Only two days remain until Vancouver’s triennial civic elections. If you’re reading this from somewhere outside of Vancouver, no need to go on – I recommend you read the label of a ketchup bottle instead – unless you care to learn more about the political underbelly of this town. After all, if even Vancouverites haven’t any significant interest (last election, less than one-third of those eligible voted), why should you care? On the other hand, urban affairs nerds might find the whole exercise a lesson in how not to elect governments in their own cities.
For starters, we have here what we call an “at-large” electoral system. Contrary to how that sounds – and what the quality of some of the candidates might lead you to believe – that does not mean that one must be the subject of a police hunt in order to run. What it means is that we have no neighbourhood-based electoral districts: all voters vote for the same pool of all candidates.
Yes, it’s awkward. There are at least four different ballots (excluding special resolutions): The ballot for city councillors lists 41 candidates on which voters must place an X beside up to ten names; the ballots for Parks Board (elect 7 of 21 candidates) and School Board (elect 9 of 20 candidates) are similar. Somehow, voters are expected to be familiar with the positions of 94 separate candidates, including the twelve running for Mayor.
It’s also expensive, from a candidate’s perspective: he or she must advertise to the whole city, not just a neighbourhood. Hence, candidates who do best are generally those with the most money. The ones with the most money are, of course, those who band together in political alliances and present themselves to voters in slates.
As you can imagine, the process of deciding for whom to vote is burdensome, and the outcomes for individual voters depend on several factors. Some voters are ideologically motivated; they vote for either the right wing slate or the left wing slate. Others pick and choose from the slates, and occasionally toss a vote or two to independent candidates (though these are seldom elected). Even with the slates, it seems likely that many voters choose their candidates based on other factors that reflect their own preferences and prejudices. For instance, in many elections, a candidate with an “ethnic” sounding name will often receive fewer votes than the other candidates on his or her slate, suggesting that xenophobia may sometimes be a factor. I suspect that in some cases, candidates whose names start with a letter early in the alphabet have a bit of an edge over the Wongs and Zigarliskis, if only because the voter runs out of Xs before she gets to the Xs.
In the past, there have been resolutions to move to a much easier ward system, where everyone votes for mayor, but only vote for council candidates in their own districts. This would certainly simplify things, though undoubtedly introduce other problems. I’m of the opinion, though, that at least a partial ward system would have to be better. I suspect that many people are dissuaded from voting chiefly because of the complexity of the ballots and the impossibility of really knowing for whom one is voting.
The reality is that our city governments are usually chosen through two factors: name recognition, and what I’ll simplistically call a rich/poor divide.
In a system like this a candidate whose name is familiar to voters is probably going to have either a distinct advantage, or a distinct disadvantage, (depending, of course, on whether that familiarity engenders positive or negative emotions in the voter). However, familiarity of name can be a neutral, but still problematic, reaction. For instance, our current Mayor, Gregor Robertson, would very likely suffer from the effects of vote splitting if an independent candidate named “George Robertson” ran for mayor. (For an example of this phenomenon, see the election involving Jim Green and James Green, 2005. There was another example in the 80s that I can’t recall now). In both cases, it is likely – though unproven – that a major candidate’s opponents deliberately engaged a similarly-named nobody to confuse voters.
The rich/poor divide, more accurately referred to, perhaps, as the east/west divide, has been abating to some degree in recent years, since the increase in home ownership (if that’s what one can call being mortgaged for a leaky, plywood box in the sky) concurrent with a continuous and dramatic rise in real estate prices is making those who formerly felt poor start to feel rich, if only on paper. Taking into consideration the aforementioned factors that discourage people from voting, it turns out that our elections are generally won by whichever slate manages to motivate more of its voters to actually go out and vote. Some would say that this is true in all elections, but I think that it is more critical the lower the turnout overall.
And of course, we can’t overlook the money factor. Since there are no spending or contribution limits in elections, our governments tend to be dominated by low-level status climbers and privilege seekers willing to dance to whatever tune the bankrolling developers and real estate types call. I’m sure that some would call that overblown hyperbole, but since I was once an active member and campaign worker with the most successful of the civic parties (before I quit it in disgust), I feel at least slightly qualified to spew forth on the subject.
At any rate, choosing candidates is an exercise fraught with frustration. Who has the time to go to all candidates meetings? It’s often a waste of time anyway, since they are usually stacked with a) campaign workers trying to hog the microphones so that they can target hard questions to opponents and easy questions to their candidates; and b) lonely – and usually long-winded – people for whom and open microphone is as tempting an invitation as is a bag of heroin is to an addict.
