British Columbia

Will changing face of Vancouver influence who gets elected?

SFU's Andy Yan says demographics, affordability and development have brought major changes to the city's the electorate in just 10 years.

Demographics, affordability and development have brought changes to city's electorate, says Andy Yan

Almost 10 per cent of all eligible Vancouver voters now live downtown. (Christer Waara/CBC)

With Vancouver's civic election less than two days away, new data is suggesting a shift in traditional neighbourhood power bases that could impact Saturday's results.

Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University's City Program, crunched census numbers from 2006 and 2016 along with City of Vancouver data to produce maps and charts showing how the distribution of eligible voters has changed in just 10 years. (An eligible voter is a Canadian citizen aged 18 or older).

Vancouver's eligible voter population shown by neighbourhood. (Andy Yan/SFU)

Not surprisingly, Vancouver's rapidly densifying downtown showed the biggest gain in voters, adding 16,690. That growth means almost 10 per cent of all eligible voters in the city — the most of any neighbourhood — now live downtown. 

The flip side is Dunbar-Southlands, which showed a decline of 1,090 voters, and Shaughnessy, which lost 915 voters.

"I think it really talks to the changing city and how much demographics, affordability and development (DAD) has reshaped it in just 10 years," said Yan. "And it really shows the electoral consequences of these DAD. patterns."

Yan says some West Side neighbourhoods, which are declining in overall population, are losing voters at an even great rate. 

Change in eligible voter numbers per Vancouver neighbourhood from 2006 to 2016. (Andy Yan/SFU)

One possible reason is that a portion of people moving into those areas are not Canadian citizens, and therefore not eligible to vote.

"They may be permanent residents for example. So the map reflects the changing immigrant citizenship geography of Vancouver," he said.

'Leaky condo of democracy'

Yan believes the data should also serve as a call to action around local democracy, noting that this election has seen allegations of vote buying in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond.

"I think seeing the antics in Richmond and Vancouver... the vote-buying touches on the fragility of this. It talks to how Vancouver has had a lot of deferred maintenance in its local democracy in terms of voter education and educating new citizens," he said.

"If we're not careful we're could end up with the leaky condo of democracy."

West Side decline 

Common sense might dictate that the decline in West Side voters is bad news for the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), the party that has traditionally seen a lot of support from that population. 

Percentage change in eligible voter population per Vancouver neighbourhood for 2006 to 2016. (Andy Yan/SFU)

But Yan says density and change don't necessarily or directly determine who is and isn't going to be elected.

"Sure the NPA's West Side vote has changed, but the question is, have they reached out to downtown, not to mention the south east of Vancouver? Has the NPA adapted and changed their approach?"

Yan believes a big takeaway from the data is confirmation of how rapidly Vancouver is changing. For this civic election, that means what happened in the past isn't necessarily a good gauge of what's to come in the future.

"A few neighbourhoods will vote in a particular mayor and council, but they're going to have to govern this entire city, all 115 square kilometres of it," he said.

"And of course the other side is voter turnout — how each neighbourhood is energized to vote, or not."