Why a council by-election poses a serious threat to Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver

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      On the face of it, the upcoming by-election for a Vancouver council seat appears to be fairly meaningless.

      Even if the ruling Vision Vancouver loses, it will still have a majority of seats in the council chamber.

      And besides that, ruling parties always lose by-elections, right?

      Well, not really.

      In 1981, Socred Claude Richmond won a "meaningless" by-election in Kamloops, a bellwether constituency. This gave his governing party sufficient momentum to narrowly win the 1983 general election.

      Conversely, Vision Vancouver faces a humiliating prospect in the 2017 Vancouver by-election.

      If its 21-year-old council candidate, Diego Cardona, doesn't achieve much traction with voters, he could conceivably end up in fifth or sixth place.

      Cardona is a remarkable young man. A refugee from Colombia, he and his sister went into foster care after their mother died.

      He graduated with top marks and has become a strong voice for kids in care and refugees. This has earned him the support of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s highly regarded former advocate for children and youth.

      Going against him in politics, however, is his low name recognition, which is extremely important in at-large municipal elections.

      In fact, Cardona is probably less well known than five other candidates: independent Jean Swanson, OneCity's Judy Graves, Pete Fry of the Greens, the NPA's Hector Bremner, and Sensible Vancouver's Mary Jean Dunsdon (a.k.a. Watermelon).

      If Cardona comes sixth or even fifth, this will reflect very badly on the head of Vision Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson.

      It could even accelerate the mayor's departure from municipal politics.

      No wonder Robertson is working overtime to promote his housing initiatives.

      Green candidate Pete Fry could scoop up support from environmentally inclined voters who've supported the mayor in the past.

      Vision Vancouver formed as a coalition

      Keep in mind that Vision Vancouver was created in 2004 as a coalition of pragmatic New Democrats, federal Liberals, and market-oriented environmentalists.

      But recently, some New Democrats appear to be heading for the exits.

      One of them, Geoff Meggs, resigned his Vision Vancouver council seat to work as chief of staff to Premier John Horgan.

      Another key New Democrat in the party, Stepan Vdovine, quit as Vision Vancouver's executive director. His partner (and another Visionista) Mira Oreck has gone to work in the premier's office.

      The Vision Vancouver park board candidate who topped the polls in the 2008 and 2011 elections, Constance Barnes, is supporting OneCity's Graves. Barnes was the federal NDP candidate in Vancouver Centre in 2015.

      The Vancouver and District Labour Council could always be relied upon in the past to endorse Vision Vancouver candidates. But this time, it's backing Graves.

      It raises a question whether OneCity could become the new NDP farm team in Vancouver.

      The NPA's Hector Bremner (with wife Virginia) has been telling the development community what it wants to hear.
      Hector Bremner

      Compounding Vision's political problems is that the mayor, in his eagerness to win over progressive voters, is alienating developers who previously supported him.

      Some are not happy with Robertson's efforts to force them to provide affordable housing along Cambie Street.

      In the NPA's Bremner, these developers have found an ideal candidate to finance in the by-election.

      That's because Bremner is advocating turning over public land to developers to build housing. That's like crack cocaine to the building industry, given the shortage of developable land in Vancouver.

      Bremner is also very close to interim B.C. Liberal Leader Rich Coleman, who's a favourite of the developers. This means that Bremner can count on the support of the B.C. Liberal machine.

      Vision Vancouver's decision to turn First Shaughnessy into a heritage conservation area has also hurt the party with the building industry. 

      So while Bremner declares that the city is not doing enough to provide housing supply, left-wing candidates like Swanson, Graves, and Fry make the case that the mayor is letting the developers run wild.

      Robertson's caught in the middle. 

      It adds up to a whole lot of vote hemorrhaging from Vision Vancouver.

      Meanwhile, Swanson's capable crew of volunteers have come up with some impressive political messaging. They're calling upon Vancouverites to join a Bernie Sanders-style revolution. It's tremendously appealing to people suffering housing woes.

      Even if Swanson is too far left for some voters, it drives home the point that the city is only working for the wealthy. And that might make previous supporters of Vision more likely to cast a vote for Fry or Graves to send a message.

      Socialist Seattle councillor Kshama Sawant has been helping Jean Swanson's campaign.

      Normally, Vision Vancouver could count on people in the education community to step up and support its school board candidates. And that would result in more votes spilling over to help the council slate.

      But this time, there's no penalty for those who vote for Vision school board candidates and give a pass on the party's council candidate. Even if Bremner wins, the NPA isn't going to form a majority.

      This makes it risk-free to cast a protest vote for Swanson, Fry, or Graves. And Sensible B.C. will likely generate a fair number of votes for Dunsdon from people in the cannabis community.

      What happens if Cardona comes sixth?

      If Vision's Cardona gets slaughtered, can the mayor credibly seek reelection after nearly 10 years in office?

      Not likely, especially if Cardona comes fifth or sixth. That will generate national news.

      This, in turn, will prompt speculation over who would become Robertson's replacement as the Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate.

      Could Raymond Louie emerge as Vision Vancouver's next mayoral candidate?
      Stephen Hui

      Two names are often bandied about: Coun. Raymond Louie and Coun. Andrea Reimer.

      Louie is a long-time New Democrat and has been very close to Meggs throughout his political career. 

      Louie's roots are in the labour movement, which means he would likely gain the backing of the Vancouver and District Labour Council.

      Reimer started her political career with the Green party. She joined Vision Vancouver to help Robertson obtain the mayoral nomination.

      But if Robertson is seen damaged goods after the by-election and Vision Vancouver is facing an emerging threat from OneCity, Reimer might not be Vision's optimal mayoral candidate.

      Sure, she appeals to environmentalists and community activists, but that might not be enough.

      In fact, some might argue that Louie would be a better bet to recover the support of the NDP political machine, including its influential labour wing. That could blunt any challenge from OneCity.

      Of course, this discussion wouldn't be taking place had Meggs not quit his council seat to work for the premier.

      This raises another intriguing aspect to this story.

      Wouldn't it be remarkable if Meggs's resignation is what led to his friend, Raymond Louie, heading the Vision Vancouver slate going into the next general election?

      Meggs has been a wily political tactician in the past. But even he might not have imagined this scenario just a few weeks ago.