Wai Young owns a bike. Yes, that Wai Young, Coalition Vancouver’s mayoral candidate, whose platform calls for three bike lanes to be ripped up. A knee injury prevents her from riding these days. But she enjoys cycling and says she doesn’t for the life of her understand why the media has seized on this one aspect of her campaign with such fervour. Really?
Ms. Young is no political neophyte. She has run three times for the federal Conservatives and served one term as MP for Vancouver South. She is a savvy politician who plays to her base, which includes a large contingent of conservative voters from South Vancouver where the incumbent Vision Vancouver party is unpopular. So although her narrative about entering the mayor’s race to make Vancouver a better city rings true – she has an incredible community-service background – her attempts to portray herself as a victim of sensational media coverage do not.
She understands separated bike lanes are a hot-button issue in Vancouver, which had very few of them until Vision Vancouver made them a transportation priority. Bike lanes became synonymous with Vision, a centre-left party that set out to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city. Ms. Young’s supporters see Visionistas as environmental zealots who failed to solve the city’s affordability, homelessness and drug crises. When Ms. Young rails against even one bike lane, she does it deliberately to tap that vein of discontent.
Ms. Young’s populist approach won her 15,000 votes in the last federal election, although she lost to now Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. If even a third of her supporters turn out this time, she could prove a key player in the coming civic race.
There is no doubt Ms. Young will steal votes from Ken Sim, the establishment Non-Partisan Association candidate and one of this race’s front-runners. Ms. Young initially wanted to run for the NPA herself, but was rebuffed by the party so peeled off to form her own. Hector Bremner, a city councillor who was elected under the NPA banner and similarly dumped as a mayoral candidate, also formed his own party. He too is a potential NPA spoiler. Mr. Bremner may have a crop of young voters coalescing around him. But he does not have Ms. Young’s deep community connections and political experience.
Ms. Young was born in Hong Kong, but emigrated with her family at age 4. She was that kid who volunteered as a crosswalk guard and was a Big Sister to a special-needs child. She earned a sociology degree and headed to the Downtown Eastside (DTES) where she worked to improve safety for sex trade workers, advocated for new immigrants and helped set up a breakfast program at Strathcona Community Centre. She has twin girls of her own and has fostered seven other children over the past 18 years. One died recently in the DTES, a memory that brings tears to her eyes.
This is the side of Wai Young people love and respect, and the reason the federal Conservatives courted her to run for office. She favours drug treatment over legalization, and promises to build more social housing in partnership with non-profits. As for affordability, she would never sell another piece of city land to a developer and would pave the way for purpose-built rentals.
But when it comes to campaigning, Ms. Young’s sweet side evaporates. She attacks Vision, saying the party “lined its own pockets,” a statement for which there is no proof. The NPA, she says, is controlled by “backroom boys” who think it’s their time to “feed at the trough.” The attacks go on.
And yet when the hyperbole goes wrong, Ms. Young tries to dodge her slip-ups. Those flyers sent to constituents claiming that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was promoting pot use among children − the Conservative Party’s doing, not hers. And that time she claimed CSIS had advance warning of the Air India bombing − poor ESL phrasing. Her first language is Cantonese.
Ms. Young’s shoot-from-the-hip style and her propensity to blur facts to advance her conservative law-and-order agenda makes her popular in certain circles. She’s a long shot to win. But she will get votes and I’ll bet she has Mr. Sim looking over his shoulder.