Sep 21: With three weeks still to go before election day, this guide will evolve somewhat as polls, platform details, corrections, and other info continues to come in.
Vancouver is cursed with an interesting political scene. We have a relatively engaged electorate compared to other cities, and a disproportionate supply of cranks. This fuels a dizzying mix of parties, candidates, and intrigue to follow and/or consider and/or be overwhelmed by. To make matters worse, information about candidates and their platforms tends to all roll out in a short period leading up to Election Day. This can make planning your vote feel like a buttload of work.
Well, dear reader, let me take a load off your butt with an overview of the weird mess that is this election. Assuming, that is, that you are a progressive sort of voter who cares about housing affordability.
On Oct 1, advance polling will open up and Vancouverites will have their say on who should hold the 11 votes on our City Council – 10 councillors, plus one mayor. So it’s time to recap how we got here, then review the 9+ parties vying for your consideration.
Get a stiff drink, and settle in.
A Guide to this Guide
- How We Got Here
- The Crises
- The Four Kinds of Parties
- What kind of change do you want, exactly?
- Building a Ballot, Party by Party
- The Part Where You Vote
How We Got Here
Last election, in 2018, Vancouver was in a serious housing crisis. It was bad, it was getting worse, and somebody had to do something. As a result, the incumbent Vision party was kicked to the curb. In their place, voters elected a mix of councillors from four different parties, along with an independent mayor – which resulted in no real working majority.
While the intervening four years has seen a modest increase in housing permitted, and narrow approvals for plans to eventually permit more housing in the Broadway corridor and city-wide, it has often seen Council struggle to act. In their attempts push through and/or obstruct certain policy goals, Councillors have engaged in the sort of gnarly, inefficient, awkward kind of governance you would expect when there’s no clear majority: every vote needs to come from an ad-hoc coalition, and staff is often tied up with side-quests from various Councillors, rather than enacting a coherent plan.
Adding to the chaos, the centre-right NPA – despite holding 5 of 10 Council seats – disintegrated over this term, sharding out into three different parties. The mayor, no doubt feeling left out as the sole independent, founded a new party too. This has left us with Council’s 11 votes split across 7 parties, and a desperate need for an election to give someone, anyone, a mandate. Okay, maybe not anyone – but we’ll get to that.
Vancouver continues to be in a serious housing shortage. It’s still bad, it’s still getting worse, and somebody still has to do something. Something other than squabble over amendments to amendments at marathon council sessions, that is.
Of course, housing isn’t the only crisis Vancouver has on its plate. We continue to suffer from a devastating loss of lives due to the poisoned drug supply, and we are also staring down a climate crisis. While other levels of government have a responsibility to help address all three of these crises, the city plays a role in each, and our votes will determine what kind of role that will be.
Almost all the parties pay lip service to these priorities. Your mission, as a Vancouverite, is to pick some candidates that you think have a chance of delivering on them. Yes, City Hall has core responsibilities such as infrastructure, emergency services, property taxes, and zoning. Their biggest impact, though, will be how they do – or don’t – use these tools to address the bigger crises facing our city.
Excited yet? Let’s review the contestants.
The Four Kinds of Parties
You can’t boil a political party, comprised of various individuals each with their own nuanced take on the city’s issues, down to one or two simple axes. But. There are 9+ parties running candidates on a 59 person ballot. So I’m going to start by boiling each one down to one or two simple axes. Don’t hate me.
The excellent Cambie Report podcast has again crowdsourced popular perceptions of each party’s politics on two key dimensions, which I’ve charted above. What do the labels on this chart really mean, though? Let’s review in broad strokes.
Urbanists generally advocate for a denser, less car-oriented city. In practical terms this means substantially increasing the pace that new housing is approved, accelerating the rollout of the new Vancouver Plan priorities such as more density and “complete streets”, and in general being willing to “rock the boat” to build so much housing that affordability meaningfully improves. Most parties today claim affordability as a priority, but urbanist parties tend to specify exactly how they intend to create much more housing supply. Urbanist voters are most likely to be looking at OneCity, Forward Together, and Progress Vancouver.
