Civic parties and individuals planning to run in this year’s civic election may be smart to grab some oxygen, caffeine, or other thought-helper, and have a rational look at their prospects for getting elected. Then give some serious consideration to your real chances of getting elected. And the potential for “vote splitting” — siphoning off votes from other candidates who could unseat incumbents. Will you hand victory to those you wish to challenge?
The stakes are extremely high this year, with the future of Vancouver in the balance, billions of dollars of interests, and — for the first time — a four-year term of office. People have a pretty good idea of the behaviour of incumbents and their parties on City Council, Park Board, and School Board — many of them have been in power for six years already. But in Vancouver’s at-large system, it is difficult for challengers to get traction.
The election period has begun. Vancouver City Hall is accepting nomination papers for candidates and elector organizations on September 30 until October 10. The status at 4 pm on that Friday basically determines whose names are on the ballots for the November 15, 2014 civic election (though a candidate can still withdraw for a few extra days). We hope that parties and individual candidates will take another deep breath before submitting their papers.
Candidates should ask themselves some tough questions, and listen for honest answers: Why am I running for office? What is my ultimate goal? To get myself elected? To serve? For experience? To make a statement? For the adventure? To please supporters? Because I said I would (and can’t stop now)? To fix something? Or something else? (Note that some of the goals probably do not overlap.) Then take a deep breath and read on.
2. VANCOUVER ELECTION 2014: TOO MANY PARTIES? TOO MANY CANDIDATES?
Are there too many civic parties vying for seats, and too many candidates in each party? Vancouver eliminated wards in 1936 and adopted the current at-large system of voting, which makes the obstacles to getting elected nearly insurmountable — unless you have a specific strategy. Some civic parties have been able to play the system to their advantage. Vision Vancouver has done this the past two elections. Will the opposition give them a third-time majority in City Council?
Below we look at some statistics, scenarios, and real life examples. We look to an analysis by editor Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight, and at the case study of an independent campaign by Sandy Garossino in 2011.
Don’t get fooled by the over-simplified portrayal of left and right that some commentators and civic reporters like to use. Take for example the Vancouver Sun‘s portrayal of parties as big fish and little fish. Perhaps the real world is a lot more nuanced.
3. TWO POLITICAL FUTURES FOR VANCOUVER: MORE OF THE SAME? OR CHANGE?
If readers will permit us this take on reality, perhaps this is not a two-horse race. Not Vision Vancouver versus the NPA.
Perhaps the choice is this: “Vision Vancouver” versus “Anti-Vision”
Or to put it another way: “More of the Same” versus “Change”
Citizens have witnessed that Vision Vancouver, with an absolute majority on City Council (eight of eleven votes total), votes as a bloc (we are not aware of a single time when a Vision Councillor voted against the rest), makes decisions in secret (in caucus meetings), favours special interest groups (particularly, political donors), is stifling access to City Hall for reporters and the media, is failing the grade on public access to information, has imposed top-down decisions on many fractious issues it has created, has produced a flurry of citizen-launched lawsuits, has a non-transparent procurement system, has politicized the public servants working at City Hall, has engaged in data mining of personal information for political ends, makes secret deals with developers making public hearings a sham, is engaged in greenwashing, secretly pushed for the shift to four-year election cycles, alienates other levels of government, and may be hiding huge financial problems. (That’s the short list. Want to see a long list?) CityHallWatch and the media have covered many of these problems.
Is Vancouver ready for more of this? Four more years?
From this scenario above, you can see that the “anti-Vision” may have more votes, but broken up, each party is weaker than Vision Vancouver.
This year, in 2014, there is a huge potential that the large number of parties and candidates will end up diluting or splitting votes of those challenging the incumbents, giving the incumbents the advantage on election day.
4. A MODEST PROPOSAL: HOLD SOME RADICAL DISCUSSIONS AMONG THE ANTI-VISION CANDIDATES.
How could the numbers of parties and candidates be reduced with the aim of unseating the incumbent regime? Some parties/candidates may look at the math, decide not to run, and instead throw support behind other candidate(s). They could use their influence to extract further promises from the candidates left to run. Perhaps a civic party would hold a special general meeting to modify the candidate selection. Or an individual candidate might just decide not to run, and notify the party.
People may think that these tactics may be improper. Or that talking about them is nearly heretical. But the opposition candidates and groups need to talk to each other, tempered with a dose of reality. Perhaps we can be so bold as to suggest that even the NPA and COPE should reduce the numbers of candidates running, to focus their efforts on building the profiles of a smaller number of candidates.
