Monday, November 21, 2011

Election Post Mortem

Saturday night was an evening of mixed emotions. On one hand, some of the candidates around the region who I wanted to see win, didn't. On the other hand, most did win. To those who won , my sincerest congratulations. To those who didn't win, thanks for putting your name forward in the expectation that you'd be undertaking a lot of work,and taking a lot of abuse, for very little compensation!

I was quite happy not to be a candidate this time around, and was flattered to be asked by The Vancouver Sun, CKNW and CBC radio and television to participate in their election night coverage. Quite a change from '08 when I watched the results coming in with my family and friends, jockeying for the 10th spot, only to be defeated by the hard working former Councillor Ellen Woodsworth. Sadly for her, this year she knows how it feels to just come close!

A number of people have asked me what I think went wrong for the NPA. While I was not part of the campaign team, I did speak regularly with some of the Council candidates, and offered a few ideas and suggestions with respect to the housing and development platform. I also questioned some aspects of the campaign.

In reviewing the outcome, it is obvious two things happened. Yes, NPA lost the election; but Vision also won the election. As the very successful NPA fundraising chair Rob Macdonald pointed out, Vision was much more organized since it had been preparing for this election for three years. The NPA, on the other hand, has been relatively inactive for most of this time.

I discovered this in fall '09 when I suggested the party should organize an event on the one year anniversary of the previous election to review what had transpired in the intervening 12 months. The NPA declined for lack of resources. I therefore decided to organize my own retrospective event with the assistance of Gordon Price and Bob Ransford. With participation by ThinkCity, Frances Bula, Jim Green and others, many thought it was worthwhile, and NPA subsequently announced that it would organize similar events on various themes in the future. Unfortunately, they never happened.

One reason these and other events didn't happen is tied to the fundamental question of whether the NPA is an ongoing political party, or a political organization that gets together once every three years to nominate candidates.

Immediately after the last election, I received a lovely handwritten note from May Brown who suggested that if the NPA was to compete with the extremely well-organized Vision, it would have to become a well-organized party too. I know she shared this opinion with others within the NPA, but no real organizational structure was put in place. There wasn't even an Executive Director! While there was a later conversation about whether to change the name and party structure, nothing really happened until earlier this year when the campaign got underway.

This year's campaign
Led by the respected Peter Armstrong, and aided by Macdonald's fundraising expertise, and the Pace group's Norman Stowe, NPA was first off the mark with campaign radio ads. While I was expected to defend them on my weekly CKNW Civic Affairs Panel discussions, I and many others were troubled by the negative, attacking tone from the start. When I privately questioned NPA operatives on this, I was told that the first half of the campaign had to be negative, but the second half would be more positive, focussing on what the NPA was going to do. "When you're so behind in the polls, you have to go negative" I was told.

While I was uncomfortable with the ads each time I heard them, I was surprised to see the messaging seemed to resonate with many voters who enjoyed the campaign team's mocking of bicycle lanes, front yard wheat and backyard chickens. I did think it was right to criticize the city's proposal to set up and operate a "Rent Bank", but as Frances Bula pointed out on CKNW, at the time this was not a serious proposal.

Throughout the campaign, many NPA supporters told me they too were uncomfortable with the negative messaging and wanted to hear what an NPA Mayor and Council would do, rather than the constant whining (yes they often used the word whining) about Vision's past activities. In response, Suzanne Anton started to point to the streetcar proposal, the relocated Art Gallery, and the Red Tape Commissioner as positive initiatives.

In fact there were Vision decisions that I thought the NPA should have and could have criticized, including decisions related to the Olympic Village Social Housing and marketing, the limited success of the Greenest City initiative when it came to new jobs, the administration of the STIR program, and some of the questionable development approvals. However, the criticism had to be accompanied by what the NPA would do better.

Do I think a different kind of messaging would have changed the outcome? I don't know. Probably not. As Sam Sullivan and others have noted, incumbents always have a significant advantage in any election. What I do know is some very good candidates who should have won, didn't. Most notable are Sean Bickerton, who worked so very hard for three years on behalf of his community, and Mike Klassen. While each offered a very different style, I wanted to see both elected. I do congratulate Affleck and Ball, and am pleased an increased number of Park and School Board candidates were successful.

