Does Mark Marissen have any chance of becoming mayor of Vancouver?

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      Some who read this headline might be asking themselves this question: "Mark who?"

      Others who know Mark Marissen might say: "Are you friggin' nuts?"

      I'm here to say that Marissen's candidacy for Vancouver mayor needs to be taken seriously.

      Here's why: Vancouver has long been a federal Liberal town and Marissen is the most federally Liberal candidate in the race.

      It's not as if largely unknown candidates haven't been elected before. Hardly anyone knew Gregor Robertson when he ran for mayor in 2008. Philip Owen was a nondescript city councillor when he was catapulted to the top of the NPA ticket in 1993.

      Yet Robertson and Owen each won. And they did it by persuading voters that they weren't too right, and they weren't too left. They strove for the sweet spot on Vancouver's ideological spectrum.

      On October 28, Marissen lured hundreds of people to his first major campaign event. At Fraserview Hall, he announced that he's seeking the mayoral nomination of a new party called Progress Vancouver. Among those in attendance were three city councillors: Lisa Dominato, Sarah Kirby-Yung, and Melissa De Genova.

      The first two walked away from the NPA when its right-leaning board anointed park commissioner John Coupar as its mayoral candidate. The NPA may still win some seats, but after losing four straight elections, it's probably a spent force in Vancouver politics.

      That's because it's increasingly associated in the public mind with the federal Conservatives, which have captured only one seat in 48 Vancouver races since 1993.

      Video: Watch Mark Marissen's pitch to progressive young voters, ending with some old-fashioned federal Liberal red.

      Meanwhile, the Chip Wilson and Peter Armstrong Party a no-development-in-my-single-family-neighbourhood party called A Better Vancouver is going to field businessman Ken Sim as its mayoral candidate. 

      And Coun. Colleen Hardwick is part of a second no-development-in-my-single-family-neighbourhood party called Team for a Livable Vancouver. The Hardwick forces and the Sim group will wage an intense battle for the votes of single-family homeowners, but they just might cancel each other out.

      Marissen's decision to put the word "Progress" in his party's name was a stroke of genius because it will help deflect criticism that he's a right winger seeking the top job.

      In Vancouver, journalists tend to look at politics through a right-left lens. But in reality, the most important axis is whether people are in favour or opposed to densifying single-family zones. 

      Do they support multi-unit, purpose-built rentals in areas like Dunbar, Kits Point, Shaughnessy, and Southlands? Or are they vehemently opposed?

      Hardwick and Sim have proven in the past that they're not big proponents of purpose-built rental housing in parts of the city replete with single-family houses. Many NPA members in the past have also been among those most opposed to building more purpose-built rental housing in wealthier parts of Vancouver.

      Mayor Kennedy Stewart, on the other hand, has been more amenable to doing this under certain circumstances. And Marissen is even more eager to get on with building homes in all areas of the city for young people, future residents of Vancouver, and older people who want to age in their neighbourhoods after selling their houses.

      In his speech at Fraserview Hall, Marissen took potshots at Stewart's "permit raj".

      In this regard, Marissen was riffing on longstanding criticism of the "licence raj" that held back businesses in India for decades until it was rolled back in the early 1990s. And it was a nifty way to communicate to those of Indian ancestry that he gets how heavy regulations benefit big businesses while thwarting the little guys.

      And when it comes to densification, Marissen is probably ideologically closer to OneCity Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle than to any of the four councillors who fled the NPA.

      Sim and Hardwick, on the other hand, have more in common with COPE's Jean Swanson than Marissen on the issue of densification.

      But on climate, Swanson and Boyle see eye-to-eye, for the most part. And Stewart is closer to the NPA's Melissa De Genova on the climate, judging from a recent vote on street-parking and vehicle fees. 

      So toss aside the ideological blinkers for the upcoming election.

      The real question might become whether Marissen can swing enough of Stewart's voters into his pro-densification camp to blunt a challenge by Sim or Coupar or even Hardwick.

      If those who want more housing—including millennial voters—perceive that Stewart is a dead duck in 2022, a fair number may decide that Marissen is the least worst—by far—of the remaining mayoral candidates.

      This is one of many reasons why Marissen is marketing himself as a progressive. He's also likely the most pro-immigration candidate in the race. 

      It just so happens that his point of view is welcomed by the development industry.

      As a veteran backroom operative, Marissen will know where to go to generate campaign contributions. So he'll likely have no shortage of money to wage a competitive campaign.

      That's yet another reason not to write off his candidacy.