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British Columbia Independents’ day: A look at the council candidates flying solo in Vancouver’s civic election

A staggering 71 candidates are competing for 10 council seats in Vancouver’s civic election. Of those, 28 are flying solo with no party to back them.

And unlike most elections, where incumbents with name recognition muscle out the rest, this time, only three incumbent councillors – Vision Vancouver’s Heather Deal, the Green Party’s Adriane Carr and the Non-Partisan Association’s Melissa De Genova – are running again. A fourth incumbent councillor, Hector Bremner, split from the NPA to form his own party and is running for mayor.

Setting aside the mayoral race, which also has 14 independent contestants, and assuming the three incumbent councillors win, that leaves seven council seats to be filled by newcomers.

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This void, combined with new fundraising limits that remove the huge advantage parties once had, may explain the flood of independent candidates. And while it is extremely difficult to win without a party behind you and no ward system (it’s impossible to door-knock an entire city), if ever there was an occasion when an independent could win, this is the one.

Among the crop of independents are some interesting people with solid résumés, both inside and outside of politics. Here are just five that are certainly worth a look. Some didn’t start out yearning to run as independents. But all report they enjoy being able to say what they really think free from the control of a political party.

Moderates may consider Rob McDowell, 54, a former diplomat who represented Canada at the first Canadian embassy in Hanoi. He speaks Mandarin and Vietnamese and now is a mediator/adjudicator on the Health Professions Review Board. He has served on the city’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee and supports the arts. Mr. McDowell has run with the NPA in the past, but the party didn’t choose him this time – probably, he says, because he’s federal Liberal at heart.

Lefties may want to look at Sarah Blyth, 46, a former Vision park board commissioner who traded politics for activism in the Downtown Eastside. She opened a pop-up tent staffed by volunteers with naloxone kits to help curb fentanyl-overdose deaths. The tent later became a city-sanctioned overdose-prevention site. She says she is ready to set activism aside, and work within the political system. Ms. Blyth says her split with Vision was not acrimonious, but she liked the idea of running on her own and new election-financing rules made it feasible.

Françoise Raunet, 44, is a school teacher who really is a Green in independent clothing. She has run for the Green Party twice provincially, but the civic party decided to run only four candidates in this election and she didn’t think she had the profile to win one of those spots. Naturally, she is passionate about the environment and bills herself as someone willing to stand up against developers and global corporations. She is running to get her ideas on the political agenda, and says that even if she loses, if some of them are discussed, she will feel she has won.

Further to the right is Wade Grant, 40, a member of the Musqueam First Nation, where he served as a councillor until he was named as former premier Christy Clark’s special adviser on First Nations issues. His father is of Chinese descent and has a lot of connections in Vancouver’s Chinese community, which gives Mr. Grant another asset. Mr. Grant has served on the Vancouver Police Board and co-chaired Vancouver Dialogues: First Nations, Urban Aboriginal and Immigrant Communities. He too had hoped to run with the NPA, but fell out with the party over its membership rules, which he said made it harder for Musqueam members to join. He considered joining Mr. Bremner’s new party but then decided to run on his own, to put his own voice forward.

Also leaning right is Erin Shum, 35, who currently sits as a park board commissioner and runs an organic day spa. Although she won her park board seat with the NPA, she says she chafed against being told to vote along party lines and broke free to sit as an independent. Vancouverites would be best served by councillors who could judge every motion on its merits, she says. Her interests are seniors and families and she would push for child care and co-housing options, which she believes would help both.

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