Conservationists, by contrast, are concerned about change in their backyards. Conservationists prefer a measured approach to development, leveraging community consultation to defend the housing they already have – even if their critics call them NIMBYs. While this is a popular mindset among landowners, it’s also common amongst older renters who are currently well-housed and are most concerned about their own neighbourhood or rent changing. Extreme conservationist voters will be excited about TEAM, whereas folks that merely have concerns about the pace of change may be looking at the Green Party, COPE, or the NPA.
Left wing parties tend to favour allocating more spending and protections to those in need. In the context of Vancouver politics, this can mean approving and funding housing for the homeless, reallocating spending from police towards mental health and harm reduction services, and putting the interests of renters before those of landowners. COPE, OneCity, and Forward Vancouver are examples of prominent left-wing parties this election.
Right wing voters are a minority in Vancouver, but on a relative basis, we have voters and parties that are less progressive than others, and in that way they form Vancouver’s right. The go-to campaign issues for these parties are “public safety” and keeping our property taxes famously low. The NPA, Vancouver’s longstanding centre-right party, has swung so far to the right this time around that most of their councillors have defected to ABC and TEAM, the two new parties that make up Vancouver’s right of centre.
What kind of change do you want, exactly?
Last election, electors deemed the long-incumbent Vision party to blame for the housing crisis and Vancouver’s other problems, reducing them from majority control to exactly zero seats. People wanted change, and they got change.
Four years later, housing prices have only gotten worse, as has the overdose crisis. A recent survey by Leger found only 27% of residents approve of the current Council, with only 29% approving of the mayor’s performance. 67% of people think it’s time for a change, but the big question is: what kind of change?
What change you seek will likely depend on how you allocate blame for Council’s struggles. Do you blame Mayor Stewart, who has only one of Council’s 11 votes but is its most prominent member? Do you blame the Councillors who most often voted against, or simply complicated his efforts to permit more homes? Or do you blame the whole group of them – kick everybody out again, maybe this time even decade-long Green Councillor Adriane Carr, re-roll Council once more, and hope the result is more coherent this time around?
While pure-hearted idealists can simply fill their ballots with the candidates they like the most, those of us cursed with a strategic mindset will also need to consider electability. Given that incumbents tend to win re-election 80% of the time, perhaps it’s worth voting for a couple incumbents who we consider just “okay” with the idea that they’re better than some of the truly terrifying alternatives on the ballot.
Building a ballot
Regardless of your approach, your mission is to pick 1 Mayor and 10 Councillors. (You also get to pick 9 for School Board and 7 for Park Board, but I’ve focused on Council here.) Since no party is running a full set of 11 candidates, and the overall ballot is quite long and randomly ordered, I suggest using Vancouver’s “Plan Your Vote” tool to check off candidates who pique your interest.
Without further ado, here is a primer on each of the 9 parties that are running multiple candidates, sorted roughly from most urbanist to most conservationist.
Arguably Vancouver’s most progressive party, OneCity has a consistent set of urbanist and leftist stances on the city’s issues. We can now add to that 4 years of OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle’s voting record, confirming that yes, this is a party pushes to permit a lot more homes, fund social housing, take action on climate, and generally push for progress.
That said, with only 1 seat on Council, OneCity has only been able to do that – push for progress. To have a big impact, OneCity simply needs more votes at City Hall.
The party’s platform hopes to deliver that, including a call to create non-police response teams that can respond to mental health crises, and a call to “end the apartment ban”, allowing new rentals and social housing in all neighbourhoods. It’s good stuff.
If this kind of approach appeals to you, you’ll want to strongly consider voting for Boyle and OneCity’s new candidates: health economist Ian Cromwell, senior transportation planner Iona Bonamis, and indigenous leader Matthew Norris.
On the question of electability, OneCity is the only party to have all their candidates endorsed by the Vancouver Labour and District Council (VDLC), who has long helped rally progressive voters towards an electable slate of candidates. Despite their misstep in 2018 of endorsing 4 Vision candidates, VDLC’s Vision-less 2022 slate could prove useful tool for progressive voters trying to make sense of a horde of options.
Like the other progressive parties, OneCity has refrained from running a mayoral candidate, implicitly supporting Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s re-election. Their hope is that time around, he’ll have enough progressives and urbanists on Council to make some bigger changes.
In 2018, a new party called YES Vancouver took a sort of “housing-only” platform to voters that promised to permit more housing, while avoiding taking many stances on the social or economic side of things. After a rather poor showing in terms of votes, the organization has completely rebooted itself for 2022 as Progress Vancouver.