One could stay at home and read all of the candidate websites to find out what they stand for. Unfortunately, most of them are full of empty buzzphrases intended to fill out a “Platform” page with as many meaningless words as possible. E-mailing candidates specific questions is one option, though the chances of receiving a cogent response – if a response is received at all – from a major candidate is low, especially as the official election day draws near.
As I said – who has the time?
Fortunately for my readers who also happen to be Vancouver voters (whom I’m sure make up a voting bloc of such proportions as to fill a public washroom stall), I have taken the time to attend public meetings, read websites, e-mail candidates, read Twitter feeds, judge them on the quality of their campaign photos (and the style into which those who have hair have groomed it), and for good measure incorporated my own reactionary prejudices into the mix, too. Forthwith I present you with a summary of all of the candidates. I’ll deliberately try to avoid making explicit endorsements (with one or two exceptions), as my intention is to help you make up your mind, not necessarily get you to vote in lock-step with me. However, for those who wish to know, my endorsements will follow the summaries.
NPA: Non-Partisan Association, the (generally right-leaning) traditional victor in city elections.
VIS: Vision Vancouver. The (generally left-leaning) major alternative to the NPA.
CPE: COPE, or Committee of Progressive Electors, the decidedly left party that is in a semi-abusive relationship with Vision.
RPC: Resolutionist Party Canada. Whatever that means.
NSV: If you Google NSV the first result will be “No Scalpel Vasectomy”, but scroll down to “Neigbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver”, a party created largely due to a perceived denial of community input by Vision regarding new developments, particularly in the West End. I’m struggling to decide whether I think NSV will improve the city by increasing democratic participation, or impede its necessary progress toward densification by blocking change.
VCV: Vancouver Citizen’s Voice (a one-candidate – and possibly one member – party.)
GRN: Green Party. Sort of. The candidates (one Council, one School, one Parks) are Green, but they seem to be underplaying this label this election.
RICH: Rent is Crazy High. A couple of young people who feel – justifiably, I’d say – under-represented by the developer-funded major parties.
Anton, Suzanne NPA: Anton has been a councillor for two terms and, let’s be frank, is only the NPA’s mayoral nominee because no one else wanted the job. Known as a bit of an opportunistic flip-flopper (which her team tries to promote as “flexibility”), I have seen no indication that she has any real comprehension of any world except her own privileged, west-side one. She’s obviously not stupid, but it seems she hasn’t yet broken down the silver-spoon barrier that would enable her to be a mayor for everyone. Think Phillip Owen in a dress. Like Owen, she might suddenly come to some kind of an understanding of the other side of town once she’s been defeated at politics, but judging by her opportunistic grandstanding on bike lanes and Occupy Vancouver, she’s not mayoral material yet.
Buday , Golok Zoltan IND: Possibly the candidate with the worst website. Has some valid concerns and is obviously thinking about issues, but not mayoral material.
Caissy, Menard RPC: I can’t tell if the text on his cryptically-nested collection of webpages is campaign material, punk band lyrics, or both. Poor literacy level not encouraging.
Cooke, Lloyd Alan IND: Too little information to judge positively.
Dubgee IND: East Van musician. This guy sounds kind of interesting, though I wouldn’t necessarily say mayor material. He’s exactly the kind of person Suzanne Anton ought to spend some time getting to know a little. Unfortunately, she’d probably call the SWAT team if he ever came near her.
Helten, Randy NSV: Although I haven’t yet convinced myself that he’s not a NIMBY candidate, this guy is on my maybe list. Seems to have more interest in democratic participation than other candidates, and that’s a big plus.
Lawrance, Robin IND: The only candidate who has his eyes closed in his campaign photo. I hope he just blinked and isn’t deceased. At any rate, I’m not sure Vancouver needs a mayor that can’t take TWO digital pictures and pick the best. (Mind you, maybe he did…) No website, so what he stands for is unknown, but he gets points for confidence.
McGuire, Gerry VCV: Has some good ideas, but can’t really be considered a serious candidate. Might be a good place to park your mayoral vote if you really can’t stand anyone else running.
Paquette, Victor B. IND: Opposed to parking meters. Wants to return parks to the people by filling them with parked cars. Bzzzzz – Next!
Pelletier, Samuel IND: Earnest young man with a highly sensible platform that is possibly the clearest and most literate of any of the 94 candidates. Blurry campaign photo makes him look a bit like Frankenstein. May have a future – should perhaps start with more modest goals.
