I have zero inside information on the Non-Partisan Association’s internal polling numbers. But judging by an eleventh-hour Facebook missive from Ken Sim, the party’s mayoral candidate, I wager they concur with public polls showing Kennedy Stewart in the lead.
Mr. Stewart, who until recently was an NDP MP, is running as an independent and a recent Research Co. poll shows him in first place with support from 36 per cent of decided voters. He is the obvious target for Mr. Sim, who is behind at 23 per cent. (The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points for the full sample and 6 percentage points for decided voters.)
In the post, Mr. Sim heaps the entire blame for Vancouver’s affordability crisis and increases in homelessness on Vision Vancouver, the party that has led council for a decade. Then he exclaims that even though Mr. Stewart is running as an independent he is really a Vision candidate. And he means Vision in a bad way.
The label seems odd, given that Shauna Sylvester, who is also running as an independent and is in third place at 19 per cent, is closest to a Vision candidate this time round. She was a long-time Vision supporter who once sat on the party’s board.
A far more accurate description of Mr. Stewart would be to brand him an NDP candidate. Mr. Stewart drops the late, well-loved NDP leader Jack Layton’s name as often as possible and his campaign signs carry a band of signature NDP orange. He is counting on NDP support to help him win.
But because Mr. Sim perceives Ms. Sylvester as no threat, he ignores her history with Vision and is now hell-bent on linking Mr. Stewart to a party so discombobulated it is not even running a mayoral candidate this year. Ms. Sylvester told The Globe and Mail this week she fell out with Vision over housing and felt the party gave too much access to key players in the real estate industry.
Still, it is true that both Ms. Sylvester and Mr. Stewart’s campaigns are not far off the path set by Vision. They applaud Vision’s goal to become the greenest city in the world, its push for better transit and recent initiatives with the provincial government to erect modular housing for homeless people. However, both say Vision was wrong to embrace so many luxury condominium developments that most Vancouverites can’t afford. They would focus their efforts on building truly affordable housing.
Mr. Stewart is running a moderately left-of-centre campaign, promising more social housing, affordable rental and a continued harm-reduction push with an emphasis on drug substitution and treatment programs to combat the opioid overdose crisis. And while he does not advocate upzoning the entire city, he says more density is needed and he is prepared to stand up to communities that reject it out of hand.
Ms. Sylvester’s platform is similar. Her standout proposal is additional gentle density, which would allow up to five saleable strata units of housing for each city lot. She would push for more housing co-operatives built and run by non-profits and says no neighbourhood should be exempt from some densification.
Mr. Sim is the opposite. He believes communities have the right to veto density, although he wouldn’t allow 50 or 100 people in any community shut down a reasonable project. It’s amazing how communities can unite over this question, and giving them a veto means more towers in already dense neighbourhoods and fewer anywhere else. But apart from allowing two basement suites in all single-family homes, his housing policy is light on detail. Judging by his platform, with Mr. Sim and an NPA majority, little would change in Vancouver, especially on the NPA vote-rich West Side.
He would appoint many task forces, including one to study the rampant opioid overdose crisis, although he’ll need to bone up on that file. In a recent Globe editorial board meeting, he was confused by the difference between drug legalization and decriminalization. It’s something many people mix up, but given the severity of the problem, it’s something the future mayor of Vancouver needs to understand.
There are 21 mayoral candidates on the ballot for Saturday’s election, with splits on the right and the left. This election is up for grabs and whoever wins will likely be working with a disparate council. It will take a diplomat extraordinaire to achieve consensus, but it’s not impossible. As an independent, former mayor Mike Harcourt pulled it off in the 1980s. It might be time to try an independent again.
Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about civic affairs.