Metro Vancouver and BC’s Civic Elections

Written by: Patrick Smith

Metro Vancouver is made up of 21 municipalities; it includes eight of British Columbia’s largest cities within the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley city-region. These include the City of Vancouver (632,000), Surrey (520,000), Burnaby (235,000), Richmond (200,000), Coquitlam (144,000), Langley Twp. (120,000) and Delta (105,000) – plus Abbotsford (in the adjacent Fraser Valley Regional District – 145,000) as well as a number of quite small (under 5000 population) local authorities, such as the Island Municipality of Bowen Island (3800), villages of Anmore (2300) Lions Bay, (1400), and Belcarra (645) and one Treaty First Nation (Tsawwassen – 900) –plus 16 ‘other’ non-treatied Indian Reserves. 

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In the 2014 local government elections, the best predictor of victory was incumbency; the majority of city-regional mayors were white and middle aged. In 2018, 13 of Vancouver-area’s 21 mayors did not run again and 16 mayors elected were newly returned. As to why so many sitting mayors did not re-offer in 2018, the clearest explanation is the new BC Local Election Financing legislation; for the first time, limits on donations and spending meant that fund-raising was more cumbersome.

In addition to fewer incumbents running, several who did run were also defeated: the most surprising was Burnaby Mayor, Derek Corrigan, losing after 16 years as mayor of BC’s third city and 31 years on council, Corrigan fell to ex-firefighter and political newcomer Mike Hurley. Other mayors who failed to be re-elected were from Port Moody, Pitt Meadows and White Rock; and in Richmond, the re-elected mayor, Malcolm Brodie won but with reduced support on council. In sum, 2018 civic elections in Metro Vancouver – and in BC – represented one of the largest single turnovers in recent civic history.

Taking the civic election outcomes of the three most populous local authorities highlights how seeking a general outcome or pan-Canadian comparison is mostly a mug’s game: In Vancouver, despite its long history of strong local party politics, the mayoral winner ran as an independent and two of the top three candidates were likewise independent. On council, while half of the ten places were won by the NPA (the city’s oldest party, the GREENS took 3, COPE – the ‘second’ original city party – won a single seat as did One Vancouver, a new entity. Though the apparent council split is 5 right of centre and five centre-left, the Labour-endorsed mayor, Political Scientist Kennedy Stewart’s vote could mean a range of 6-5 motion votes. Stewart’s margin of victory was 957, with the Non Partisan Association in second place. A total of 21 candidates contested for City Mayor.

In Surrey, BC’s “Second city”, an incumbent mayor decided not to run but her local ‘majoritarian party – Surrey First – did and were essentially shut out. Controversial ex-mayor Doug McCallum – more than a decade out of office – swept in with a neophyte council on a two-item platform of replacing Canada’s largest RCMP detachment with a new civic police force and replacing recent funding approved for a light rail system with a differently-routed and more expensive Skytrain technology (to eastern suburb Langley vs Surrey’s southern Newton neighbourhood.)

Meanwhile, in Burnaby, sitting between the two largest cities, Mayor Derek Corrigan, BC’s most successful mayor, seeking a fourth mandate with every council and school board seat was turfed out by a political newcomer, Michael Hurley. Unlike in Surrey, Hurley who was clearly elected Mayor, arrived with no council colleagues; Corrigan’s Burnaby Citizens Association incumbents were all returned, save one; DOA Punk Rocker Joey Shithead (aka Joey Keithley) won a single seat for the Greens. Burnaby’s $1B reserve was not enough to balance a local perception that Burnaby had not done enough on the Mayor’s watch on the housing affordability file.

Some of the most significant changes coming out of the 2018 local elections are expressing themselves in metro regional governance: apart from the Surrey shift in rapid transit policy direction, the head of the Translink Mayors’ Council was long-time Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan. His defeat meant that New Westminster Mayor, Jonathan Cote, takes on that role. At Metro itself, veteran councillor Sav Dhaliwal from Burnaby becomes new Metro Chair. While regional leadership has experience, the corporate memory of other regional representatives is significantly truncated at a time when key issues confront regional authorities.

With a federal election pending within a year, and provincial governing dependent on a tight coalition and a by-election in the new year (in Nanaimo, where a sitting NDP MLA ran and won as mayor), the local multi-level political landscape in Metro Vancouver makes for steep learning curves for new local representatives, and the potential for considerable high politics for senior authorities. Whether all the changes in regional political personnel in Metro Vancouver will lead to more collaborative arrangements or to intergovernmental political infighting remains to be seen. With four year local election terms, we will have time to figure it out.

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