Friday, November 14, 2014

British Columbia 2014 municipal elections preview

Tomorrow, voters across British Columbia will vote in municipal elections in each of the province's 162 municipalities, as well as electoral area directors outside of these municipalities, plus Islands Trust councillors, park board commissioners and school district trustees. Additionally, there are also referendums being held in some locations. British Columbia is the only province remaining to hold municipal elections every three years, but recent legislation has moved this to every four years, matching the rest of the nine provinces. The most recent municipal elections were held in 2011, but the next elections after tomorrow's vote will be held in 2018.

Map showing the location of every municipality in British Columbia

Across the province, mayors have already been acclaimed (elected with no opposition) in Alert Bay, Armstrong, Chetwynd, Clinton, Coldstream, Cumberland, Dawson Creek, Delta, Fernie, Fort St. James, Fort St. John, Fruitvale, Granisle, Hazelton, Hudson's Hope, Invernmere, Logan Lake, Lumby, Lutton, Masset, Midway, New Denver, North Vancouver (district), Oliver, Port Alice, Powell River, Princeton, Queen Charlotte, Radium Hot Springs, Silverton, Smithers, Sun Peaks, Tofino, Wells and West Vancouver. Of those municipalities, no council elections will be held at all in Clinton, Granisle, Hazelton, Lumby, New Denver, Princeton, Queen Charlotte, Radium Hot Springs, Silverton and Sun Peaks, as in those municipalities, the entire council was acclaimed. Additionally, all of the councillors in Nakusp, New Hazelton and Taylor were acclaimed, but will still have contested mayoral races.

In every municipality in the province except Lake Country, councils are elected on an at-large basis, representing the entirety of their municipalities. Only in Lake Country, do wards representing the municipality's communities (in addition to having two at-large councillors). In addition to electing at-large municipal councils, the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos have “water councillors” which are elected by residents living outside town limits but are served by the town's water system.

Just like in Quebec, municipal political parties are allowed to exist in the province. Unlike Quebec though, only a few municipalities have parties, including the three largest cities of Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby. Due to the at-large “block voting” system of councils, where voters have as many votes as there are council spots, having partisan races means that parties will often win every seat on council. This is theoretically true in even close elections. If every supporter of “Party X” votes for the “Party X” slate, and every supporter of “Party Y” votes for the “Party Y” slate, then even if Party X has the support of 51% of the electorate, then they would win every seat in council. In my opinion, this makes block voting even less democratic than the often criticized first past the post system used in most Canadian elections.


British Columbia's largest city looks like it will be having a close two-way horse race between incumbent two-term mayor, Gregor Robertson from the centre-left Vision Vancouver party, and journalist Kirk LaPointe of the centre-right Non-Partisan Association (NPA). Playing spoiler in the race is activist and former federal NDP candidate Meena Wong, who is running for the more left wing Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE). In addition to the mayoral race, parties will fight to control Vancouver's 10-seat city council.

COPE was once the main left wing party in Vancouver, and held a majority on city council from 2002 to 2005. However, internal disagreements during this time led to the formation of the more moderate Vision Vancouver. Despite their disagreements, the two parties did not run mayoral candidates against each other in 2005, 2008 or 2011. In 2011, COPE failed to elect a single candidate to council. In a shift of direction, COPE has decided to run a mayoral candidate in this election.
Vision Vancouver has governed Vancouver since the 2008 election, and has been led by Robertson, (who had previously been an NDP MLA) since his election as mayor that year. Robertson was easily re-elected in 2011, defeating city councillor Suzanne Anton of the NPA 57%-40%. All seven of Vision's candidates were elected to council, while the NPA elected two councillors, and the Green Party's lone candidate was elected. This lone Green was former provincial Green Party leader Adriane Carr, who was elected to the last spot on council, edging out the COPE's Ellen Woodsworth, a sitting city councillor, whom she beat by less than 100 votes.

Parties in Vancouver rarely run full slates for council, failing to take advantage of the block voting system. Vision Vancouver formerly had a deal with COPE to not run a full slate, so that COPE could still elect councillors. This failed to help COPE in 2011 however. In this election, Vision is still only running just eight councillors, perhaps to allow the Greens a chance to increase their presence on council, as they are running three candidates this time. Both the NPA and COPE are running eight councillors as well. No matter what happens, we know there will be at least one opposition party on council.  

As is the norm for most major cities in Canada, Vancouver is a heavily polarized city when it comes to politics. The working class east end of the city is notorious for its support of left wing parties throughout the city's history, on all levels of government. Conversely, the western parts of the city are considerably more wealthy, and vote for more right wing “free market” parties. The 2011 Vancouver election was no exception to this. Robertson's strongest neighbourhoods were in the east end, while Anton won the city's southwest. The key to winning the city is to be able to win the middle class neighbourhoods, such as West Point Grey and Kitsilano in the northwest corner of the city, the Downtown core (including the west end), and the south end of the city.

