Across British Columbia, voters tossed out more than three dozen incumbent mayors in municipal elections on the weekend, signalling an impatience on key issues of public safety and housing affordability.
Especially in the major urban centres of Vancouver and Surrey, the results of Saturday’s voting also indicated a frustration with dysfunctional governments.
Businessman Ken Sim and all seven of his ABC party candidates won in Vancouver, a decisive result that indicated a majority of voters had grown dissatisfied with a fractured council that seemed to lurch from issue to issue without a clear direction.
In Surrey, councillor Brenda Locke, who pledged to scrap the creation of a municipal police force and return to a contract with the RCMP, defeated the embattled incumbent mayor, Doug McCallum. Mr. McCallum is awaiting trial on a public mischief charge related to a scuffle with political activists in a parking lot. Ms. Locke’s Surrey Connect team now has a majority on council and a mandate to try to undo Mr. McCallum’s four-year effort to create a new police force.
Across the province, sitting mayors from Cranbrook to Quesnel lost to newcomers.
Andrea Reimer, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and a former Vancouver city councillor, said the trend across B.C.’s municipal elections on Saturday was that voters tossed out anyone who seemed to be having trouble running a stable, functioning council.
“There was definitely a ‘change’ mood but not in a consistent way,” she said. “If they saw any challenges in the functioning of their local council, they wanted them out. It was more a referendum on ‘Can you do the job in tough times?’”
Public safety and affordable housing were dominant issues in many of the municipal campaigns, but the winning candidates were not consistently on one side or the other on law and order or housing development, she noted.
In Langford, pro-development mayor Stewart Young was ousted after serving seven terms. He’ll be replaced by a political neophyte whose campaign headquarters was a tent trailer on his family’s forested property.
“I really think voters just want to be heard and listened to‚” said Scott Goodmanson, Langford’s mayor-elect, in an interview Sunday. “People were breaking down on the doorstep, no one was listening to them on their issues.”
Langford was one of the few communities where voter turnout improved, rising to 24 per cent from a dismal 18.5 per cent in 2018. In Vancouver, turnout dipped to just over 37 per cent, according to a preliminary count, from 39 per cent in the last vote.
The sweeping changes across B.C. could foreshadow a more fractious relationship between the province’s NDP government and local councils. David Eby, who is expected to become the province’s next premier, endorsed incumbent Kennedy Stewart for mayor in Vancouver, a decision that won’t be forgotten by the city’s incoming mayor and council. Mr. Eby is currently the only approved contender in the leadership contest to replace outgoing Premier John Horgan. The vote is set for early December, but he could be acclaimed by the New Democratic Party sooner.
Mr. Eby has also outlined a housing platform that would curb the regulatory powers of local governments and strata councils, where zoning and bylaws limit housing stock.
That policy is a recipe for conflict between local governments and the province now that mayors and councils have a new four-year mandate to deal with zoning issues in their communities, said Frank Leonard, a local government-relations consultant and former head of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. “People take rezonings in their neighbourhoods pretty seriously,” he said. “If Mr. Eby wanders into a community and says he’s going to overturn a rezoning, well, good luck with that.”
The Vancouver campaign revolved around two major issues. The first was how much new housing to build, and where it should go. The second was what to do about Vancouver’s tangled knot of homelessness, encampments on public streets and parks, a wave of stranger assaults, mental illness, and illicit-drug poisoning.
During his concession speech, Mr. Stewart, a former NDP MP, touted his record of shifting Vancouver’s priorities to building rentals from building high-priced condos. “These last four years have been pretty tough,” he said, “but I do think we got the city through pretty hard times.”
Mr. Sim’s campaign team, headed by the man who also spearheaded B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon’s campaign, Kareem Allam, focused heavily on disgruntled homeowners in the city who felt like not enough was being done about public disorder. Mr. Sim pledged to hire 100 new police officers with 100 psychiatric nurses to provide a combined policing and health approach for calls from people dealing with psychosis. He received the endorsement of the Vancouver Police Union.
Mr. Sim’s ABC party holds seven of the 10 seats on city council, giving him the opportunity to pursue an agenda with much less guesswork as to where the votes will land.
“I think people want their city back,” Sarah Kirby-Yung, from the ABC slate, said Sunday. “Across the spectrum, it came down to, ‘We see our city is declining.’”
Mr. Sim is the first person of Chinese descent to be elected to Vancouver’s highest office, and in his victory speech he marveled how he had ascended to the position 135 years after Chinese immigrants were forced to pay a racist head tax after helping build the Trans-Canada railway. On election night, he thanked his parents, now deceased, for leaving a comfortable life in Hong Kong in 1967 with three kids and “3,200 bucks in their hand” to come to Vancouver, where he and another sibling were born.
In Surrey, Ms. Locke was elected four years ago as a member of current Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, but she quit the slate soon after being elected. “Surrey, you sure did have something to say and you said it tonight. You sent a very big message to Doug,” Ms. Locke said during her victory speech. “We need to keep the Surrey RCMP right here in Surrey.”
However, her commitment to halt the transition to a municipal police force will be difficult to achieve. Despite the election results, the Surrey Police Board is expressing confidence the city’s police transition process from the RCMP to a municipal force will continue. Police board executive director Melissa Granum noted that Surrey Police Service has already hired about 350 staff employees, with more than 150 police officers, including a chief.
With a file from The Canadian Press