Something very peculiar happened across the Lower Mainland last night.
With the exception of Langley Township, incumbent mayors were easily reelected in every municipality.
The margins of victory were staggering. In Surrey, Dianne Watts took 80 percent of the ballots and defeated second-place finisher Ross Buchanan by 49,559 votes.
Burnaby's Derek Corrigan had 76 percent support and won by 19,603 votes over Tom Tao.
The City of North Vancouver's mayor, Darrell Mussatto, took 73.8 percent of the vote. In the nearby District of North Vancouver, Richard Walton captured 81.5 percent, which was an even higher margin of victory than Watts achieved in Surrey.
New Westminster's Wayne Wright won in a landslide, more than doubling the vote total of his nearest competitor, James Crosty. In Coquitlam, Richard Stewart won in a walk with 57 percent of the vote against three-term councillor Barrie Lynch, who was seen as a strong challenger.
In comparison, Gregor Robertson's annihalation (by 18,853 votes) of the NPA's Suzanne Anton in Vancouver was one of the closest mayoral races in the region. Robertson only took 53.8 percent of all votes cast for mayor.
Look no further than Richmond, where Malcolm Brodie was reelected with 69.8 percent of the mayoral votes. In Port Coquitlam, Greg Moore was reelected with 74.4 percent. Maple Ridge mayor Ernie Daykin cruised to victory with 59.9 percent support. And across the river in the City of Langley, Peter Fassbender won with 71.4 percent of the votes.
One of the closest contests wasn't close at all. In Delta, Lois Jackson was reelected with 43.2 percent of the vote; her nearest competitor, former councillor Krista Engelland, trailed with just 26.5 percent. A third candidate, Coun. Heather King, won 23 percent.
The rise of powerful mayors raises new questions for the state of our municipal democracies. When they form slates in the larger cities—such as in Vancouver, Surrey, and Burnaby—their coattails are long enough to elect every candidate along with them.
Powerful electoral machines like Vision Vancouver, Surrey First, and the Burnaby Citizens Association get stronger with each election. That's because they attract more donations, which give them greater resources to identify their supporters and persuade them to get out and vote.
That's one reason why we saw increasing turnout even though the mayoral elections weren't even close. In Vancouver, an additional 20,538 people voted in 2011 compared to 2008. In Surrey, an extra 8,288 people showed up at the polls. In Burnaby, the turnout rose by 3,560.
This presents a difficult challenge for the opposition, whether they're on the right in Burnaby, on the left in Surrey, or on both the right and left in Vancouver with the NPA and COPE.
Who is going to want to volunteer to run for mayor in these municipalities, knowing they'll likely get slaughtered? And if the opposition parties field weak mayoral candidates—or no mayoral candidate at all—they won't have a chance of generating media coverage or much excitement among their own supporters, let alone campaign contributions.
The mayors' growing political power also puts them in a position where they can select candidates on their slates, rather than having their parties undergo a nomination process.
The Surrey First slate decided to invite veteran councillor Marvin Hunt into the tent without a nomination meeting. Vision Vancouver operatives selected former party director Tony Tang to run for council rather than let the members make the choice. Both are now on council.
The mayors' increasing clout is a vexing problem and, to a certain extent, mirrors the growing centralization of political power in the offices of premiers and the prime minister.
If this trend continues, it's a recipe for more arrogance and possibly more corruption at the municipal level of government. Let's hope that this issue gets more attention in the years to come.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.