(Not to take anything away from Affleck and Ball's victory, I do think it's time to reconsider the design of ballots so that the ABC's do not have such an advantage. I propose different ballots with the names rotated, so that each candidate has his or her name on top approximately an equal number of times.)

Slate voting is for dummies
As readers of this blog know, I do not advocate slate voting. Indeed, even while I was an NPA candidate, I voted for Vision candidates Deal, Meggs and Louie. This year I declared I would be voting for strong Vision candidates and I did. They all won!

I also supported the Green's Adriane Carr and Stuart Mackinnon. Sadly, the very dedicated and caring Mackinnon was not successful, but Carr was. While I do not know her well, and some people questioned why I supported her, I'm expecting her to be a positive addition to Council.

I also supported Sandy Garossino who by many accounts was a very bright, community spirited person. I didn't expect her to win, but predicted she'd get 25,000 votes. She got just over 20,000. An impressive showing for an independent.

So what comes next?
So now the hard work begins. The mayor has reiterated his promise to end homelessness by 2015. I personally don't think you can end homelessness, but there is a lot that can be done. This includes addressing mental illness and addictions. While the focus has been on opening more shelters during the past three years, I'm hoping for a more comprehensive strategy in the coming years.

I am also keen to participate in future discussions on how to deliver affordable housing. Last Friday the Vancouver Sun printed an Op-Ed I wrote on whether municipal governments can really address housing affordablility

Another key housing issue is how best to encourage alternative forms of housing in Vancouver. These include townhouses and stacked townhouses that could appeal to young families seeking an alternative to apartments. Many empty nesters and seniors, wanting to move out of single family homes, are also seeking new housing choices. These could include smaller lot singles, duplexes, triplexes, and clustered housing in their neighbourhoods. I also advocate laneway housing that can be sold, not just rented, similar to Hollyburn Mews, my project about to get underway in West Vancouver. I'll be writing more about this in the months to come.

So it's time to get to work. Again, congratulations to those who won election Saturday night. And to the 65% of residents who didn't bother to vote, that's your right. But I don't want to hear you complaining!


jesse said...

Michael, thanks for good comments here. I do think that Ball and Affleck, running with arts backgrounds, did better in part due to this.

Michael Geller said...

Jesse, I only met George Affleck very late in the campaigne, and am not familiar with his background. He's certainly a very affable person and will likely do well on Council.

I certainly agree wrt Ball, who has made many contributions to the arts, and previously served on Council giving her name recognition. But then some suggest she won the first time since she was part of an ABC... Anton, Ball Capri!

What does confuse me is why Bickerton didn't win. He was a B who ran on an arts and culture platform, and many other things. It may be his anti-casino campaign cost him votes...I just don't know.

george affleck said...

Hi Michael

Thanks for your thoughtful comments on the election. While alphabetical listing is a help, reporters might want to look closely at the voter turn out by poll. You will see I did well in the neighbourhoods where my kids go to school (False Creek), where I live (Yaletown) and where I spend a lot of time (West End/Coal Harbour). My connections via the Car Coop, the Comedy Fest, the Children's Festival and PAC also helped. Elizabeth and I not only have letters high in the alphabet in common, but I believe our campaigns were very similar. We were committed to the central campaign 100 per cent and we spent money and time reaching out to our specific constituents and got them to vote for us -- even if they did not support the NPA. I also represented the NPA at many debates and all candidates meetings where I was not the most popular candidate on the panel, but feel I won a lot of people over because of my background experience and my reasoned opinions on the subjects discussed.
As an elected official, my main goal will be to do what is best for Vancouver. I am honoured to be a representative on council. My wealth of experience on boards and running a business I think has prepared me well.
Time to get to work.

Michael Geller said...

George, thanks for taking the time to comment. I must say that since posting my post mortem, a number of people have suggested that your success was indeed attributable to much more than being an A, as was Elizabeth's being a B, or Adriane's being a C.

(That being said, should I ever run again, I'm running under my mother's maiden name.....Abbott!)

