaiwanFest, the Walk for Reconciliation, Car Free Day Vancouver, and other events that enliven the city and promote greater understanding of our neighbours. Robertson and his Vision Vancouver colleagues have made it fun going downtown during the summer because you never know what you’re going to experience on Granville Street, thanks to the Viva Vancouver program.
The mayor recognizes that approximately 7,000 people are moving to Vancouver each year and has tried to provide more housing in transit-friendly locations to accommodate them. This has riled residents of Mount Pleasant and Marpole, in particular, but newcomers have to live somewhere. It’s better that new units go near transit hubs. Three area plans were completed over the past year, compared with just one under the NPA.
Robertson knows that affordable housing is the most important issue in this election. LaPointe, on the other hand, claims the most important issue is “secret deals”, citing Robertson’s refusal to privatize public services and linking that to CUPE Local 1004’s donation of $34,000 to Vision Vancouver. There have been times during the campaign when LaPointe was asked about affordable housing and declined the opportunity to state his views. It says something about his priorities.
Meanwhile, the city posted a record-low homicide rate last year. It also has the lowest per capita greenhouse-gas emissions of any major city in North America, according to the B.C. Climate Action Toolkit website.
Vancouver’s environmental ethic, diversity, and well-educated population have reinforced its reputation as a progressive city, which brings tourists and high-tech businesses. LaPointe hasn’t demonstrated much interest in environmental issues during the campaign, preferring to base his messages around government transparency, accountability, and the economy.
Both LaPointe and Wong were recruited to run this year by their respective parties, and they haven’t always seemed up to speed on important issues. Wong, for instance, has promoted a $30-per-month transit pass, which she would have no ability to implement if she were to become mayor. Some of COPE’s policies would undermine investment in new housing supply in Vancouver, notably a plan to fund tenant unions across the city and to list all rental units, rents, and rent increases in a public registry. It’s utopian thinking run amok, notwithstanding Wong’s good intentions. But within COPE’s housing platform, there are some good ideas, such as a call to replace 4,000 privately owned hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside. How that would be funded, however, remains an open question.
For his part, LaPointe has been all over the map on a Broadway subway, which has been supported by members of the Mayors’ Council, including Robertson. LaPointe released his platform very late in the campaign, and it was remarkably bereft of new ideas to tackle homelessness and housing affordability. Instead, LaPointe has focused on submarine-style attacks, alleging “corruption” at city hall.
LaPointe has never been elected and is less ready to be mayor than the last two NPA mayoral candidates, Suzanne Anton and Peter Ladner. With an important transit referendum on the horizon, this isn’t a good time for the city to be training a new mayor.
R J Aquino (OneCity Vancouver)
OneCity has developed some of the most thoughtful policies of any party competing in this election, calling for Portland-style elected neighbourhood councils to offer more grassroots input to city council. Aquino, a high-tech worker, pointed out that he and his wife spend more each month on childcare than they do on rent, and he’s promising to push for a $10-a-day child-care program “in a Vancouver neighbourhood that desperately needs it”. OneCity’s affordable-housing platform calls for 20 percent of units in new developments to be reserved “at affordable rates” for middle- and low-income households. And he has proposed a “living-wage zone” in False Creek Flats and greater protection of industrial and commercial land to promote employment close to where people live. Aquino has the support of some thoughtful community activists, including public-health-care advocate Colleen Fuller, urban aboriginal leader Scott Clark, and writer Trish Kelly, as well as comedian Charlie Demers and NDP MLAs David Eby, Mable Elmore, and Jenny Kwan. If Aquino gets elected, he will become the first councillor of Filipino descent in the city’s history.
Elizabeth Ball (NPA)
No one on council is as knowledgeable about the arts as Ball, which is a good enough reason for us to recommend her reelection. She keeps Vision Vancouver politicians on their toes when it comes to cultural issues and no one can accuse her of being a neoconservative ideologue. She has close ties to two B.C. Liberal MLAs, Sam Sullivan and Suzanne Anton, as well as the premier, which means Ball is in a position to try to bring the provincial government’s attention to cultural issues in Vancouver. That’s an important consideration when Vancouver is so underrepresented on the government side of the house in Victoria.
