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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson celebrates after he was re-elected in a civic election in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday November 19, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson celebrates after he was re-elected in a civic election in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday November 19, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Election Analysis

Vision's broad-based win reflects a changing city Add to ...

Vision Vancouver’s decisive win for a second term marks a shift in the city’s political dynamic as profound as the one that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has created in her city.

And, like Ms. Watts, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson achieved his victory by fashioning a broad tent.

“It’s a generational shift,” says Bob Ransford, a long-time Conservative supporter who threw in his lot with Vision in this campaign. “When I went to their fundraiser, the room was just full of people under 40. Vision has attracted a whole new generation of voters in this city. Immigrants, who hear a hopeful message. Self-motivated entrepreneurial people.”

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For her part, Ms. Watts cut out the ground from the old right-left debate in the city by forming her own party, Surrey First, that has gradually absorbed councillors from centre-left to far right, as well as getting support from unions, business groups and that suburb’s large Indo-Canadian community.

She cemented her hold on Surrey Saturday when her party took all the seats on council, eliminating the last councillor from the old guard, left-winger Bob Bose. She won 81 per cent of the vote.

Mr. Robertson, who joined the three-year-old Vision in 2008, has helped further that party’s efforts to create broad appeal, which it began to achieve by breaking away from the traditional left-wing COPE party.

In Saturday’s election, Vision easily dominated the vote, with support from both the traditional left as well as a significant contingent of the city’s developers, all the major unions, a huge group of under-35s, a wide group of ethnic communities including Filipino, Indo-Canadian and Chinese, and even – for the first time – west-side voters it hadn’t had before in Kerrisdale and Point Grey.

“The NPA only came back a little, with a net 1-per-cent increase,” said Richard Johnson, a University of B.C. political-science professor. “And it’s a question whether the two NPA councillors would have been elected had the COPE vote not collapsed.”

In the past, Vancouver has seen new-style progressives – Art Phillips, Mike Harcourt, Larry Campbell – briefly break through the NPA-COPE left-right divisions. But voters typically returned to the NPA once the new ideas became part of the orthodoxy.

But many think the city has now undergone a demographic and cultural shift that means a long-term change in political alignments.

“One thing’s for sure, Gregor owns the young vote. The under-35s were practically unanimously supporting Vision and Gregor,” said Bob Penner, the pollster whose detailed analysis of the many subgroups that support Vision guided the party to its solid election win. “For the future, that’s a pretty good base.”

The question for many now is what happens to COPE, the left-wing party that pinned its electoral fortunes on an agreement to work co-operatively with Vision. It went from two councillors to none.

The NPA will never disappear, given the strong core of conservatives in the city. The two NPA councillors were not its strongest candidates, lacking both a solid knowledge of how city hall works and a forceful presentation style. But Elizabeth Ball and George Affleck are less polarizing than others in the NPA, which may help win back voters.

“The unwritten story is COPE,” said Prof. Johnston. Its support has been essential to helping Vision candidates get elected, but it can’t continue to function without having some of its own people on council.

Prof. Johnston said union support may shift completely to Vision if the party can prove it’s “left enough.”

“If Vision Vancouver is more NDP-light than Liberal left, it seems they’ll have more or less permanent access to resources,” said Prof. Johnston. “If it tried to run on the model of the Liberal party, that would not have been a prescription for the long term.”

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