5. WHY IS THIS NEEDED? OUR DEMOCRACY IS SICK RIGHT NOW. ONE POLITICAL PARTY (AND ITS DONORS) IS EXPLOITING AND BENEFITING FROM IT.
Why are these extreme measures worth considering? Because in a sense, Vancouver’s democracy is sick and we need to deal with it that way. Candidates and parties can receive unrestricted political donations from any entity, from any donor in the world. The public will never get the full report on who donated how much, because the requirement for reporting only applies to the election period, and disclosure reports are not even audited. Here is a graphic showing election expenditures in 2011 — and these are just the official numbers. A lot could have gone unreported.
In that context, it is important to put idealism aside and face reality. One party, Vision Vancouver, has been the biggest beneficiary of the largess of this system and is well entrenched in power on City Council, School Board, and Park Board.
There is speculation that Vision’s war chest for this election will be in the area of $5 million (money plus in-kind support). No one except insiders has any way to verify the numbers. In this context, how can our society as a whole deal with the November 15, 2014 civic election and heal our democratic system?
The solution must also acknowledge the critical role of Mayor as the representative of our local government and city. The Mayor also sets City Council agendas, has special powers, privileges and resources (e.g., some staff report directly to the Mayor, including chief of staff, and the Mayor gets special budgets), and sets the tone for the entire organization of a few thousand employees, our public servants. To change the regime, the head of the regime must change. Regime change.
[Added] The provincial government (specifically, the BC Liberals under Premier Christy Clark and Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development) has done democracy no favour, by legislating certain changes to the BC Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (Bill 20) in April 2014, yet failing to impose caps on campaign spending, and even extending the election cycle by a year, to 2018. See, for example, Epic battles for democracy on two fronts yesterday: BC Legislature and Vancouver City Council. Who won? Who lost? (At the provincial level as well, unions and corporations have excessive influence through political donations. See Record of political donations to BC Liberal Party: $40,340,683.94 (Jan 2010 to Feb 2014)
6. TWO-HORSE RACE? TWO-FISH RACE? OR IS IT A CARROT PATCH, WITH RABBITS?
We would rather like to propose this image: Vancouver is your carrot patch, filled with goodies. The Mayor and Councillors are rabbits. Which teams of rabbits would you like having to guard, nurture, and protect your patch?
Besides the typical left and right spectrum so often used to pigeonhole parties and people, try some other parameters to distinguish them. For example transparency (promised) versus size of the political campaign budget (estimated).
7. COUNCIL POWER DYNAMICS, VANCOUVER VOTER BEHAVIOUR
Election history in Vancouver shows low voter turnout (34% of eligible voters in 2011). In 2011 there were 418,878 registered voters, and 144,823 recorded ballots, giving a voter turnout of 34.57%. This was an increase from 30.79% in the previous municipal election (2008). What are we likely to see in 2014?
Vision Vancouver grabbed 70% of the City Council seats and 100% of Council power with votes from only 12% of eligible voters. Some important characteristics in Vancouver are (1) the at-large system for civic government positions, (2) lower voter turnout, (3) the existence of political parties at the civic level (It is extremely rare in Canada to have powerful political machines with their own organizations, caucuses, and budgets, functioning across time and election cycles.), (4) a high level of media concentration (a handful of powerful media organizations control information getting to the public), and (5) no caps on political donations.
There are voter tendencies to vote based on (1) civic party brand/image, (2) alphabetical rank of family name (better chance if your name starts high on the alphabet, like A, B, or C), and (3) ethnicity of candidate (ethnic Chinese seem to have an advantage).
8. ROLE OF MEDIA AND POLLSTERS, AND CANDIDATE ABILITY TO REACH THE PUBLIC
In Vancouver’s at-large system favours large and high-profile parties with big budgets, allowing them to reach out across the entire city.
This is why the owners and editors of mainstream media have a huge influence on who wins the election. Vancouver Sun, The Province, Business in Vancouver, Globe and Mail, National Post, Metro News Vancouver, 24 Hours Vancouver, Vancouver Courier, plus broadcast media like CBC radio and television, GlobalTV, as well as ethnic media such as Omni Television, and especially Chinese newspapers and media including Singtao, Mingpao, and more. The Georgia Straight has a special place as independent and popular media.
CityHallWatch has covered many problems with Vancouver government and politicians. We know that a lot of this stuff never get mainstream media coverage, or if covered, is incorrect, incomplete, or missing vital information the public needs to know.