Robertson, Gregor VIS: Ah, Gregor. “The Juiceman”, as he is derisively known by rightist critics. There’s nothing the right doesn’t object to more than success, and Robertson seems to have some of that. Built a big business. Was born with good looks. People on the west side vote for him. Is building infrastructure for the city’s beleaguered bike riders. And yet… I still find it hard to get excited about him. Maybe because he seems a little too friendly with developers, or perhaps because he gushed enthusiastically about Gordon Campbell right before the provincial election. He seems a bit like a tactician most interested in whatever will improve his own political successes in the future. On the other hand, maybe that’s just good politics.
Zimmerman, Darrell “Saxmaniac” IND: Hard to take seriously a candidate whose nomination form consists of “No profile provided. No contact information provided. No photo provided.” (and whose list of nominators looks like he passed the form around at the legion where a bunch of drunks scrawled names on it, many of them illegible).
AFFLECK, George NPA: I saw this guy at an all-candidates meeting and thought he sounded pretty reasonable and intelligent, except for some odd comment about how we need super-charged Chinese buses on Broadway, and I left the meeting thinking he might be worth a vote. However, I went and looked at his website, and it has to be the most content-deprived site I’ve seen. He says almost nothing, and taking that into consideration with his Twitter feed I must conclude that he’s either wilfully mute or simply vacuous. Perhaps his candidacy is simply a roll of the dice of fortune to see what happens, or maybe he’s building name recognition for a future run. Reminds me a bit of Gordon Campbell when he first ran for alderman in 1984 – and he was mayor two years later.
ALM, Kelly IND: Has two websites, both the same, except the .com version is in a giant font (for the visually impaired?) and contains a bizarre chart that looks like a route map for Cathay Pacific. Seems a bit pro-car, and anyway, he’s a real estate agent, a career that rates lower in my books than school-yard pusher.
AQUINO, RJ CPE: Seems like a nice enough guy, and seems potentially competent. Like most of COPE he has a lot to say about what isn’t working, but is a little short on what can (realistically) be done about it, such as the cost of housing.
BALL, Elizabeth NPA: Website pretty much says what she’s done in the past (personally), not what she wants to do in the future (as a councillor). The most informative statement her site makes is “Elizabeth would like to continue her work and generate more revenue for Vancouver through arts, culture and heritage initiatives as well as improve our community by supporting children and working towards creating safer streets”, which really doesn’t say much at all. I fear she’s just a little too much of Anton’s world. She’s big on arts and culture, but I suspect her definitions of those are on the corporatey high-brow side.
BENSON, Nicole NSV: Seems pretty good, though I haven’t heard her speak, except in a video intro. I’m somewhat sympathetic to the NSV candidates for their interests in neighbourhood consultation, transparency, and a reduction of blank cheques and subsidies to developers, but I’m also leery of NIMBYism and a rejection of the sort of densification that will be required, inevitably.
BICKERTON, Sean NPA: I put Bickerton on my “maybe” list right off the bat mainly due to his opposition to expanded gambling in the city, though he’s not yet assured of moving up. I have some concerns about his “Safe Streets” initiative, which kindles an unfortunate memory of Lorne Mayencourt. I found his safe streets stuff to be rather vague about specifics and disproportionately targeted to the “crimes” being committed by marginal or minority groups, and without any hints about how he plans to fund his initiatives, since he’s running with a party that’s opposed to new taxes. How (or if) he responds to my questions will depend on whether he gets a vote. He got extra points for having the most detailed and informative website generally (though it still could have more meat).
CARANGI, Joe NPA: Seems to have a lot of spunk, and as is well known, I like spunk. However, he likes to spew a lot of anti-bike twaddle, so low on my list.
CARR, Adriane GRN: I’m pre-disposed to voting Green, so Adriane was on my ‘likely’ list early on, though not without reservations. I’d like her to be a little more assertive in presenting her opinions. She’s run for office seemingly countless times and has great name recognition. If she can’t get a seat on council this time, in a race that’s almost all about name recognition, it might be time to pack it in, or start getting a little more aggressive about her campaign style.
CHARKO, Ken NPA: Another successful businessman who thinks that’s qualification enough to be a councillor. At least, that’s all I get from his website. Seems to be of the anti-bike variety, not uncommon in the NPA. I’m grateful to him for making his business known so that I can avoid giving him my money in future by choosing somewhere other than the Dunbar to watch films.
COPELAND, Cord “Ted” IND: Types in all-caps, doesn’t know how to spell “independent”, no website. I’m not motivated.
DEAL, Heather VIS: I don’t really understand why Deal seems to be unpopular with the right wing ranters to a degree that seems out of proportion to other Visioners. She doesn’t strike me as someone who is a rabid ideologue. On the other hand, I’m not sure that she stands out particularly, either. Undecided.
