What can we learn from the Vancouver Municipal by elections?
On Saturday October 14th Vancouverites voted in an unusual byelection. One seat on city council was open due to a resignation, so the outgoing councilor could work in the office of new NDP premier John Horgan. There was also a byelection for the entire nine member Vancouver school board (VSB).
CENTER-LEFT Vision Vancouver VV- Created by former Mayor Larry Campbell. (2005)
CENTER-ENVIRONMENTALIST Green Party GP - Strong on environment, weaker on class issues.
RIGHT WING Non-Partisan Association NPA - Created back in the day (1937) to allow Liberals and Conservatives to work under one umbrella to keep Socialists, CCF-NDP out of city govt.
In the city council election, the NPA took the seat vacated by a VV councilor. The VV replacement candidate did very badly placing fifth. The chattering classes see it as a blow to VV Mayor Gregor Robertson mainly due to a perceived inability to get a grip on the insane Vancouver housing market. Fair enough, that was going around but the fact that the “left” had many candidates in a race where the right had just one surely split the left vote many ways for a single seat. See overall results final link.
Yes the NPA won the council seat with 27.8% of the vote but 45% of the vote went to Swanson, One City, and Vision, all left of center candidates. By dividing the vote that would have swamped the NPA the left handed them a council seat.
Let's look at the VSB election. Here the newly credible GP topped the poll winning the top three spots. Vision who had four seats on the former board, was reduced to three but NPA which also had four seats was reduced to only two. A great deal depends on on how the three Green trustees act. 3GP + 2NPA=5 out of 9-a majority. 3GP + 3 VV + 1OC= 7 out of 9 for a progressive majority.
What are the lessons of the Vancouver byelection for progressives?
Lesson #1 Dividing the progressive 45% council vote over over many candidates hands the seat to the 27% conservative NPA.
Lesson #2 is for Vision. You cannot take the progressive vote for granted. Failure to fully satisfy your electors by making too many compromises causes other progressive forces to enter the arena. Clearly VV is seen as “not progressive enough” to embrace all of the Green,
Swanson, One City voters. The only way to win these voters back is to shift VV to the left.
The school board VV may have lucked into a progressive majority. It remains unclear. As it was with Andrew Weaver and John Horgan - It all comes down to WWGD (what will the Greens do?)
This blog is primarily about the spot where education meets politics. Nevertheless housing was an issue in the byelection which spilled over into both the council and trustee results.
How can Vancouver solve the housing problem? I witnessed a talk show on Shaw cable one evening where a host was interviewing one of Vancouver's top planners. It might have been Vaughn Palmer, I can't recall but I do recall his answer to the host’s prompt, how can Vancouver grow without chaos and increasing inequality. His answer- Outside the downtown peninsula, the city is actually quite low density. The solution is not more Metrotowns or Cambie Crossing monstrosities.
Vancouver has many major streets where commercial development is one floor or at the most two floors. Think Knight St Fraser, Victoria, parts of Main, and similar east-west streets. Each of these commercial areas should have four floors above the ground level commercial businesses dedicated to rental housing, not condo development. Think all the five floor development in a city like Paris.
The city should encourage all of the property owners to demolish their buildings and create new five floor buildings with one commercial floor and four rental housing floors. The incentive might be something like no increase in property taxes for ten years.
Secondly, in order to preserve stable neighbourhoods, homeowners of single family dwellings - think Vancouver specials, should be allowed one and only one rental unit in their home only if they remain themselves. This could be basement flats, converted carports or granny flats. This extra income would allow many seniors to remain in their homes and many young couples to afford a home. With these two reforms you could add half a million units to Vancouver proper and a million to the lower mainland at almost no cost to the government.
The entire VSB had been fired by the outgoing Liberal Education minister just before they were defeated by the NDP. The incoming NDP Ed Minister opted for a byelection.
Unlike most of Canada, Vancouver has political parties that are not congruent to the large BC political parties but still are somewhat placeable on the classic left-right spectrum.
LEFT Coalition of Progressive Electors COPE - quite left wing. Once the powerhouse on the left, now weakening.
LEFT One City - somewhat of a break off of some COPE members. quite left