British Columbia·Analysis

Reimer? Deal? Nobody? Future of Vancouver's ruling party lacks vision as nomination deadline looms

They could be guaranteed to lose their hold on power before the election campaign even officially begins.

The party says they need to be re-elected to stop the NPA — but there are plenty of alternatives for voters

Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer says she's still deciding whether to run for Mayor of Vancouver after Vision Vancouver candidate Ian Campbell dropped out earlier this week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

To run for mayor of Vancouver, one only needs 25 signatures, and a $100 deposit. 

At least, those are the technical requirements. One also needs to have engaged in some introspection.

"I'm spending every spare moment thinking about it, and will come up with a decision in the next day or two," said Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal.

Added fellow Vision councillor Andrea Reimer:  "I owe it to [friends and colleagues], and the city and agenda I have worked hard for almost two decades now, to seriously consider so that's what I am doing."

On the record, nobody involved with Vision Vancouver wants to say much about the departure of former mayoral candidate Ian Campbell, just six weeks before the municipal election, for reasons he obliquely described as "my complicated personal journey."

Off the record, a few key party members have argued Vision should have made him be more clear about his "complicated personal journey," whatever it entails, during the vetting process to become their candidate.  

Regardless, few are spending much time dwelling in the past, because the reality of the present is this: the party that has led Vancouver for the last 10 years has until Friday at 4 p.m. PT to find a successor to outgoing mayor Gregor Robertson. 

Otherwise their long-term future becomes murkier than ever before. 

Best bet to beat NPA

When asked why they were considering a last-minute entry into the mayoral race, Deal and Reimer made the same point: they fear without a Vision candidate people would choose Ken Sim and the Non-Partisan Association, which has opposed much of Robertson's agenda over the last decade, from extra bikes lane to property tax increases.

"The biggest threat out there is seeing the NPA move back into power," said Deal, a point seconded by Reimer.

"The internal polling is pretty clear that an independent can't win," she said. "Vision is the best bet to stop the NPA, and other parties who want to move the city backward."

We don't have access to Vision's internal polling, or how accurate Reimer's claim is. But external polling is pretty clear — independent candidate and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart had a clear shot at winning with Campbell in the race. 

And given the overlap in the priorities between traditional Vision voters and Stewart's platform — including opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline — it stands to reason he'd have an even stronger chance without a Vision candidate. 

Even two of Reimer and Deal's Vision councillors seem to think so. 

"He's well-respected across the spectrum of the left," said Kerry Jang, who joined councillor Tim Stevenson in endorsing Stewart a day after Campbell's decision to withdraw.

"Unless we all band together and back a progressive candidate, one who's got a good track record on issues like the environment ... we're going to have all the stuff that the far right wants."

Independent candidate Kennedy Stewart has been ahead in public polls that have been released, but Vision Vancouver argues their internal polls show him trailing NPA candidate Ken Sim. (CBC)

End of an era?

Beyond Stewart, progressive voters have plenty of options for city council in this election that have nothing to do with Vision Vancouver, including (deep breath) COPE, OneCity, the Green Party, and five or six well-regarded independents.

Vision's one advantage over all of them was having a mayoral candidate that could help shine a light on council, school board and park board races. 

Without that, it becomes a lot harder to make that pitch for continued power — though Reimer championed the Vision legacy. 

"Vision has been courageous and ambitious in seeking policy solutions for Vancouver's most difficult challenges and has tried at every step to be positive, effective and compassionate, broad and welcoming to all voices," she said. 

Among Vision's many accomplishments, according to Reimer: It helped Vancouver build a "sustainable economy" and become one of the greenest cities in the world. It also stood up against increased coastal tanker traffic, provided funds for a subway line to the University of British Columbia and attempted to address the high cost of housing. 

Perhaps. But in the last 18 months, Vision and Robertson have seen several staff members leave for other jobs. The party lost a 2017 council byelection with just 11 per cent of the vote. They lost Coun. Geoff Meggs to the provincial NDP, and they will lose Robertson and at least three more retiring councillors next month.

And they could be guaranteed to lose their hold on power before the election campaign even officially begins. 

"We do need a refresh, and that's common with a political party," said Deal. 

Will voters give them that opportunity? 

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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