Does anyone out there want to be mayor of Vancouver? Anyone? Anyone?
That’s the question increasingly making the rounds among political insiders, as three parties are on the hunt for that vitally important, brand-defining, headline-generating leader in this year’s election campaign.
That quest is particularly important for the once-dominant centre-right Non-Partisan Association, a party that ruled the city for most of a 70-year period up to 2002, but no one appears to be putting their hand up.
In recent elections, the party suffered painful defeats under mayoral candidates Suzanne Anton in 2011, Peter Ladner in 2008 and Jennifer Clarke in 2002.
It squeaked out a victory under Sam Sullivan in 2005.
This year, city voters are irate over development plans, bike lanes, a nasty community-centre fight and a general sense that no one is listening to them. Some are looking for an alternative to the Vision Vancouver party and Mayor Gregor Robertson, and the NPA is mounting a particularly energetic hunt in a quest to regain status.
“Our top priority now is finding our candidates,” acknowledged Natasha Westover, a paid staffer for the NPA. “A lot of people see this as a change election.”
“We’re looking for somebody who’s a leader and will stand up for Vancouver, somebody’s who’s successful in their own right and somebody who’s community-minded.”
So far, there appear to be no public takers, at least among the names mentioned by party insiders and close observers of the political scene. That’s even though NPA president Peter Armstrong is said to be making extensive recruiting efforts with former Canuck star Trevor Linden, ex-B.C. finance minister Carole Taylor and others.
Among the names circulating, the responses have been mostly negative:
Former Vancouver police chief Jamie Graham, just retired four weeks ago as Victoria police chief, noted: “It’s just not in the cards.”
Said Tourism Vancouver CEO Rick Antonson, who will be leaving his job of two decades in a few months: “I care passionately about this city but don’t have any interest in that.” His plan is to become a full-time book writer.
SFU Chancellor Ms. Taylor, a perennial favourite in the mayoral-candidate rumour mill, ends her term there in June. But she said “while I have been approached by a number of people to run for mayor, my answer to everyone is the same: As chancellor of SFU, I am apolitical.”
Colin Hansen, another former B.C. finance minister, isn’t interested: “After 17 years of that workload, that is enough for one lifetime.”
And former Vancouver-Fairview MLA and health minister Margaret McDiarmid said it’s not her thing: “It’s not the area of politics I was ever interested in.”
Three people whose names are currently in rotation didn’t respond to requests for comment. They include former Vancouver Olympics organizing committee chief John Furlong, who has been dogged by controversy recently, Mr. Linden and current Vancouver police chief Jim Chu.
Mr. Chu just tweeted a friendly picture of himself with Mr. Robertson on Sunday at the Chinese New Year Parade. Bob Ransford, a former NPA campaign organizer, said he doubted Mr. Furlong would be interested. “I know John and that would be the last thing he wants to do.”
Finding a strong mayoral candidate is key for a party that has any serious ambition to get seats on council.
“The mayoral candidate is the flag bearer for his or her party, is able to crystallize the issues and shape the campaign,” said Tim Louis, chair of the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors. His party decided late last year to run a mayoral candidate against Mr. Robertson. That was an open declaration of war against Vision Vancouver, after two elections where COPE co-operated with Vision and only ran council candidates.
TEAM, a new party, is also hunting for a mayoral candidate – something that will make the difference in whether it is taken seriously on the civic scene.
“It’s that star status. It shows weakness in a party if they can’t muster a leader,” said Mr. Ransford, who ran Mr. Ladner’s campaign in 2008 but has been decidedly more Vision-friendly in recent years.
The leader, especially, matters to the big donors.
“They assess the viability of a political force based on their leadership. If you don’t have that, they’re not going to bet on you.”