Adriane Carr (Green)
The Vancouver Greens are fielding their strongest slate of candidates in history, which is a testament to Carr’s de facto leadership of the party. Over the past three years, Carr has listened to community associations and wrapped her mind around complicated planning issues. We didn’t recommend her in 2011 out of a concern that she was more up to speed on provincial and federal issues than municipal concerns. That’s no longer the case, which was obvious at a candidates forum at St. James Community Hall, where she gave a detailed dissertation on the shortcomings of Vancouver’s heritage bylaw. Carr and the Greens are making all the right noises about stimulating local businesses, boosting solar energy, and restoring trust in the city government by refusing donations from developers and fossil-fuel companies and contributions greater than $5,000. The Greens have also promised to restore historical staff reports that were deleted from the city’s website.
Melissa De Genova (NPA)
It’s helpful to have two NPA councillors who can second one another’s motions so they’ll be put on the floor for debate. De Genova has seriously upset Vision Vancouver park commissioners over the past three years with her relentless advocacy for a seniors’ centre in Killarney. If she brings the same passion to a Vision Vancouver–controlled council chamber, the ruling party may face its toughest opponent yet. De Genova understands land-use issues and the shortcomings of the city’s secretive process for negotiating community-amenity contributions. She’s also talented at generating media coverage for issues that concern her, which is part of a politician’s job.
Pete Fry (Green)
Fry, son of veteran Liberal MP Hedy Fry, is one of the most transparent politicians running for office. He posted his answers to the Vancouver & District Labour Council’s candidates survey on his website, where you can also read his blunt views on housing affordability and development. As chair of the Strathcona Residents’ Association, he was deeply involved in the debate over the future of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, arguing that their removal is a good idea but saying not enough consideration is being given to residents east of Gore Avenue. He played a role in the creation of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, which aims to enhance the accountability and fairness of the planning process.
Kerry Jang (Vision Vancouver)
Jang, a professor of psychiatry, has been the city’s point man on promoting more homeless shelters and advancing policies to assist sex workers. He’s also been a progressive voice on marijuana dispensaries. Jang reads the research coming out of local universities on homelessness and addiction, which helps lift the awareness of everyone on council. Jang’s advocacy for a housing-first strategy is one reason why the Quality Inn near the Granville Bridge is being eyed for interim housing for the homeless. The neighbours don’t like it, but the homeless shouldn’t always be housed in the Downtown Eastside.
Rob McDowell (NPA)
McDowell has served on several arts boards and has worked abroad promoting public health. He was once Canada’s consul in Guangzhou and was director of Canada’s trade office in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s helpful to have a councillor who understands the Chinese province of Guangdong and Vietnam, given the large number of Vancouver immigrants from those parts of the world. And as a former diplomat, McDowell would bring some civility to the council chamber.
Geoff Meggs (Vision Vancouver)
Meggs has stickhandled some of the city’s most challenging issues during his six years on council, including the Olympic Village controversy, the Broadway subway, and the possible removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, which would bring traffic peace to parts of East Vancouver. He is also the city’s chief proponent of making Vancouver a “sanctuary city” to provide a safe haven for undocumented migrants. As things stand now, anyone without documentation risks deportation merely by seeking help from police or health officials in life-threatening situations. Meggs hopes to change this.
Andrea Reimer (Vision Vancouver)
Reimer is one of the city’s hardest-working councillors, spearheading the open-government initiative. As a regular transit user, she recognizes the need to offer better service and will be a strong advocate in the upcoming referendum on this issue. Reimer has also played a key role in council’s efforts to reach out to diverse communities, including First Nations. It’s something that she hasn’t received much credit for because it often occurs outside of the view of the media. She’s often on Twitter, making her more accessible than most politicians. And she’s been a reliably green voice on the board of Metro Vancouver, offering the most pointed criticism of a regional plan to create energy by burning up to 500,000 tonnes of garbage a year.
Niki Sharma (Vision Vancouver)
Sharma’s party has secured 975 child-care spaces in the city and put the entire 2012 budget surplus of $5 million in this area. This is a point of pride for Sharma, a lawyer and mother, who says “record investments” in this area need to continue. As a park commissioner, she boldly spoke out against allowing the Vancouver Aquarium to continue breeding cetaceans in captivity, and she was deeply involved in the Greenest City Action Plan. She practises in the area of aboriginal law and says efforts at reconciliation will be a priority for her.