DHARNI, Michael Singh IND: Candidacy seems to be all about the price of parking on city streets as far as I can see. Perhaps there’s more, but since he’s another independent council candidate without a website, who knows? Hellooooo? Does the 21st century ring a bell? Even a child can set up a website on WordPress. For free.
FOX, Amy “Evil Genius” IND: Her website has only a video, and I don’t do video when a paragraph will work just fine (the canny among you will have noticed the hypocrisy of that statement after what I said about Dharni). Appears as a joke candidate, but on the other hand, the candidate statement on her nomination form says far more in 140 words than most other candidates could apparently say in 140 pages. Maybe we should think beyond the necktie-and-fake-smile crowd and give her a chance.
FRASER, Grant IND: He says that he has “had to wait for as many as 16 full trains at the Broadway SkyTrain station during the morning rush hour”. I would imagine that service could be improved, but I suspect that either he can’t count or he’s simply full of shit. Has provided nothing else to go on, let alone anything that makes me want to vote for him.
GAROSSINO, Sandy IND: An early favourite. I like her boldness, her style, her enthusiasm, her ability to challenge and criticise things that deserve it while remaining positive. She started out anti-casino, and has a lot of vision (as opposed to Vision, of course) and the ability to communicate well. Seems able to work with many kinds of people. Should go far, if she can beat the “independent” odds. Might even make a good mayor. Deserves your vote – she’s almost certain to get mine.
GILL, Lauren RICH:Likely to be viewed as a frivolous young idealist, and perhaps she should be, for her platform is not extensive. On the other hand, it’s no less extensive than some major party candidates who will be more readily accepted. Who’s to say she’s not just as worthy?
GREGSON, Ian DEG: The De-growth candidates, of which Gregson is one, have an uphill battle, but they are initiating important conversations that tend to be stifled and pilloried quickly by those with competing vested interests. Having some of them on council along with a variety of other views would make for a more interesting city.
JANG, Kerry VIS: Jang’s website suggests that he’s thinking about important things and suggesting progressive, creative solutions, though the website content also appears a bit dated. I’d like to know how he actually voted on some of the things that came before council.
KERCHUM, Marie NSV: Doesn’t have her own website, and her Twitter account contains only 10 tweets, several of which are messages to new followers that say “Hope to give you good reason to follow me.” They’re probably still waiting. Rather unimpressive video interview on NSV site.
KLASSEN, Mike NPA: His website extols all his virtues, but says nothing about what he wants to do. There’s simply a link to the NPA Platform which, if clicked, results in a “page not found” message that says “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?” Runs the citycaucus.com “news” site, which really seems an organ for abusing political opponents and promoting… Mike Klassen! Closely linked to Gordon Campbell and Colin “HST” Hansen, which is really all I really need to know.
LAMARCHE, Jason NPA: Well, let’s put aside the fact that I never vote for anyone who poses for a campaign photo with his dog, especially when the dog is wearing a golf shirt. The whole sexist “date matrix” thing, along with some unfortunate sexist web dictionary entries that he swears he didn’t write (but that no one believes he didn’t) pretty much finishes him off for me. For gory details, read Jeff Lee’s Sun blog (where you can also view the stupid pet trick).
LOUIE, Raymond VIS: Has no (known) personal campaign website, and there’s a Twitter account that might be his (@ClrLouie – but has never been used to tweet). I’d like to know that he has more in mind than simply toeing the party line.
LOUIS, Tim CPE: Louis is an interesting character. Unlike many candidates, he’s prepared to take stands, even if unpopular, and I respect that. Unfortunately, he’s a bit of a polarising figure and I don’t think ideal council material, though he’s been a councillor before. He reportedly has a woodcut of Che Guevera hanging on the back of his wheelchair, and I once saw him at a showing of the movie “Fidel” (not at the Dunbar, thank the gods) wearing a bright red “Che” shirt. Now, I’m willing to acknowledge that Cuba perhaps does a few things better, or more humanely, than we do, and perhaps armed conflict was the only real way to get rid of the (U.S. backed) mafia running Cuba way back when, but I still can’t accept that a military dictatorship is a model from which to work here and now. I wonder, if Tim were able to hold a gun, would he be campaigning for votes or running through the woods picking off enemies?
MARTIN, Terry NSV: Not much I can say that I can’t say about the other NSV candidates.
MASSON, Chris DEG: Another De-growth candidate. They haven’t really distinguished themselves much, so whatever I said about the previous one likely holds for this one.
MAXWELL N BUR, RH IND: Probably a nice guy with good intentions, but not likely to attract significant attention.
MCCREERY, Bill NPA: I don’t care what his website says. I don’t care what he tweets. He lives in Richmond. Not even just across the river, but practically in Steveston. If I were in charge, a candidate would have to actually live in the city to govern it. I suggest he run for Richmond council. Next!