The slant of an story can be determined by the editor that slaps the headline on the article. If you are running in a civic election, consider how much coverage you are likely to get from the big media. What are the chances the media owners and chief editors are going to shine their generosity upon you? What you have received so far may be an indication of what you are likely to get in the future. What are the chances the gatekeepers of information will have a revelation and change their approach suddenly in the final weeks before the election? Not so much, perhaps.
Similarly, the media owners/editors can play favourites by giving profile — burying a story inside the paper, or instead featuring it on page A1.
Likewise, pollsters play a critical role. They conduct their surveys, which are then taken up in mainstream media stories. But the pollsters can introduce bias and blindspots. Some are better than others.
Look at your other opportunities for exposure to voters. Even if there are thirty or forty events, attended by an average of say 70 people, that means a maximum of about 2,800 people you could have the opportunity to address directly at these meetings. That’s if you go to each event. Add on your street campaigning, special gatherings, and knocking on doors. Then remember, there may be over 430,000 eligible voters in 2014 (versus 418,878 in 2011), and if we are really lucky we might get a 37% turnout of passionate voters (say, 160,000 registered ballots). How do you expect to do?
Meanwhile, each election shows a growing role of web-based social media (Twitter, Facebook, InstaGram, YouTube, etc.) in citizen-to-citizen information sharing. These tools are low cost and instantaneous. But how many people are going to read and retweet your Twitter feed?
Ultimately, the power of the owners and editors of mainstream media to decide and control which candidates are to be blessed with their coverage will have a huge role in determining what reaches the voters’ minds, and with what bias.
9. NOW, TRY SOME SCENARIOS
Georgia Straight‘s editor, Charlie Smith, has a couple decades’ worth of experience observing Vancouver elections. He presents a fascinating analysis and some scenarios for Mayor and Councillors’ voting outcomes in 2014. His article poses many of the core issues in Vancouver today, and proposes which parties and candidates appear to be championing them. This is highly recommended reading, including some of the comments.
“The real contest in this Vancouver election is over control of council, not who’s elected mayor”
(by Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight, September 25, 2014)
We disagree with his opinion that this is a slam-dunk for incumbent Gregor Robertson, as many things could happen during the campaign. But we do think it is very valuable to look at various scenarios and their rationale. CityHallWatch invites tips on where to find other savvy commentaries and analyses for future coverage. E-mail us at citizenYVR@gmail.com.
10. VANCOUVER MAYORAL RACE – PAST RESULTS
As the title states, Charlie basically writes that it’s a slam-dunk win for incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vision Vancouver, so the real contest is about who controls the ten remaining seats on City Council. But not everyone may be so sure about that conclusion. Many things could happen between now and November 15. Charlie raises the case study of the 1996 election as a predictor for the mayoral race in 2014. He says that the NPA’s Philip Owen won in a landslide as the anti-NPA vote largely fragmented in two directions. We have taken the liberty to graph the 1996 results below. Note that four leading anti-NPA candidates garnered 41,088 votes combined, against Philip Owen’s 50,969.
Charlie also looks at the 2011 mayoral race, which we have graphed below. Ultimately, the race in 2011 was really between Vision and NPA. The mainstream media had a virtual blackout of coverage for Helten, the third in line. Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson won the race with 77,005 votes, against Suzanne Anton’s 58,142. Note that a total of 140,154 votes were cast for the top for mayoral candidates shown here. Remember that number as a reference for 2014.
Charlie then looks at the mayoral prospects for 2014, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each of the currently-declared front-line challengers. (Note that besides Bob Kasting, other independents have declared candidacy for mayor, and we will cover them in a future post.)
So here below, we show some other scenarios we have developed, jumping off from his assumptions. (Note his parameters and assumptions as you develop your own scenarios below.) He points out that Gregor Robertson (Vision Vancouver) took 77,005 votes in 2011 in what he says was a three-person race, and in 2014, predicts that even if Robertson’s support drops by 25%, he would still win the mayoral race. We calculate that to be 57,753 votes. This version of Charlie’s scenario then has 50,000 votes for Kirk LaPointe (NPA), 35,000 for Meena Wong (COPE), and 10,000 for independent Bob Kasting (independent). Gregor wins. Note that the total votes for these four mayoral candidates is 152,754. We believe this total is a realistic number if we get an increase in voter turnout for this 2014 election.
