British Columbia

Is the Vancouver mayoral race the dullest part of an exciting election?

It's a historic, exciting election season. And yet, it seems enthusiasm for the biggest decision — who will be mayor of Vancouver — is lacking.

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The Big Issue

We're now just 17 days away from election day. Advance polling begins in many municipalities this weekend. The candidates are known, issues well-defined and attack points from each side established. 

It's a historic, exciting election season. And yet, it seems enthusiasm for the biggest decision — who will be mayor of Vancouver — is lacking. 

Most of this is because there are two people who have been at or near the top of the polls for the last five months: Kennedy Stewart and Ken Sim. 

They're genial men, not prone to hyperbole, with mild social media profiles. 

On the dominant issue of affordable housing, Stewart's housing policies are the same as what Vision Vancouver is now pushing, and dovetails with the city's 10-year housing plan. Sim's biggest ideas are allowing two secondary suites in detached homes and reducing permitting times.

These are not the sort of people or ideas that typically light the political world on fire. 

And yet, it's Stewart and Sim who top most polls. Those with bigger ideas for what a city government could do (particularly Hector Bremner, David Chen and Wai Young) still have time to galvanize the greater public, but time is quickly running out.  

Is it because Vancouverites aren't as desperate for dramatic change as some thought? The impact of campaign finance laws limiting advertising, and therefore public awareness? Or just the natural result of most campaigns, where voters tend to cluster around the least controversial candidates?  

Whatever the case may be, it's curious how the centrepiece of a crazy election seems filled with ennui. 

The headlines

The biggest all-candidate election debate for Vancouver was part game-show, part-politics. Sixty mayoral and council candidates signed up for the event out of the 21 running for mayor and 71 for councillor. One hoped it would look like this...

Density or waterfront views? The debate in West Vancouver centres around how to develop the area, but it's more about what shouldn't be done than what should: Mary Ann Booth wants to give it an "attractive European village" vibe (read: no more highrises). Christine Cassidy wants to ban development south of the tracks. On the other side, Mark Sager wants to push for more affordable housing but has been reluctant to fully endorse higher density in any neighbourhood during the course of the campaign.

A composting facility is causing a big stink in the Delta mayor's race. Somehow, the plant operated without an air quality permit for a decade and at dispute is the alleged role mayoral candidate George Harvie played. He was the city manager at the time and says he acted under the direction of council. Rival mayoral candidates Jim Cessford and Sylvia Bishop say otherwise. 

Nanaimo city council candidates will voice their thoughts on how they plan to follow through on a city-approved action plan to end homelessness. Or as a rep from United Way said, "deal with the NIMBYism."

Put aside the fact the Millenium Line extension doesn't have any funding, would costs billions of dollars and won't be running for at least a decade. It's still an election issue, so this is where the candidates land on the issue:

  • Shauna Sylvester and Hector Bremner: top priority
  • Ken Sim: Not against it, but not at the top of the list
  • Kennedy Stewart: Doesn't want to promise because of the above-mentioned lack of funding.

Surrey bylaw officers have taken down more than 500 election signs because they're too close to intersections. The political ads are apparently a distraction for drivers.

Percolator (something big on social media)

Speaking of distracting signs, check out this one from Pitt Meadows candidate Anena Simpson. 

Which led to the inevitable train of thought…

A Simpsons-related question? At this time of year, at this time of day in this part of the country, localized entirely within Pitt Meadows?

Here's what we can say after going down that rabbit hole: Type the words "is the Simpson font copyrighted" into Google … and nothing comes up immediately that says it is. What does come up are tons of websites that let you mimic the font for free. Generally, typefaces are not covered under copyright in the United States, but the machine code used to display a stylized typeface (i.e. a font) is protectable as copyright. 

Elections B.C. says it has not received a complaint about this sign. The sign also has the required authorization statement, which basically means the ad was authorized by the candidate's financial agent. There's nothing in the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act that requires Elections B.C. to consider copyright or regulate the content of election signs.

