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Vancouver voters will be scrolling down a very long ballot when they choose a new city government next month, as a record 158 people are officially running for 27 open positions in a civic election unlike any in decades.

New campaign finance rules, a higher-than-usual number of incumbents declining to run again, and Vancouver’s at-large system means the vote on Oct. 20 will be unpredictable, city watchers say.

The tsunami of Vancouver candidates, which includes 21 for mayor and 71 for the 10 council positions, was firmed up when the deadline for filing papers to participate passed on Friday. Candidates are also vying for spots on the school board and parks board.

Several other cities are seeing a bump as well, as the sense that these are “change” elections – with a lot of people frustrated about the cost of housing, traffic congestion and crime – has prompted many newcomers to enter.

The decision of two-thirds of the 21 mayors in Metro Vancouver not to run again “opened up people’s eyes,” said Simon Fraser University professor Patrick Smith.

“In previous elections, incumbency was the main indicator that someone would be elected again. And the election-finance rules helped some mayors decide not to run again this year.”

Campaign fundraising rules were changed for the civic elections this year. Corporate and union donations are banned, and individuals cannot give more than $1,200 to a single candidate or party, a disadvantage to those running with parties.

The city, which has been roiled by bitter debates on how to control the price of housing, had as many as 119 candidates in 1993′s election.

But since then, the numbers had mostly tapered off, to a level of 30 to 40 would-be councillors.

A spokesman for the city said the city clerk has decided all the names will be on a single ballot, which will have to be longer than in the past. Civic elections throughout B.C. are on Oct. 20, a month earlier than before.

The massive number of candidates, combined with less money for advertising because of the new limits, has some observers and campaigners worried turnout will be low because voters are baffled by the choices.

That could benefit incumbents, or candidates with a dedicated core of supporters on a particular issue.

“If you don’t know a lot of the candidates, you’re probably going to vote for the people you know or you decide to stay home,” Dr. Smith said.

Vancouver is one of Canada’s few major cities where candidates are elected “at large” – that is, they represent the whole city – rather than by wards, as they are in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa and many others. All B.C. cities use the at-large system.

In spite of the high numbers of candidates in Vancouver, the party that dominated for a decade – Vision Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson – will have no mayoral candidate and not enough council candidates to get a majority.

Vision went through turmoil last week after its mayoral candidate, Ian Campbell, decided to withdraw just four days before the filing deadline.

Two councillors, the departing Andrea Reimer, and Heather Deal, who is running again, mused that they might jump in as the mayoral candidate, but neither did.

Instead, Vision officials said the party would consider whether to endorse one of the two independents who are appealing to voters from Vision, the Green Party, OneCity, and the Coalition of Progressive Electors.

There are five parties and mayoral candidates on what is labelled the right or centre-right.

Places like Delta, the City of North Vancouver and Coquitlam each have more than a dozen people running for the six to eight council seats, with three to five candidates for mayor.

Nanaimo has at least 20 council candidates for its eight seats, and two would-be mayors, including NDP MLA Leonard Krog, competing to run the city, which has been plagued by internal strife.

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