Charlie goes on to say, “That’s just one scenario, but you get the picture. It’s going to be extremely difficult for the NPA mayoral candidate to match Anton’s total given that LaPointe has far lower name recognition, no experience in municipal politics, and a higher likelihood of losing votes to a third candidate (Kasting) … meanwhile, Wong is unlikely to generate the 50,000+ votes necessary for her to win the election, given her party’s lack of money and COPE’s heavy reliance on tenants rather than homeowners… and Kasting’s prospects are far worse. The record of independents shows that he would be lucky to reach 10,000 votes this year.” So that’s that.
But as we know, elections can have surprises, and we have just over six weeks before election day. A lot could happen.
11. OTHER MAYORAL VOTING SCENARIOS 2014
Below, we tweak some of the parameters to show other possible outcomes.
If you would like to add a scenario to this list, send us your scenario and rationale (within reason). We reserve editorial judgement, but if good to share, will graph it and add to this post or make a new one. (citizenYVR@gmail.com)
So give it a shot. Who’s going to win the mayoral race? Think it out.
12. VANCOUVER CITY COUNCILLORS – VOTING OUTCOMES IN 2011
Have a look below at this outcome of the 2011 election for City Councillors.
In this 2011 election, Vision Vancouver candidates for City Council garnered a total of 413,879 votes with seven candidates. The NPA garnered more, at 456,258 votes with ten candidates. Did they dilute their own votes by running too many people? Meanwhile, COPE got 131,539 votes with three Councillor candidates, and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) got 63,264 votes with four Councillor candidates.
13. SCENARIOS FOR CITY COUNCIL, VANCOUVER ELECTION 2014
Charlie also made some comments on who might get elected to the ten seats for City Councillor (excluding the mayor’s chair). He names who he thinks are the possible or strongest candidates in each of the main parties.
How about other scenarios? For example a strong showing by new players in this election: the Cedar Party, OneCity, Vancouver First, as well as independent candidates and others who might still turn up before the nominations deadline on October 10?
14. SO, CANDIDATES AND CIVIC PARTIES, WHAT ARE YOUR SCENARIOS?
Look at factors like these, and compare to your evaluation of those you are competing against:
- Brand popularity of party
- Personal public profile
- Your campaign budget
- Your ability to get media coverage
- Profile among the masses
- Profile among specific voter groups (ethnic groups, special interests, arts/culture sectors, business sectors, unions, etc.)
- How you are polling so far
- Your access to strategic voter information (polling, studies, etc.)
Here again on the right is our graphic of seats on Vancouver City Council. Download it in PDF (Vancouver Mayor and Council seats – fill in the blanks, CityHallWatch) and fill out a few scenarios. Note that six out of eleven seats (including the Mayor’s vote) produces a majority when Council votes.
15. A SUGGESTION FOR NEW PLAYERS, INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES: LOOK AT SANDY!
If you are not part of a civic party, that is, you are running as an independent, you might wish to ask yourself if you will be — in effect — securing an election win for your incumbents by diluting opposition votes (siphoning from fellow candidates calling for regime change). That would be a perverse effect — handing victory to the very incumbents you are trying to kick out of office.
If you really want change, it may be smart to lend support to someone with good prospects. Some people may consider it sacrilegious to even articulate this thought in a democracy. But perhaps it’s worth an open discussion — especially when we acknowledge that we live in a twisted political/election system in Vancouver, as described above.
The stellar campaign by city council candidate Sandy Garossino in the 2011 Vancouver election is a good reference point. Compare your plans and campaign to hers. Can you in 2014 surpass her achievements? If not, will you be drawing votes away from others who may have similar policies to yours?
Sandy had a huge amount going for her in 2011. She started her campaign early, and is articulate, attractive, an experienced business owner, a practicing lawyer, a prominent activist, well-connected, and media savvy. She had an excellent support team of experts in 2011. She ran a focused campaign, was well-funded as independent candidates go (election expenditures $38,679), and garnered plenty of positive media coverage.
Her campaign garnered 20,886 votes—almost 15% of votes cast. Not bad at all for a first-attempt and for being independent of any political party. But not enough to win a seat on Council. Afterword, she wrote that her entire campaign was built around name recognition—and it was her biggest challenge. Note that Sandy only got 42.9% of what she needed to get elected (with 20,866 votes, whereas the threshold was 48,648 vote to get tenth place on Council).