Headed by mayoral candidate and political strategist Mark Marissen, Progress has built their campaign around an appropriately bold plan to address the housing shortage, comparable in scale to what other urbanist parties are proposing. While Progress has a pretty crisp message on housing, their non-housing politics seem to vary a lot between candidates. Put simply, the fact their candidates include both former NDP candidate Morgane Oger and NPA defector Mauro Francis makes it seem more like a “anybody’s welcome as long as you’re down for more housing” party than one that has a clear opinion on what “progress” means – at least as far as socioeconomics goes.
If you’re a single-issue voter on the topic of housing supply, you may want to investigate Progress’ candidates, who also include film producer May He, actor David Chin, business owner Asha Hayer, and DTES volunteer Marie Noelle Rosa.
When Mayor Kennedy Stewart ran as an Independent in 2018, he surely hoped he’d be leading a Council that shared his progressive urbanist politics. Instead, he got a mixed bag of Councillors, with no clear majority to implement his vision – a position I’ve seen described as mayoral candidates’ worst nightmare.
On one hand, Stewart has pulled off some successes from this difficult position, such as the narrow passage of the Broadway Plan and Vancouver Plan, and permitting a record number of new homes in 2021. On the other hand, he has led a Council that is perceived as dysfunctional and slow to address the scale of our city’s crises – nobody wants a repeat of that this time around.
To this end, Stewart has formed the Forward Together party, a group of Council candidates with a progressive-urbanist platform. In what may not be a coincidence, Forward is running 6 Council candidates, which paired together with the 4 Council candidates from ideologically similar OneCity makes for a full ballot.
Forward’s fundamental pitch is that Mayor Stewart has been pushing things in the right direction – a progressive and urbanist one – but hasn’t had the votes to fully get the job done. So, if you re-elect him with a team that shares his vision, they’ll be able to double down and make progress more effectively.
Of course, as frontrunner and incumbent, Stewart has been the focus of some minor… maybe not quite scandals, but brouhahas maybe? The weirdest was certainly a leaked fundraising list that included property developers, plus there have been ABC’s claims that Stewart will implement a road tax that the City does not actually have jurisdiction to implement.
In the end though, Forward’s success at the polls will probably depend on whether enough voters see Council’s slow progress on the city’s big problems as being despite Stewart’s efforts, rather than because of them.
It seems many progressive voters will choose some Forward candidates, but not all six. If you’re looking for progressive cred, they have three former NDP candidates on the ballot: Dulcy Anderson, Tesicca Truong, and Stewart’s wife, Jeanette Ashe. VDLC has endorsed Anderson, as well as Stewart’s communications chief Alvin Singh. Forward’s team for Council also includes accessibility advocate Hilary Brown and software developer Russil Wvong, who I keep hearing positive things about.
When the last election saw a resounding rejection of Vision, reducing them from a council majority to zero seats, there was speculation that the party was done. However, it seems some are still loyal to the Vision – at least, loyal enough to make use of the once-powerful party’s remaining funds and contact lists to give things another go.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of Vision’s campaign. On paper they have a reasonable urbanist-left platform – similar to Forward Together’s – and the party has name recognition, so it seems like their candidates could be electable. So far, though, they just don’t seem to have much in the way of momentum, endorsements, buzz, or… anything.
Vision’s three Council candidates – teacher Stuart Mackinnon, communications strategist Lesli Boldt, and doctor Honieh Barzegari – might be credible, but in an election this crowded, and after such a clear rejection in 2018, do they have any chance of cracking the top 10? Not clear. Is that a good enough reason to refrain from voting for them? I don’t know, man.
A Better City Vancouver
Centre-right takes on an unusual definition in a metropolitan core like Vancouver. For example, a policy like committing to hiring more police officers – something that would hardly raise an eyebrow in many jurisdictions – is seen as a right of centre position here in Vancouver.
If that kind of politics appeals to you, there’s ABC Vancouver. Led by mayoral candidate Ken Sim – last election’s runner-up – ABC has capitalized on the NPA’s recent implosion and establishing itself as an alternative for those who have voted NPA in previous elections. They’ve signed on incumbent councillors Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato, and Sarah Kirby-Yung, who are running for ABC after resigning from the NPA in 2021, and have signed up four more folks to run for Council under the ABC banner.