The COPE executive has repelled its more moderate wing, possibly rendering all of its candidates unelectable. That said, one of the strongest COPE council candidates is Lisa Barrett, a former Vancity director and two-term mayor of Bowen Island. She’s a sharp debater and she’s exceptionally knowledgeable about planning and transportation. Our second choice among COPE’s council candidates is media activist Sid Chow Tan, who has fought tirelessly on behalf of Chinese seniors, the environment, and greater democracy in our city. Green council candidate and lawyer Cleta Brown has a record of advocacy while working for the B.C. ombudsperson. Her mother was feminist icon Rosemary Brown, who was the first woman of African descent elected to a provincial legislature. The NPA’s Gregory Baker, an entrepreneur and son of former councillor Jonathan Baker, would inject some zesty debate into the council chamber. Vision Vancouver’s Raymond Louie is worth considering if you’re happy with the party’s fiscal record, which focuses on keeping residential property taxes down and making up the difference through higher fees. Vision Vancouver’s Heather Deal, a former biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation, is an articulate and environmentally responsible politician. This is an important consideration as civic and regional governments develop policies to adapt to climate change. And Tim Stevenson has been a superb advocate for the LGBT community. This was apparent when he went to Sochi this year to highlight Russia’s antigay legislation and to lobby the International Olympic Committee to push harder for human rights. We hope that Stevenson is eventually inducted into the Q Hall of Fame, because he certainly deserves this honour for all of his hard work over the years.
Vancouver Board of Education
Vision Vancouver deserves to retain control of the board of education for its responsible advocacy on behalf of parents during the teachers’ strike, not closing schools, and amending its sexual-orientation and gender-identities policy to create safer schools for LGBT students. We recommend saving two votes for former COPE trustee Jane Bouey and education activist Gwen Giesbrecht, who are running with a new party called the Public Education Project, if you decide to vote for the seven Vision candidates: Joy Alexander, Patti Bacchus, Ken Clement, Mike Lombardi, Cherie Payne, Allan Wong, and Rob Wynen. If you want to provide some ideological balance, incumbent trustee Fraser Ballantyne and accountant Christopher Richardson are both intelligent NPA candidates with elected experience, and each has a track record of supporting the LGBT communities. The NPA’s Sandy Sharma has been a progressive parent activist for many years and is well-versed in education issues, including the board’s financial affairs.
Vancouver Park Board
If you like the park board’s vote to ban the breeding of whales and dolphins in captivity, you can support Vision Vancouver’s six-member slate: Catherine Evans, Naveen Girn, Brent Granby, Trevor Loke, Sammie Jo Rumbaua, and Coree Tull. It’s a solid group with a good combination of youthful energy, experience, and diversity, though with the exception of Granby and Loke, none have a long record of advocacy on park-board issues. If you oppose the policy on cetaceans, vote NPA, because its six candidates will likely repeal the bylaw if they’re elected. The NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung once worked for the aquarium. If you’re not into slate voting, we suggest saving votes for Green candidate Stuart Mackinnon and COPE’s Anita Romaniuk, two environmentally sensitive ex-commissioners. IDEA’s Jamie Lee Hamilton is a sharp critic of the Vancouver Aquarium and wants the park board to have more independence from city hall. If you’re looking for a more radical voice, COPE’s Imtiaz Popat has strong green credentials and would shake things up with motions to advance the interests of racialized minorities and the LGBT communities.
Corrigan’s Burnaby Citizens Association runs perhaps the best civic government in the Lower Mainland. Fiscally prudent and environmentally sensitive, the BCA has demonstrated foresight in concentrating development in town centres in Metrotown, Brentwood, Edmonds, and Lougheed, which are all served by rapid transit. Burnaby staff write well-researched reports on important public issues that are helpful to municipalities across the province. And BCA school trustees brought forward a progressive antihomophobia program long before other districts even considered the idea. Corrigan and his diverse team have made Burnaby one of Canada’s most welcoming cities for immigrants. Burnaby was ahead of other suburban municipalities in bringing concerts to Deer Lake Park—an approach that’s since been copied in West Vancouver and Surrey. Veteran councillors Dan Johnston, Sav Dhaliwal, Nick Volkow, Pietro Calendino, and Colleen Jordan have provided a steady hand for many years. Despite Burnaby First’s efforts to cast aspersions on the BCA’s ties with CUPE and the mayor’s predilection for playing golf with visiting dignitaries, there’s no justification for replacing the incumbents.
New Westminster Mayor
Jonathan X. Cote
Voters in New Westminster have three solid mayoral candidates: Cote, the feisty James Crosty, and the business-friendly incumbent, Wayne Wright. Cote, a three-term councillor, is the youngest and would help rebrand the Royal City as the increasingly hip and urban community that it’s becoming. He’s shown enormous sensitivity to the homeless population and he’s studied transportation planning in a master’s program at SFU, leaving him well-equipped to deal with traffic, which is the most pressing issue in New Westminster.
