I promised some preliminary post-election thoughts so here they are. First off, a big thank you to all the candidates, their families, campaign workers & volunteers, election staff and media. Elections are exhausting but your collective work is the energy that fuels democracy
To the winners, congratulations! I hope you all get a lot of rest in the next week or so, because the election was the easy part. Holding together a functioning government in the face of numerous crises is challenging in any context but especially in local government.
You are about to spend *a lot* of hours in meetings and public hearings, sandwiched between long days and nights in meetings with residents and local organizations and businesses, working into the wee hours of the morning to keep up with emails on everything from parking and dogs, to tree and noise bylaws.
For everyone that didn’t run: there was a lot of change in BC last night and it’s easy to miss the texture of that change when the media focuses in on only Vancouver and Surrey. I am going to start with a wider field of vision and then focus back in on the two big cities
A lot of incumbent mayors lost last night, but unlike in Vancouver and Surrey it wasn’t Kevin Falcon, the BC Liberals or Chip Wilson celebrating. Change broke overwhelmingly to candidates focused on housing, climate action, and progressive solutions to the challenges facing people all over BC right now.
In the key provincial battleground of Metro Vancouver, there are 12 new mayors out of a possible 21, and most of those are focused on progressive change. These include people like Dan Ruimy, a pro-housing advocate in Maple Ridge, and Eric Woodward who beat former cabinet minister Rich Coleman.
This does not bode well for anyone in the BC Liberal Party who thought the 2020 provincial election was an aberration. Metro Vancouver’s political map is changing. Outside Metro progressive change was also more common than not. Check out Marianne Alto in Victoria, Dean Murdock in Saanich, Julius Bloomfield in Penticton.
Well-funded campaigns to support conservative interests failed in places like Squamish and school boards across the province, including in Chilliwack where transphobic school trustee Barry Neufeld lost election to, among others, a trans man named Teri Westerby.
The other major theme of the night was that voters are sick of dysfunctional councils. Vancouver and Surrey weren’t the only places this played out but they are the most high profile. I don’t even know where to start with Surrey other than to say that a mayor who wins on 28% of the vote has a big hill to climb.
Just ask Kennedy Stewart who was elected in 2018 on the same share of the vote in Vancouver. It might get you over the line in a strongly split election, but with 72% of people not supporting you, job 1 has to be reaching out and building an effective coalition of support, both on Council and in the community.
Kennedy did not do this and as a result his total vote did not move an inch between 2018 and 2022 (49,593 v 49,705). Failing at that was not his only mistake however. The seeds for the centre-left’s loss last night were planted in May 2018 when Kennedy decided to run as an independent. Voters did their best to cobble together a Council for him last term but if the leader can’t unite their own political family behind a strong vision, it’s very hard for any one else to.
Kennedy tried to rectify that by starting his own party this year but the last thing this election needed was another party. Given poor options, voters did the best they could to identify leadership to steer the city through these very challenging times…or they stayed home.
Voter turnout this election dropped to 36% in Vancouver. Common wisdom is that this favours an incumbent but in Vancouver data shows that is only true if the incumbent is centre-right. Data shows that wealthier, older home owners on the west side consistently vote which gives those voters an even greater advantage in low turnout, as was the case with Saturday’s predictable results.
Where to now? For most of my lifetime, centre-right governments have ruled Vancouver. The only time this has not been true is when the many different camps of progressives can find a common agenda to get behind. In the meantime, support the people supporting the many voices and experiences that aren’t represented on this Council. They need you more than ever before.