While ABC’s policies may appeal to those on the right – cut waste at City Hall, hire police officers, oppose any new taxes on private vehicles – Sim seems to have sharpened his pencil on housing since last election. They’ve committed to triple the number of housing starts – though how they would achieve that and what proportion of social and rental housing they would pursue is unclear.
ABC is perhaps the most likely party to win a majority this election, which is why Sim has had his rhetorical guns aimed at forerunner and incumbent Kennedy Stewart. If progressive voters aren’t keen on the idea of a centre-right Council, they’ll need to show up at the polls with something else in mind.
At one time, COPE was what it said on the tin: a coalition of progressive electors, who got a progressive majority elected back in 2002. Since then, COPE’s representation on on Council has dwindled, and currently consists of the one, the only, Jean Swanson. Swanson’s unapologetically principled brand of leftist politics captured voters’ imagination in 2018, and she’s been consistent in her conduct as Councillor in the years since. That is to say, she votes against anything that doesn’t seem like a clear win for the homeless or less privileged.
COPE’s value system tends to see protecting renters’ existing housing as a higher priority than increasing the availability or affordability of housing for those paying market rates. This has put her in conflict with those on the left who see housing supply as an urgent need, and sometimes made her strange bedfellows with TEAM’s Colleen Hardwick on the far right side of the aisle.
Like the other progressive parties, COPE is not running a mayoral candidate. They might not agree with Mayor Stewart on housing, but he’s a better ally than they’ll find elsewhere on the ballot for their social policies.
If you’re a progressive voter more concerned about renter protections and housing the homeless than you are about the cost of housing more generally, you should consider voting for Swanson, and might take a look at COPE’s other candidates: activist Nancy Trigueros, lawyer Breen Ouellette, and social worker Tanya Webking.
Vancouver’s Green Party engenders complex feelings in many progressive voters. One one hand, they have a great brand that has won 3 somewhat progressive votes on Council. On the other hand, they have a tendency to delay action when it comes to building housing, social or otherwise. While there is increasing support for the idea that densification is one of the highest impact things cities can do on climate, the Greens have at times had their minds elsewhere. For example, directing staff to, say, research options for procuring more plant-based food. Which isn’t a bad thing! But isn’t housing.
Truly making sense of the Greens is challenging in part because the party is not very prescriptive about its views or platform. Sitting councillors Adriane Carr, Pete Fry, and Michael Wiebe each act independently, going their own way on various issues, which has contributed to the the complexity of getting clear and efficient plans through City Hall.
While VDLC has endorsed all three sitting Green candidates, voters may want to do a bit of research on each Councillor’s record before casting a vote. If progressive values and climate actions other than bold action on housing are key to you, then you may also want to consider the new Green candidates: climate scientist Devyani Singh and activist Stephanie Smith.
The NPA has been an institution in Vancouver politics since 1937. It has run eleven elected mayors – including former premier Gordon Campbell – and since 2008 has been slowly making gains at City Hall, most recently coming within 1000 votes of winning a majority.
Then, it imploded.
Like, completely went haywire. Their board was taken over by far-right clowns, all their Councillors left the party except one, multiple new parties have sprung up in the hope of replacing them, they lost the mayoral candidate that almost won them the election last time, they lost the replacement mayoral candidate halfway through election season, and as replacement-replacement they brought in Fred Harding, who came in 6th last election, so that he could announce that “The NPA has not imploded”.
So I guess it’s up for debate. Did the NPA implode? Or did they collapse? Was it sabotage, perhaps? In any case, this is likely to be a down year for them.
One of the questions for voters who lean right is: do they re-elect the sole remaining NPA Councillor, Melissa De Genova? She pulled in the 3rd most votes of any Councillor in 2018, so it stands to reason that she could be re-electable. On the other hand, every other NPA Councillor bailed on the organization, citing a conflict of values with the party’s new direction. It’s kind of a bad look.
In terms of campaign promises, the NPA seems very focused on a crime and safety message, which which is a pretty traditional right-wing platform plank and not nearly as interesting as all the party drama.
Speaking of drama, the internet was recently flummoxed by the news that NPA Council candidate and realtor Morning Lee posted an instructional video on how to evict tenants during COVID, which reportedly included instructions to make sure you drop a deuce in tenants’ toilet, so as to assert your sovereignty over the their home. But crime and safety, yes yes very serious.
