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 http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/Affordable+housing+difficult+goal/5731584/story.html
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!