The former Surrey First councillor and her new One Surrey team face an uphill battle, but she has clearly presented the most comprehensive plan to combat the sharp rise in crime in the first nine months of this year over 2013. Rasode is indeed one tough mother, as her campaign slogan suggests, but she’s also one smart mother with a proven record in fighting domestic abuse and advocating on behalf of bus riders and the developmen-tally disabled. Rasode is clearly more progressive than her two chief rivals, former mayor Doug McCallum and Coun. Linda Hepner, though we like Hepner’s proposal to turn part of King George Highway into an arts hub.
In recent years, Brodie has become a far more progressive mayor, fighting a proposal to transport jet fuel across the city, boosting arts and culture, and raising concerns about retaining the RCMP. Brodie has also highlighted major flaws in the premier’s silly plan to replace the George Massey Tunnel with an expensive new bridge. Brodie’s main opponent, Richard Lee, has demonstrated reactionary tendencies in the past, opposing the Four Pillars plan to combat addiction in Vancouver many years ago.
Stewart, the incumbent, is more of a regional consensus builder than his main rival, Coun. Lou Sekora, who was mayor in the 1980s and 1990s. Stewart has also pushed hard for the revival of Riverview Hospital to serve the mentally ill, and he’s far more supportive than Sekora when it comes to extending rapid transit to other areas of the region, including Surrey and the Broadway corridor.
City of North Vancouver Mayor
The former paramedic has been criticized for densifying his city, but it’s hard to deny the increasing appeal of Lower Lonsdale and Central Lonsdale, which is a result of a growing population. He oversaw development of one of the most attractive libraries in the region and the City of North Vancouver is a leader in environmental sustainability, thanks in part to its district energy company. His chief opponent, Kerry Morris, would sharply slow the pace of development. This might be great for homeowners but it won’t do much for young people and new immigrants looking for a place to live, let alone seniors who may want to downshift to a condo while remaining in the city.
Port Moody Mayor
Royer, a former city manager and Metro Vancouver planner, has raised serious concerns that the growth in public services won’t keep pace with the growth in population provided for by Port Moody’s official community plan. Royer also says the city must work harder to attract new businesses and cannot rest on its laurels as a bedroom community. In addition, Royer seems far more concerned than Mayor Mike Clay about the potential effects of the Kinder Morgan pipeline on the ecologically sensitive estuary of Burrard Inlet. Voters have a clear choice between a progressive challenger and a fairly conservative incumbent.
Port Coquitlam Mayor
This is no contest. Moore is the affable chair of Metro Vancouver, and although we don’t agree with his strong support for burning hundreds of thousands of tonnes of garbage, he’s far more experienced and capable than his opponent, Eric Hirvonen, who has no elected experience. Moore is the best bet to persuade TransLink to improve bus service between Port Coquitlam and the Evergreen Line, which will open in 2016. The municipality also has an impressive recycling record under Moore’s leadership.
Maple Ridge Mayor
Most people who watched the Shaw TV mayoral debate came away thinking that Nicole Read was the winner. The Silver Valley resident is a tough-talking advocate who has put crime reduction and ending homelessness at the top of her agenda. A former supporter of the amiable Mayor Ernie Daykin, Read feels that the time has come for someone who is going to be more forceful in obtaining resources from the provincial government.
City of Langley Mayor
Caine, founder of the Langley Medical Marijuana Dispensary, faces tough odds against Coun. Ted Schaffer and Ray Lewis, who has made crime his central issue. Nonetheless, we admire Caine’s unwavering dedication to civil liberties and his willingness to challenge the RCMP over its draconian views around cannabis. Caine has done well in business, operating three hemp stores.
Township of Langley Mayor
Former mayor Rick Green could make a successful comeback, but his last term was marred by serious disagreements with fellow councillors. That’s why we’re backing incumbent Froese, a former Vancouver police officer who is sometimes criticized for being too favourably disposed toward developers.
Pitt Meadows Mayor
Becker has more political experience, having served three terms on council, and the cornerstone of his platform is a zero-percent tax increase. His chief opponent, Pitt Meadows Community Foundation president Michael Hayes, is a proponent of smart growth to protect farmland. Hayes is a federal Conservative and provincial Liberal who touts his connections to politicians with both parties.