British Columbia·Metro Matters

Richmond's dynamic council battle offsets dull mayoral campaign

Do most Richmond voters care more about hot-button issues around development and race or more traditional municipal issues?

2 parties teaming up to kick out 'establishment' councillors proof that politics makes strange bedfellows

If re-elected, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie will become the longest serving mayor in Metro Vancouver.

In an election season with so much change, the City of Richmond seems to offer stability. 

Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who has received between 67 and 72 per cent of the vote in his last three election victories, is seeking another term.

Richmond may be B.C.'s fourth largest city, but attention on local politics often focuses on mayoral races — and Brodie is the overwhelming favourite.  

"Someone like Rick Hansen could beat Mayor Brodie, but unless you've got a very big profile, he'll be very tough to beat," said Carol Day, one of Brodie's more persistent critics on council. 

"He's done a good job on a lot of issues, and there's things that people don't agree with, but overall he's done a very good job of building a network of supporters, and that takes years to put together."

For this part, Brodie says he's not taking the campaign against five other candidates — none of whom have held elected office — for granted.  

"I'm feeling cautiously optimistic, but the only time you relax is after the election," said Brodie, who listed housing affordability, congestion and preserving Richmond's agricultural lands as key priorities. 

8 councillors, 5 factions

But beneath the mayor's race could be the most interesting council fight in Metro Vancouver. 

All eight councillors are also seeking re-election, the only place in the region where that is the case. There are four different political parties — which hold seven of the eight council spots — hoping to pick up seats. 

At their heart, they can be split into two groups: the more centrist parties that hold a majority on council (Richmond First and Richmond Community Coalition, with a combined five councillors) against RITE Richmond (currently represented by Day) and Richmond Citizens' Association (currently represented by Harold Steves), who have formed a coalition this election.

"We've been there for the last four years, trying and trying to give the people of Richmond a voice and unsuccessfully," said Day. 

The Citizens' Association has long been associated with the NDP, while Day ran for the B.C. Conservative Party in 2013. 

But they're united in believing the establishment parties need to have their influence reduced. 

"We'll create good debate, because we're not all cut from the same piece of cloth," said Day. 

One of the higher-profile issues in Richmond over the last four years was whether to legislate at least 50 per cent English on all commercial signs. Council eventually voted to have a non-binding 'encouragement' policy. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Divisive issues = important issues?

One thing that unites the Citizens' Association and RITE is their belief that on a number of hot-button issues — from mansions on farmland to Chinese language signs to the influencing of developers — the city hasn't been forceful enough in pushing for change. 

"We need to have the gumption and bravery to deal with these issues head on," said Day. 

"Many of the other councillors are too afraid of being politically correct, and that completely shuts down their ability to do anything effective."

Richmond First's Bill McNulty, who has been on council since 1993, says he hasn't heard too much from voters about Chinese signs or birth tourism — and thinks that Day's stance shows a misunderstanding of how a council should operate. 

"When you get onto council, you have to represent everyone in the community ... we all have different points of view. Those points of view need to be respected. In some cases, they are not," he said. 

"You cannot always vote no and go against everything. We're one of the fastest growing communities in the Lower Mainland of people wanting to be here. We have to represent those people coming in and respect them." 

Right track or wrong track? 

Do most Richmond voters care more about hot-button issues around development and race or more traditional municipal issues?

The city's only independent councillor, former Olympian Alexa Loo, thinks it's the latter.

"People are generally happy. Life is good. Sewers and sidewalks are operating. We've built two new firehalls in the last while ... Generally, people are getting the services. They're getting the things that they want," she said. 

Add it all up, and it looks like a classic "change vs. status quo" election. If voters agree with Loo, it's likely Richmond's city council looks much the same a month from now. 

If they don't, a big shakeup could be in the works.  

CBC Vancouver is exploring the mayoral campaigns in each of Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities leading up to civic elections on Oct. 20.

Read more from CBC British Columbia

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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