Council candidates with the most votes by polling division, 2011 election

Due to the block voting system employed for Vancouver's city council election, candidates for council must try to win votes in every part of the city to get elected. This does not mean certain candidates do not have their core areas of support, as seen by my map of which council candidate won the most votes in each polling division. East Vancouverite Raymound Louie of Vision Vancouver won the most votes city wide, with 44% of voters having voted for him. He didn't just win polls in the east end, but in many parts of the city. Other Vision Vancouver candidates only won a few polls, but were still elected. Even Tony Tang, Vision's final councillor to be elected (in 7th place) was able to tie a poll. Five NPA candidates won polls, despite only two being elected to council. Elizabeth Ball was their strongest candidate, winning the support of 36% of voters. She was especially strong in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood in the southwest part of the city. None of the three COPE candidates won any polls, but Adriane Carr of the Green Party won five polls, all in the “West End” neighbourhood.

Polls are suggesting the race between Robertson and LaPointe is quite close. A recent Insights West poll gave Robertson 46% to 41% for LaPointe's. Wong was at 9%. The race for city council may also be very close. A poll conducted last month by Justason Market Intelligence showed that Green Party councillor Adriane Carr was the most popular candidate running for council, at 52%. Tied for second was the NPA's George Affleck and Vision's Heather Deal. If the two main party's top candidates are tied, it means that city council could be very divided.


Another close race is in the cards is in B.C.'s second largest city, Surrey. Three-term incumbent mayor Dianne Watts is calling it quits, to run federally for the nomination of the Conservative Party in the riding of South Surrey—White Rock. The race to replace her will be between three candidates, each having a legitimate shot of winning the mayoralty. Just like Vancouver, Surrey has municipal political parties, but has recently been effectively a “one-party state”. Watts' “Surrey First” party won all eight seats on council in 2011. However, with Watts resigning, there are two new parties with a chance to win seats.

Carrying the Surrey First banner in this election is councillor Linda Hepner, who is running a centrist campaign, promising continuity with the Watts-led council. Hepner is helped by the fact that five of the city's eight councillors are still running for the party. One candidate running against Hepner is former mayor Doug McCallum, a Conservative, who is running for the new “Safe Surrey Coalition”. McCallum was mayor of Surrey from 1996 to 2005, when he was easily defeated by Watts. The third main candidate running for mayor is the labour-backed Barinder Rasode, who was elected to council in 2011 as a member of Surrey First. She is running for the “One Surrey” party. Surrey First is running a full slate of eight candidates for Surrey's eight-seat city council, while One Surrey is running seven candidates, and the Safe Surrey Coalition is running just four.

Insights West's most recent poll shows Hepner and McCallum tied at 33%, while Rasode is within the margin of error at 30%, indicating the election's outcome is anybody's guess. Dianne Watts easily won 80% of the vote in 2011, winning every poll in the city. This election will be very different. Surrey is a very polarized city in terms of race, income, and partisanship (as evidenced in federal and provincial elections) and this will in no doubt effect which parts of the city backs which candidates. Look for McCallum to win in the wealthier south of the city, while Rasode will likely win the more working class and diverse north end of the city, while Hepner will have to do well enough in both ends of the city if she is to win.


In Burnaby, the race for mayor is between four-time incumbent Derek Corrigan and businessman Daren Hancott. The NDP-backed Corrigan leads the Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA), which won all eight seats on city council in 2011. Hancott, a Conservative, heads the new Burnaby First Coalition. Both parties are running full slates once again.

Corrigan was easily re-elected in 2011 with 76% of the vote against Tom Tao, running for the now defunct “TEAM Burnaby”, who won 17%. (Tao is running as an independent for council this time). With two diverse choices this year's election in Burnaby will likely be much closer.

One of the more interesting news stories during the Burnaby campaign was rumours that people associated with Burnaby First were telling people in the Mandarin-speaking community of the city that the BCA “supports the gays” and was “going to give (children) and injection to make them gay”. Hancott has denied these rumours.


Running again for mayor of Canada's only Chinese-majority city (or near majority) is incumbent mayor, Malcolm Brodie, who has held that job since 2001. Brodie does not belong to any political party on council, but was a member of the now defunct centre-right Richmond Non-Partisan Association when he was first elected. Brodie's main competition comes from laywer Richard Lee of “Richmond Reform”, who is running a populist campaign. The two ran against each other in 2011 with Brodie winning with 70% of the vote to Lee's 30%.

