Politics in British Columbia has always been fascinating for both political observers and the general public. We only need to look at the 2017 B.C. provincial election and the nail-biting appointment of the News Democrat to government after an incredible result at the polls to see how things can change. B.C. politics has often been likened to gladiatorial blood sports with a winner take-all mentality.
The 2018 B.C. municipal election also promise to be equally interesting. With only five months to go until before the October 20th elections, so far seven incumbent B.C. Mayors have already announced that they will step down: Gregor Robertson (Vancouver), Greg Moore (Port Coquitlam), Ted Schaffer (City of Langley), Nicole Read (Maple Ridge), Wayne Baldwin (White Rock), and Lois Jackson (Delta). While in the second largest city in British Columbia, Linda Hepner, Mayor of Surrey has also announced she will not be running.
In contrast popular Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, has said he will run for a sixth term in October- given the biggest issue in Burnaby is the contentious Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, to which Corrigan and the city is opposed too, this should be a result to watch. Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, is also intending to run for a sixth term.
The reason for the unprecedented number of Mayors not running for re-election are various, some personal issues, time that needs now to be spent with families and a genuine reason to hand over to new blood. Many mayors and some councillors have been in politics for a long time, and a life in politics does take a toll on many. The long hours, unpredictability and stress of the job. In recent years the level of scrutiny, and criticism particularly by way of social media has grown even more intense and put pressure on local politicians, holding them more accountable than ever before in the eyes of the voters and the media. As the B.C. lower mainland’s populations grows, hot button issues such as the lack of housing, transport and affordability in the lower mainland, combined with social problems such as the opioid overdose crisis and crime have aroused a climate of hostility to politicians at both provincial and local levels that has been unprecedented.
It also needs to be pointed out that new changes in legislation which lengthened municipal terms of office from three to four years, began with the 2014 election, and is also a factor as local politicians weigh up the pros and cons of a longer term in office. Most will have to leave politics at some time to pursue a career elsewhere. Meanwhile new rules and reforms in municipal campaign finance rules from 2017, now impose bans on corporate and union donations, and individuals limited to $1,200 to any one candidate or political party’s campaign. The days of big business, property developers, corporations and wealthy individuals donating campaign funds of hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time to parties and candidates are over. This means a campaign-killing reduction in budgets for some parties and candidates who are now reassessing their much slimmer chances of getting re-elected with smaller campaign war chests, driving many candidates out of politics, and resulting in many new faces in council halls and chambers across B.C.
The local political scene in Metro Vancouver and Surrey in particular, is gaining attention. In Vancouver, the biggest news was the decision of Mayor Gregor Robertson announcing that he would not be seeking re-election in 2018. Observers point out that Robertson’s Vision party did not do at all well in the last Vancouver by-election. The fact that some current Vision Vancouver councillors are not seeking re-election, also harbingers that some of them seriously doubt their chances of taking office again. But, there is no shortage of new Mayoral candidates and councillor vying for election in Vancouver. Adriane Carr, Vancouver’s only Green councillor, is a possible Mayoral candidates along with independent. Shauna Sylvester, director of SFU Centre for Dialogue, The Non Partisan Alliance Councillor Hector Bremner, may run as an independent, while Ian Campbell, the hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation, is also seeking the nomination of Vision Vancouver for the Mayoral position. Former federal Conservative MP Wai Young is also seeking the Mayors job under the name of the newly-formed Coalition Vancouver. In addition, New Democrat MP for Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart has announced he will also run to become mayor of Vancouver as an independent candidate.
In Surrey, things are no less interesting. Surrey First, a party that swept all nine seats on city council in the 2014 municipal election has been the sole elected body without any effective opposition, first under the leadership of popular Mayor Dianne Watts, and later Linda Hepner. However, a new activist led party called the Surrey Community Alliance (SCA) is hoping to topple Surrey First’s monopoly at city hall. The Surrey Community Alliance aims to champion issues such as homelessness, transportation, crime and affordability. They are claim the grip of developers and big business is having far too much of an influence in the city of Surrey and needs to be curtailed. Surrey First on the other hand points to the rapid development of the City, particularly in the down town core as an example that its economic policies are working.
Surrey First councillors expressing an interest in running for mayor of Surry after Linda Hepner announced she would not be running include, veteran Councillor Tim Gill, Popular, former Mayor Dianne Watts, who has served as a Federal MP, and ran unsuccessfully for leadership of the B.C. Liberals, meanwhile has said she has no plans to run as Mayor..
Barinder Rasode, a former Surry First Councillors who split with Surrey first and ran for Surrey Mayor in 2014 and lost, coming in third is also reported as being open to running for Mayor again, but not for Surrey First. It remains to see who she will sign up with, or if she does run in some capacity.
Whoever runs, there will be new Mayors in the two largest cities in British Columbia along with a number of rookie councillors. New blood always leads to change and new ideas, but the collective experience, memory and knowledge of local government veterans is also vital, especially give the pressing issue affecting the citizen of the lower mainland. A “brain drain of Mayors who have been trying to tackle the problems affecting the region infrastructure and societal problems is certainly something to be concerned about. Whoever steps up and becomes Mayor or councillor in any municipality needs to be up to speed quickly. Whatever transpires in the coming months before October 20, it will be fascinating to watch.