There is no doubt that getting out and participating in a campaign is one of the best ways to win. But you do need more as evidenced by the hard work by other candidates in a losing cause.

I am very much looking forward to watching how this Council operates, and hope it will be more collaborative than in the past. I hope you enjoy the next three years.

Kid A said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon Welch said...

I have to agree with George.

This was Elizabeth's 4th time running for council. She first ran in 1990 with Gordon Campbell (I think she came 14th). She has a lot on name recognition due her many political campaigns and her work in the arts community. Her neighborhood also had extremely high VoterID for the NPA.

I would also reiterate the fact that her and George were committed to the central campaign 100 per cent. They didn't stake out any policies that opposed Suzanne's and they didn't participate in those ill advised flyers that were sent out without Anton's name on it.

Basically, George and Elizabeth treated the NPA like a politcal party instead of a political association.

If the alphabet was really important, we'd have Councilor Aquino being sworn in on the 5th.

Elizabeth Ball said...

You seem to be mystified as to my winning a second election.
It is a real mistake to underestimate the power of decades of community service.
It is also a mistake to underestimate the power of those who value arts and culture.
For over three decades I connected with thousands of children and parents. Day after day, night after night I personally welcomed audience members to the theatre, taught classes and volunteered to better the lives of artists, children and seniors in the community. I produced hundreds of free Shakespeare performances. All those children grew up and remember the wonder they experienced in the theatre and the self-confidence they developed in drama classes. They know how important art and culture is and how deeply it has influenced their world-view. The many boards and city committees I served on over decades were confident in my hard work and creative solutions. The hundreds of artists I worked with know my dedication to creating work for artists.
My three years on Council were marked by unanimous support for my motions that resulted in many millions of dollars of job creation. I was able to do this in an effective way working with staff and council. I credit the voters who recognize my contributions.
There are many A’s and B’s over the years who haven’t been elected but Taylor, Owen, Kennedy, BC Lee, Don Lee, Ladner, Ford, Puil, Price, Sullivan, Wilking, Rankin, Harcourt, Yorke and dozens of others with non AB names have been frequently elected and reelected.

Sean Bickerton is a wonderful candidate. Recently he returned to Vancouver after many years away. I have no doubt that his continued community service will ensure that one day he will serve on Council. It won’t be the B in his name that gets him there.

Michael Geller said...

Hey Elizabeth, I was not mystified at all by your victory! As I wrote in a previous posting:

"There are a number of other strong and qualified NPA candidates. I don't know George Affleck but he has an extensive background in communications and media. Elizabeth Ball has served on Council in the past and is committed to furthering the arts in Vancouver. I'm told she's going to win again!"

I hope that's helpful.

That being said, as a result of work I did with Metro on how people vote on different issues, and the statistical analysis of others on success rates of candidates with different names, I would still argue that a ballot that allows every candidate to have his or her name on top an equal number of times is more equitable. If anyone disagrees, please let me know!

ps The first thing Joost Bakker, Chair of the NPA nominating committee said to me in 2008 after asking me if I'd consider running was "Your name starts with 'G'. It's not great, but not terrible!

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate your point on slate voting, I think Affleck, Ball and Carr should give thanks that Vision did not run a full slate. Otherwise . . .

Michael Geller said...

Gordon, I'm not so foolish as to suggest that people win just because their name starts with ABC. However, I do believe, as does Barry Link in today's Courier, that all things being equal, those whose names are at the top have an advantage.

In a different, but similar vein, Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers that one's success as a hockey player is often influenced by which month you are born in. Those born in January or February have an advantage over those born in the fall. If you want to know why, read the book!

I am sure someone has done research on this issue. If anyone knows, please let me know.

The other issue that needs to be discussed is whether Vancouver would benefit from WARDS, or a combination of Wards and at-large candidates. But that's a story for another day

Sean in British Columbia said...

I agree with "anonymous"

The NPA and Adrianne Carr should be very grateful that Vision Vancouver didn't run a full slate of candidates.

It wasn't long ago (1996) that the NPA won all 27 positions of the three civic boards of government.

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