All of this to say, we get it. Anena Simpson … the Simpsons. But one has to wonder WHY drawing a parallel to the sitcom would be a great election strategy. Also, which Simpson character would she be? We contacted the candidate on Wednesday but have yet to hear back. 

Better know a mayor's race

Every week, we've looked at a different municipal election in Metro Vancouver. Unfortunately, we can't do that for the 25,000 or so people that live in and around UBC. 

Why? Well, there's no local government for the lands west of Blanca. Both the University Endowment Lands (around 3,000 people living mostly in large homes and a few apartments) and UBC (about 11,000 people living in student housing, and 11,000 people living in mostly market housing developed by the university) have separate governing arrangements with the province, but neither of them involve elected people advocating for local needs.

Yes, it's a weird situation. And no, it probably won't change anytime soon. Read our profile to find out why.

Mailbag!

"How accurate have polls been historically in predicting the results of mayoral elections in Vancouver? Given the amount of undecided voters, how much credence should we give to current polls?" — James Raymond

We've all seen those headlines that say "how did the polls get it so wrong" after an election, so let's dive into what the polling says right now. 

The most recent poll is from two weeks ago, which has Kennedy Stewart leading the pack. According to that Research Co. poll, 36 per cent of decided voters say they will support the independent candidate with Ken Sim in second place, while another 31 per cent were undecided. Mainstreet also released a poll a week before, which found that 41 per cent were undecided but those who were decided said Stewart was leading with 14 per cent.

What changed? Vision Vancouver's mayoral candidate dropped out of the race. 

We asked pollster Barb Justason, who correctly predicted a win for Gregor Robertson in the last municipal election, about the accuracy of polls. Her company has also not put out a poll for this election yet, and she's unsure if it will.

"Polling is garbage in, garbage out," she said. "If you're not asking the right questions, you won't get the answers you're looking for."

She recommends looking at the pollster's record and reputation, who sponsored the poll and if they have a vested interest (is it a political party, a think tank, a specific media outlet) and how the sampling of respondents was selected. 

She also says that when polls name a frontrunner, they're based on decided voters. And in her experience, most undecided voters either don't show up on ballot day and if they do, tend to vote with the leading candidate.

We want to help you make informed decisions come voting time, so if you have questions, send them in and we will work on getting you the answers. Drop us a line at metromatters@cbc.ca.

ICYMI

Why is Abbotsford mayoral candidate Henry Braun selling an Eagle Mountain property that was bought in his son's name? That's what a website run by his political opponent Vince Dimanno is asking under a headline saying there is some sort of collusion. Braun however says there is nothing nefarious. Read the details in Abby News.

From elementary school friends to political rivals, read Dan Fumano's reporting on the relationship between NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim and Coalition Vancouver council candidate Glen Chernen.

Mike Shields has dropped out of the mayoral race in Maple Ridge. But his name will still appear on the ballot since the city says it's too late to change it. More from the Maple Ridge News.

Advance voting begins in many places this weekend. The exact places and exact dates here.

Chart of the Day

It's often assumed that once you're in as a local politician, it's hard to be voted out: people are used to seeing your name on that ballot, and unless there's a scandal or the town turns against you, re-election is much easier than getting elected. But how true is that?

Well, we looked at every incumbent candidate running for re-election in the 2008, 2011 and 2014 local elections in B.C. Here's what we found:

It's remarkable how little change there is over the last three elections: if somebody decides to seek another term, they've got a four in five chance of winning. 

However, not all local politics jobs are created equal. Mayors have about a 70 per cent chance of winning if they go for re-election, while for council, it's about 82 per cent — probably because there's only one mayor but plenty of councillors, so they can lose support and still squeak in if none of the challengers have name recognition. 

That's it for us this week! Check out the latest headlines at cbc.ca/bc and follow our municipal affairs reporter, Justin McElroy and social media editor Tamara Baluja on Twitter. If you have any questions about the municipal election, drop Justin and Tamara a line at metromatters@cbc.ca.

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