British Columbia

Changing of the guard: retiring Metro Van mayors leave big hole but room for more diversity

Linda Hepner's announcement she wouldn't seek a second term running Surrey make it nine mayors, representing 63 per cent of the region's population, whose names won't be on the ballot in October.

Age, tenure and campaign finance reform all reasons why the region faces a historic turnover this October

Clockwise from top left: Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, Langley Mayor Ted Schaffer, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton, North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin have all said they won't be seeking re-election in the October 2018 municipal elections. (CBC News)

Why are so many mayors calling it quits in Metro Vancouver?

Linda Hepner's announcement she won't seek a second term running Surrey makes it nine mayors whose names won't be on the ballot in October.

Surrey, Vancouver, North Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver, Delta, Langley City, Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and White Rock represent 63 per cent of the region's population — and voters in all of them are guaranteed to have a new leader next year. 

"This is going to be probably one of the largest shifts of regional leadership at the mayors table that Metro Vancouver has ever seen," said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, one of the few leaders of a major city to be seeking re-election. 

He says voters will see both pluses and minuses for the huge turnover. 

"They're definitely going to regret seeing the loss of historic knowledge and experience around the table, but I think the region can also see the opportunity to bring forward some new voices and some new diversity around local government."

"That's what elections are for, to have that renewal." 

Many factors for departures

Every politician has their own reasons for stepping aside. However, there are a number of clear reasons for the historic turnover, chief among them, age (half of Metro Vancouver mayors are over 65) and tenure (of the nine retiring mayors, eight have at least 10 years in local government.)

But UBC political scientist Max Cameron also points to the ban on corporate and union donations, recently passed by the provincial government, as a disincentive for mayors used to having a healthy fundraising advantage by virtue of their incumbency. 

"People are going to have to change the way they campaign, raise money for campaigns, and I think that'll open things up quite a bit," said Cameron, specifically referencing the future of Vision Vancouver and Surrey First, the two parties that have dominated their respective cities' politics the last decade. 

"They relied very heavily on funding from developers and big corporations, and I think it's going to be very, very interesting to see how they adapt to the new rules, and whether these new rules do, in effect, mean that developers and other powerful financial interest lose some of their grip."

Coté says the fact elections take place every four years — instead of three, as it was prior to 2014 — is another reason why politicians on the fence may opt against another term. 

"If you're 70 or in your mid-60s, four years years definitely does play into that decision," he said.  

New government, clean slate

If you value institutional knowledge, there's no ideal time for so many mayors to step aside at once. 

But with the Mayors' Council 10-year transportation plan well underway after years of setbacks, Coté believes there's less trepidation over the looming loss of municipal experience. 

"There was a long history in that discussion and negotiating, and that would have been difficult to start anew with half the mayors new in those positions," he said.  

"That'll allow the new group of mayors coming in to focus on the next big issues, as opposed to having to resolve long-standing issues."

Still, Cameron says there will inevitably be some rocky transitions, with so many cities having a guaranteed change in leadership.

"The reality is, when people go into politics, there is no manual, no textbook," he said.

"It does take them a while to find their feet, to learn the ropes, to figure out how to get things done, and that will be a learning curve, and I do think in that period of learning, there's going to be some challenges."

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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