Read her post-election observations: http://votesandy.ca/2011/11/22/thank-you-from-sandy-garossino/
Now, consider your prospects. And your ultimate objectives in running for office. Here is a free tool we have created in Excel format to help candidates consider things (download Tool for ranking independent Councillor chances 2014, CHW). We welcome improvements and suggestions, if you would like to share.
So to bring this back to our original point. Please give some serious consideration to your real chances of getting elected, and the potential for siphoning off votes from other candidates who could unseat incumbents. Look at the past and present, at your resources, your competition. Ask “Why am I running for office? What is my ultimate goal?”
Then take a deep breath.
We hope there that coming days and weeks produce some stunning and frank dialogue, and perhaps some happy surprises.
Rabbits. Carrot Patch. Vancouver.
A. CIVIC PARTIES RUNNING IN 2014 (to be updated; alphabetical order)
Cedar Party (running 4 candidates for Councillor)
COPE (running 1 Mayoral and 8 candidates for Councillor)
Green Party of Vancouver (running 3 candidates for Councillor)
NPA Vancouver (running 1 Mayoral and 8 candidates for Councillor)
One City (running 1 candidate for Councillor)
Vancouver First (at present 1 announced for Councillor and 2 each for School Board and Park Board)
Vision Vancouver (running 1 Mayoral and 8 candidates for Councillor)
B. OTHER READING
Wikipedia has a decent report of the 2011 civic election.
C. VOTE GAPS IN 2011
Difference in votes received between top and last candidate in each party that ran multiple candidates for City Councillor (excluding mayoral candidates) in the 2011 election (Source: CityHallWatch):
- Vision: 9,399 (7 candidates)
- NPA: 14,321 (10 candidates)
- COPE: 9,503 (3 candidates)
- NSV: 7,031 (4 candidates) (Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver)
- DGV: 3,529 (3 candidates) (Degrowth Vancouver)
D. DATA FROM THE CITY
It’s possible to review past election results in detail: Here are the links to the City’s data:
- http://data.vancouver.ca/datacatalogue/municipalElectionResults.htm (This one is excellent — see election results going back to 1996.)
E. DOLLARS SPENT (OFFICIALLY) PER VOTE IN 2011 VANCOUVER CIVIC ELECTION – UPDATED
We had a table here, but some numbers are to be rechecked. Will repost soon. We’d like to show dollars per vote by each party.
For the moment, consider this.
The total spent in 2011 election was $5,905,589 including campaign organizers, all candidates and all parties. Using a number of 418,878 registered voters, this means $14.10 PER REGISTERED VOTER. And with 144,823 votes cast, this means $40.78 PER VOTE CAST. Though we might tweak the numbers this gives you a sense of the magnitude of spending with the vast majority by Vision Vancouver and the NPA. People in other municipalities would be shocked to see this level of spending in a civic election. Why is so much being spent? To prop up an unhealthy system and those who benefit from it at the public expense. Regime change needed.
F. VOTING RESULTS IN 2011 VANCOUVER CIVIC ELECTION
|Summary of mayoral and candidate results|
|ZIMMERMAN, Darrell “Saxmaniac”||426|
|PAQUETTE, Victor B||333|
|COOKE, Lloyd Alan||309|
|BUDAY, Gölök Zoltán||268|
|Times Blank Voted||1,574|
|Times Over Voted||51|
|Number of Under Votes||–|
|Times Blank Voted||4,411|
|Times Over Voted||159|
|Number of Under Votes||198,057|
|LOUIE, Raymond P||VV||63,273|
|FOX, Amy “Evil Genius”||6,499|
|GILL, Lauren R.I.C.H||4,681|
|DHARNI, Michael Singh||4,166|
|NGUYEN, Marc Tan||4,119|
|COPELAND, Cord “Ted”||3,587|
|SPIRES, Aaron R.I.C.H.||2,200|
|MAXWELL N BUR, RH||1,955|
|Candidate Name||EO||Election Total|
|Times Blank Voted||10,818|
|Times Over Voted||117|
|Number of Under Votes||148,903|
|DE GENOVA, Melissa||NPA||56,501|
|HAMILTON, Jamie Lee||IDE||19,496|
|ANDALIS, Juliet Victoria||12,693|
|HASKELL, Peter Raymond||5,540|
|PRI TOOR, Freyja||5,063|
|Candidate Name||EO||Election Total|
|Times Blank Voted||11,473|
|Times Over Voted||207|
|Number of Under Votes||289,487|
|STARK, Robert Allan||13,391|
|HASKELL, Peter Raymond||11,915|