MEGGS, Geoff VIS: I think Meggs is a pretty smart guy, and obviously pays a lot of attention to the city’s business. I approve of his support for bike infrastructure, and am tentatively in favour of reconsidering the future of the viaducts. However, he does seem to have a bit of a reputation as arrogant, and may have a few enemies. I think I saw a few in suits at the transportation meeting trying to nail him on something about attendance, but he shot them down easily. I’m not sure that I can trust him to stand up to developers, but he’s tough and competent otherwise.
MURPHY, Elizabeth NSV: Not much I can say that I can’t say about the other NSV candidates. Saw her at the transport meeting – a mediocre speaker, likely due to inexperience. I’m sure she’d get better.
NGUYEN, Bang IND: Seems to be hedging his bets by running for both Council and School board at the same time. Claims you “can’t make every single person happy”, but then tries to do that by saying “I will not remove the bike lanes but will not add to them as well.”
NGUYEN, Marc Tan IND: As they used to say in high school annual write ups of the nerdy, awkward, virtually unknown students: “Best of luck in your future endeavours”.
ORSER, Rick IND: A curious candidate. Put together a pretty thorough, if slightly odd website. Not sure what to make of him.
REIMER, Andrea VIS: I like Andrea. She seems sincere, and has Green roots. Like Jang, I’d like to know how she voted on issues in council, especially related to development, but seems a good councillor.
SHAW, Chris DEG: Shaw was an outspoken critic of how the olympics affected Vancouver, and I appreciated his tempered, reasoned voice. A smart guy who should perhaps be given a chance to participate in government.
SPIRES, Aaron RICH: Another voice that deserves a little more attention than we generally provide.
STEVENSON, Tim VIS: I once stepped into an elevator containing Stevenson and greeted him with a slightly unenthusiastic “Well, well. It’s our MLA”. He (inexplicably) blurted out his admiration for then-boss Glen Clark, and beamed proudly. When in return I offered a critical comment about NDP forest policy, he clammed up. I don’t know if it’s justified, but I find him a bit of an Elwood Veitch-like pleaser of people with power.
TANG, Tony VIS: Another candidate who says little more than that he has a wife and a dog. Some people sure don’t do much work to earn votes.
WENDYTHIRTEEN IND: Dear Tony Tang: Please see WendyThirteen’s website for an example of how to tell voters what you think you might like to do if elected. No need, however, to mimic her hairstyle – you’d undoubtedly frighten Penny Ballem.
WONG, Francis NPA: Cute as a button, but not much to say beyond the party-line basics.
WOODSWORTH, Ellen CPE: Years ago, I went to a few demonstrations that inevitably featured Ellen speaking into a bullhorn. I usually didn’t stay too long, as I’m not keen on bullhorn talk generally, and listening to a left-wing manifesto being read doesn’t make it more appealing. Mind you, right-wing manifestos are no more exciting, but they sound a lot better through expensive audio systems that only the right-wingers can afford. Anyway, yes, Ellen is of the old-school Rankin-style leftist that used to dominate council. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her positions, but she’s pretty hard working and earnest and is trying to is make Vancouver better for all. Maybe I wouldn’t be keen to have ten of her on council, but I think it’s pretty important that there’s at least one.
YUEN, Bill NPA: “Bill Yuen is a professional engineer, who specializes in process optimization and performance improv….”. Zzzzzzzz…. Huh? Oh yeah. We’re down to the last council candidate. Sorry about being at the end of the ballot, Bill. Tough break. You ought to campaign for a randomly scrambled ballot. Anyway, as far as I can tell, Bill seems to be pretty involved in community stuff. If he hasn’t made it all up, and you’re inclined to vote for an NPA candidate, he’s probably a decent choice.
Well, there you go. My brief summary of the election took eight pages, and I haven’t even gotten to the School Board or Parks Board candidates. You see why we need a ward system, already? Perhaps I’ll get to the rest before Saturday. If not, best of luck. I’ll need it too.
If you’d like my working spreadsheet, which contains all the candidates along with (if known/relevant) their party’s website links, personal website links, and Twitter feed links, feel free to view it here.
Update – Nov 19 @ 16:58h:
Late circumstances have caused me to drop the three NPA candidates that I had on my list: 1) The offensive chicken stunt held near city hall yesterday; 2) Bickerton’s failure to acknowledge, let alone reply to, my e-mail; 3) The reports that the NPA had hired lawyers to prevent identification- and home-deprived people in the DTES from voting.Best of luck to the rest of the party and independent candidates that I selected!