In 2011, all of city council was elected as independents. However, sitting councillors have divided themselves into two new parties (neither of which is Lee's Richmond Reform, which is only running one candidate). Three of the six incumbents are running for “Richmond First”, two are running for the self-proclaimed non-partisan “Richmond Community Coalition” (RCC), while the remaining incumbent is running as an independent. RCC is running five candidates, while Richmond First is running six candidates to the eight-seat city council. The RCC appears to be the more right wing of the two parties, running on a 15% tax hike over the next five years.

One of the more interesting campaign issues is whether or not to ban Chinese-only signs. Language laws in Canada usually are a debate for communities with large Francophone populations, but it has become an issue in Richmond, where close to a majority of residents are Chinese. There are several businesses in the city with Chinese only signs, and it has angered some residents there. Lee, who is Chinese himself supports banning Chinese-only signs, while Brodie feels the courts would strike down any attempts to ban them.


In Abbotsford, the one-term incumbent mayor Bruce Banman is facing off against Councillor Henry Braun. Neither represent any political parties, and neither do any of the candidates running for the city council's eight seats. Banman was first elected in 2011, defeating the incumbent mayor, George Peary by just 700 votes.


Two-term incumbent mayor and former Liberal MLA Richard Stewart faces former mayor and former Liberal MP Lou Sekora, who currently sits on city council. The two are running as independents, but three city councillors have formed a slate for the city council election. The slate, called the “Coquitlam Citizens Association” is backed by the NDP, and are running five candidates to the eight seat council. Four other incumbent councillors are running as independents.


Incumbent mayor Walter Gray is calling it quits after one term. Gray defeated the previous incumbent, Sharon Shepherd by just 400 votes in 2011. Shepherd is running again, and is considered one of two frontrunners to replace Gray. The other is councillor Colin Basran. There are no official parties running in the city, but there is an unofficial party called “TaxPayersFirst”, who made headlines for their plans to turn downtown streets into canals.


In Saanich, incumbent mayor Frank Leonard is taking on Richard Atwell, both independents. Leonard has endorsements from the Police and Fire unions. The hot topic in Saanich, as well as several other municipalities in the Greater Victoria area is that of amalgamation. Saanich voters will be presented with a referendum on “community-based review of the governance structure...within the Region”, which is seen as a precursor to amalgamation.

Langley (Township)

Langley mayor Jack Froese is taking on former mayor Rick Green in a re-match of 2011. Froese handily beat Green in 2011, who finished third, after being embroiled in a scandal where Green admitted to misleading the township's council.

Other major races:

Delta: Incumbent mayor Lois Jackson of the “Delta Independent Voters Association” has been re-elected with no opposition.
Kamloops: Incumbent mayor Peter Milobar takes on Pierre Filisetti, Benjamin James and Dallas Paisley.
North Vancouver (District): Incumbent mayor Richard Walton has been re-elected with no opposition.
Nanaimo: Incumbent mayor John Ruttan faces off against nine candidates, including former mayor Gary Korpan, councillor Bill McKay and former councillor Bill Holdom.
Victoria: Incumbent mayor Dean Fortin takes on councillor Lisa Helps and former Liberal MLA Ida Chong. There will also be a referendum on amalgamation.
Chilliwack: Incumbent mayor and Fraser Valley Regional District board chair Sharon Gaetz takes on Raymond Cauchi and Cameron Hill.
Maple Ridge: Incumbent mayor Graham Mowatt takes on councillor Mike Morden and four other candidates.
Prince George: One-term incumbent mayor Shari Green is not running again. Running to replace her is councillor Lyn Hall and former councillor Don Zurowski. Residents face a referendum on water fluoridation.
New Westminster: Incumbent mayor Wayne Wright takes on councillor Jonathan X. Cote, James Crosty and Vladimir Kasnogor.
Port Coquitlam: Two-term incumbent mayor Greg Moore takes on fringe candidate Eric Hirvonen, who ran for council in 2011.
North Vancouver (City): Incumbent mayor Darrell Mussatto takes on Kerry Morris and George Pringle.
West Vancouver: First-term Incumbent mayor Michael Smith is running unopposed, as he was in 2011 when he was first elected.
Vernon: Incumbent mayor Robert Sawatzky is not running for re-election. Running to replace him his councillor Mary-Jo O'Keefe, former councillor Klaus Tribes and three other candidates.
Mission: Incumbent mayor Ted Adlem of the “Citizens for Responsible Municipal Government” is running for re-election. He faces councillor Tony Luck, former councillor Randy Hawes and rural director and NDPer Wendy Bales.

Polls close at 8pm Pacific (11 Eastern).

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