I realize that I’ve been putting off writing because it’s impossible to ignore the five million tonne elephant in the room that is the Vancouver municipal election. For those that aren’t living in Vancouver, or do live here but don’t ever leave the house or listen to any external inputs, the election is tomorrow Saturday, October 15th, along with elections in every municipality, electoral area, and school district in British Columbia.

Why is this election so hard? Well, there are a lot of people running. But there are often a lot of people running. The bigger challenges this time around are that (a) there are a lot of parties running, (b) very few of those parties are running for majority control, (c) the platforms of those parties {generally} require a Masters in municipal public policy and a lot of insight into actual Council voting records to discern the subtle differences and/or ability to deliver, (d) the last Council stood out for it’s inability to get anything done, and (e) the general sentiment of voters paying higher and higher costs (perceived either personally and/or through climate change/income inequality/racism and other crises) is that its time for things to get done.

Every single election is decided by the people that show up but this one will be more than most. Inspired by Frances Bula’s attempt to navigate this all, I am going to take my own crack at helping you navigate the ballot.

Full disclosure: I have endorsed all the Vision Vancouver candidates which include…

  • Council – Mackinnon (109), Boldt (129) and Barzegari (154)
  • School – Thomson (303), Leung (306), McArthur (312), Cardwell (326) and Wong (329)
  • Park – Frenkel (204), Irwin (212)

I’ll explain why below and that still leaves a lot of room on all the ballots for you to ponder, although perhaps the first thing to know about voting in Vancouver is that you don’t need to vote for all, or even most, of the open positions. If all you really want is someone to represent your neighbourhood or one really effective communicator to raise your issue - Christine Boyle (One City, 139) is a great example of that someone – then just go and cast that one vote. But if you want to vote for more people, read on.

There are three main hurdles a candidate needs to pass to effectively represent you as an elected official.

1.     Alignment with your values: The first hurdle is whether a candidate shares your values. Because I don’t know your values, I can’t really tell you which party best represents those but Frances’ piece cited above does a great job of parsing the parties and their positions relative to your values out. You can also read candidate and party (elector organizations) statements on the Vancouver Votes website

2.     Understanding of municipal policy: The 2nd hurdle is whether or not a candidate can translate their values into policy proposals that can actually be enacted by a municipal government. This gets a whole lot more challenging as, with the exception of one party (Vision), there are a lot of parties making promises that they can’t keep. With so many parties not having a clear grasp of municipal policy – or cynical enough to hope that you don’t – it’s harder to make recommendations here but I would say that the most improved in this category from last election is One City and there are some individual candidates like Tesicca Truong (Forward Together, 105) who have enough professional experience working in government to be able to translate her climate promises into doable actions at the municipal level. You’d think any incumbent Councillor would fall in this category but per earlier comments, this Council has not stood out for getting things done and a large part of that has been not understanding – or not wanting to understand – what municipal governments are able to do.

3.     Ability to work well enough with others to get your policy passed – The other large challenge for the current Council has been this 3rd and final hurdle, and likely what this election comes down to for many voters. It’s why at this point, there are only two mayoral candidates with any chance of winning tomorrow night: Ken Sim (A Better City) or incumbent Kennedy Stewart (Forward Together with Kennedy Stewart). Both are running with parties that are fielding enough candidates to form a majority and the top two polling candidates to date.

However, electing a majority and holding it together are two different things. Just look at 2002 (COPE split), 2005 (NPA mayoral coup) or even this last Council where 5 NPA Councillors split into three different voting blocs, one of which creates the Council candidate foundation for Sim’s A Better City.

Leadership matters to turn a majority of City Council into an effective governing body. Ultimately if this 3rd hurdle is your vote determining issue, the choice before you is whether you are assured of getting more of the same (Stewart) or want to take a gamble on a party that is led by a man (Sim) whose one known test as a party leader prior to this election was to leave it (NPA) when he lost an election in 2018.

Back to my endorsement at the beginning. Whether you liked what Vision Vancouver did or not, it was consistently able to coalesce a broad voting coalition of support behind advancing housing, climate, reconciliation, public health, childcare and a range of other issues that are dear to my heart.

My personal advice if you’re still not sure: go back to hurdle 1. The worst outcome is that you don’t vote. More on that in my twitter thread. There’s a lot at stake this election –in Vancouver but also beyond. Vancouver has been a leading light on progressive issues in Canada this last 14 years and that matters in more ways than many Vancouverites know.

Sometimes you don’t get to vote for perfect in elections. Indeed, when you are elected you rarely ever get that option when you’re voting on policy matters. Local governments have scant jurisdiction and even scanter funding options.

What you can do, both as a voter and as an elected official, is the very best you can, knowing that if everyone who came before you did the same you wouldn’t be stuck with crappy options. In the words of Rebecca Solnit, “Voting is a chess move, not a Valentine”.

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