A First Nations hereditary chief will be the mayoral candidate for one of Vancouver’s major political parties, raising the possibility the city could get its first Indigenous leader who is also a strong opponent of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Squamish Nation hereditary chief and council member Ian Campbell was acclaimed as the candidate for the governing Vision Vancouver party. If he wins, Mr. Campbell would be the second Indigenous mayor of a major Canadian city after Brian Bowman, who is Métis and was elected in Winnipeg in 2014.
“It’s really because I believe in this city,” Mr. Campbell said on Thursday when asked why he wants to be mayor. “My ancestors welcomed the first arrivals in 1792.”
The City of Vancouver, the provincial government and a number of First Nations are challenging the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in court. Mr. Campbell is named as a plaintiff, on behalf of the Squamish Nation, in a pivotal Federal Court of Appeal challenge to the project that is awaiting a decision.
At the same time, he was involved with the Squamish Nation’s decision to potentially support a nearby LNG project on Howe Sound, subject to the community’s own environmental review.
He is also an MBA-trained negotiator in a massive land deal that saw the Squamish join with the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations to buy and develop major parcels of real estate in Vancouver.
But, in announcing his candidacy, Mr. Campbell shied away from debating the pipeline and avoided casting his candidacy as an Indigenous one, although he did highlight his experience negotiating with other levels of government.
Instead, he focused on issues such as the city’s housing problems and the ongoing overdose crisis.
“We are at a crossroads in Vancouver and it’s essential we continue to build on the tangible results Vision has created,” Mr. Campbell said .
“My priorities match the concerns [of residents], the number one issue being affordable housing and solving that problem.”
Mr. Campbell was supposed to be competing for the mayoral nomination, but the other candidate recently stepped down for health reasons. The party announced on Thursday that Mr. Campbell had been acclaimed.
This week, the city’s centre-right party, the Non-Partisan Association, chose Ken Sim, a Chinese-Canadian entrepreneur with no political experience, as its mayoral candidate.
The choices of the two dominant parties show the changing place of ethnic groups in Canadian politics, says a professor who has studied the issue nationally.
“We’re seeing more and more racialized minority candidates running for office across the entire country. The selection in Vancouver augurs well and says good things about the political process there,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a Ryerson University political-science professor who has analyzed minority representation in cities across Canada. “I think we’re moving onto a healthier stage.”
Those choices come along with a plethora of other visible-minority candidates running for various positions in Vancouver and other Lower Mainland cities. That includes a new contender for a Vision council spot, 36-year-old Wei Qiao Zhang, potentially the city’s first Mandarin-speaking candidate from the wave of mainland Chinese immigrants who have arrived in Vancouver since 2000, who also announced his run for a nomination on Thursday
The elections in Vancouver and several other municipalities are opening the door to new candidates because many long-time politicians are retiring. As well, the political game has changed significantly because of new campaign-fundraising limits introduced by the NDP government last fall that will effectively kill off the multimillion-dollar campaigns the two major parties used to run.
That has prompted a wave of younger and more diverse candidates to come forward. In Vancouver, it has also produced an unusually large crop of mayoral candidates, as a result of perceptions that the two main parties have been weakened because of their failure to address the city’s housing crisis fast enough.
Mr. Campbell and Mr. Sim have both emphasized the need for housing solutions, a strong economy for the city and solutions to the city’s overdose-death epidemic.
Mr. Campbell describes himself as a “unifier and bridge-builder” who will focus on what Vancouver residents care about most.