Vancouver's complex council race 'overwhelming,' but critically important

Most of the attention focused on Vancouver's election has been on the mayoral race. But who gets elected to council is almost as consequential because little can be done without them.

An NPA majority is possible — but so too is the city's first divided council in 32 years

Advanced voting is now in place for elections throughout Metro Vancouver. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Christopher Porter is a software engineer, self-proclaimed "data nerd" and blogger who has been detailing the policy stances of candidates in Vancouver's election.  

Still, even he finds the complexity of 71 candidates (from nine different parties) competing for 10 council seats a bit daunting.

"I've been paying close attention, but it is overwhelming," he said. "Part of the reason I started disseminating this information is I have a lot of friends and colleagues that are frankly overwhelmed with the options, and want someone to simplify them."

Most of the attention focused on Vancouver's election has been on the mayoral race. But who gets elected to council is almost as consequential because — under the city's system of government — little can be done without them.

Which is one of the reasons Porter created a spreadsheet, showing public endorsements all 71 council candidates have received in advance of the Oct. 20 vote.

The sample size, he admits, is skewed toward people on the centre-left of the political spectrum, where Porter also sits. Yet it shows what political strategists in Vancouver have been discussing for weeks — the chance for the first time since 1986 that Vancouver could have a council where no party has a majority.  

"There's still a chance the [Non-Partisan Association] gets a majority of seats," said Porter, "but if we do get that kind of mix of Green, COPE, OneCity and a few others, it'll be an interesting time in Vancouver's political scene."

City of Vancouver election staff have been handing these booklets out to people in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, encouraging them to vote. (City of Vancouver)

Greens with balance of power?

Polling on how people plan to vote for council has been limited, but a Research Co. online survey earlier this month showed 51 per cent would consider voting for Green Party candidates, the highest of any of party. (The margin of error was 4.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20). 

Next in terms of support were independent candidates (50 per cent), the NPA (35 per cent) and COPE (34 per cent).

Of those, only the NPA is running enough council candidates to form a majority. And no party is running a full slate, meaning anyone choosing to fill up their ballot will be forced to choose a mix of candidates.   

Outgoing NPA councillor George Affleck believes the Green Party will do well, and incumbent NPA councillor Melissa De Genova will also get elected. 

But after that, he has no predictions. 

"The other people will either be all NPA or a real grab bag of candidates. Anything could happen. They're all over the map, it's really really quite interesting," he said. 

Affleck believes it could better reflect the will of voters and ensure more collaboration, but also cause stress for city staff, who are in charge of implementing policy. 

"I'm worried staff will have a chaotic council that won't be able to make decisions," he said.  

"Collaboration is one thing, but driving the agenda is another, and if you can't drive the agenda, you can't get much done."

No real change?

University of British Columbia political scientist Richard Johnston says the situation in Vancouver this year is unique. But he also says there's no guarantee a "minority council" would mark a departure from past councils because many of the parties on the left agree on most issues. 

"It doesn't necessary follow that the complex ballot will mean an outcome that will be similarly complex," said Johnston. 

"It may turn out to be council could be not so different: a little bit less in lockstep, but not so different than what we've seen in the last decade, just with more names in play."

And while the number of candidates to consider has caused headaches for some, Affleck believes the dynamic election has been a positive. 

"People are saying 'I'm going choose selectively, and pick people I think are the right people for the job,' which is what we should always do."