TEAM for a Livable Vancouver
As City Councillor, Colleen Hardwick has developed a reputation for saying no. No to housing, no to spending, no to change. Should we build the wildly popular SkyTrain extension to UBC? No. Should we take bold action to address the housing shortage? No – because there is no housing shortage. 🤯
In Hardwick’s view, planning should be a slow process done neighbourhood by neighbourhood, if not block by block, so that each area’s most vocal residents can veto improvements that may risk making Vancouver a better place. Hardwick sees the growing academic and popular consensus that cities must permit more housing as backwards, and she’s willing to belittle colleagues and residents to make this point.
It seems Hardwick became so frustrated being Vancouver’s most conservative Councillor that instead of running for re-election, she’s formed her own party to run for Mayor. Mercifully, she’s unlikely to succeed. Other Councillors must be thanking their stars that polling is placing her support at only 17%.
Still, 17% is not nothing! Especially in the small sample sizes of municipal polling. While TEAM’s votes are likely to come from a mix of cranky old landowners and low-information voters, they may pull enough votes to play spoiler for development-skeptical candidates running for ABC, the NPA, or perhaps the Greens.
On the other hand, Hardwick’s candidacy is helpful for progressive parties’ “get out the vote” efforts. Her rhetoric and actions are so antithetical to the values of leftist and urbanist voters that the mere chance of her being Mayor could help get folks out of bed and into polling stations come October 15. Seriously, do not let this person become mayor.
Bonus Round: The not-independents
In 2018, a lot of folks ran for Councillor as independents. As a rule, they fared poorly. This time around, candidates have mostly rallied around one party or another, with the interesting upshot that two folks are each running for Council as a party of one (at least as far as Council candidates go).
Columnist Sean Orr is the candidate for Vote Socialist, a sort of splinter group from COPE that is forging its own path. Its platform seems similar to COPE, but with a higher priority on building social housing.
Civil Engineer Eric Redmond is the candidate for the Affordable Housing Coalition, which may sound like a NIMBY-type group but is actually a single-issue party centered on housing supply – not too unlike Progress Vancouver, at least in principle.
Time to Plan… That… Vote!
Turnout in municipal elections is infamously low – 39% in 2018 – which means the outcome will really depend on who gets their butts in gear and casts a ballot, and who stays at home and scrolls social media.
If you’ve taken the time to peruse a voting guide, you surely know that voting is worthwhile, but without a specific plan you’re less likely to actually cast your vote. You’ve got three main options – put one in your calendar:
- You can vote by mail, but to receive a package in the mail you need to request a package here before Thursday, Sep 29 at 5pm.
- Cool kids vote early. Advance voting will be possible in select locations on Sat Oct 1, Wed Oct 5, Sat Oct 8, Tue Oct 11, and Thu Oct 13.
- Election Day city-wide will be on Saturday, October 15.
Between now and then, use the Plan Your Vote tool, along with some of the starting points in this guide, to find some candidates that seem like they have a shot at making Vancouver a better place.
Cast your vote – it’s in you to give.
This guide attempts to condense a lot of raw material into a digestible form, and in the final weeks of the election things will continue to change and evolve. If you have feedback or especially corrections for me, please get in touch!
My hope is that this is just a starting point, something that gives folks some structure to direct their research. To that end, here are some useful links for exploring further:
- The City of Vancouver Election Website, including:
- The Twitter feed of municipal reporter and local treasure Justin McElroy
- Notes on current Council’s record:
- On the Record: Councillors on Their Broadway Plan Votes by Jen St. Denis for The Tyee
- How Vancouver’s mayor and council voted on big issues this term by Justin McElroy for CBC
- Polling results (more will likely roll in as we approach election day):
- Some slates and policy surveys by different organizations
For new readers wondering where I’m coming from: I’m a thirty-something parent and small business owner who owns a townhome in East Vancouver. I’m an advocate for affordable housing who believes Vancouver should be a welcoming place for all, not just people who already have wealth or land.
Finally, a huge thank you to the Cambie Report, their patrons, and Ian Bushfield in particular, who have been generous with their time helping me better understand the twisty maze that is Vancouver politics.