A man who has been behind dozens of political campaigns, including those of federal Liberals Paul Martin and Stéphane Dion, as well as former B.C. premier Christy Clark, is stepping out from backstage to run for Vancouver mayor.
In the latest addition to what promises to be a roller-coaster civic election campaign next year, Mark Marissen will announce Wednesday that he is entering the race because he thinks Vancouver is in trouble and none of the current candidates has a workable plan for saving it.
“I love Vancouver and I don’t think there is any leadership. The city is sliding backward,” he said.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Marissen focused on the need to create more housing for young people in Vancouver, better transit and more productive relationships with the federal and provincial governments. He said Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s approaches have often been one-dimensional and ineffective.
“One of the best examples is … his petition to decriminalize drugs. But they have effectively been decriminalized the last 10 years,” he said. What’s needed, instead, is more of a push from the city for effective and well-funded treatment for people trying to get away from harmful drug use, he said.
Mr. Marissen said he won’t be taking the route of some Vancouver politicians and groups who focus on tackling crime and public disorder.
“We have to start with love for our neighbours. Vancouverites are intelligent enough to know a simple law-and-order approach won’t work.”
Mr. Marissen said he has built up a team for the campaign, but still needs to recruit others to run with him. He did not want to provide information about a poll that was done recently on Vancouver mayoral candidates that included his name.
His campaign will add even more uncertainty to the 2022 civic election, as once-stable party politics in Vancouver have evaporated. In recent decades, City Hall was dominated by the Non-Partisan Association and then by Vision Vancouver, but the last civic election devolved into a tangle of multiple parties and independents.
Even though the election is 18 months away, two other people from the centre-right political world have already declared they are running, as has current mayor Mr. Stewart.
Mr. Stewart, a former NDP MP elected as an independent in 2018, has struggled to keep council going in a coherent direction, with four parties on his council, leading to a sense that he could be vulnerable. But it’s unclear who will emerge as his main opposition.
The NPA, which dominated Vancouver for many of the decades from the 1930s to the early 2000s, named Vancouver Park Board commissioner John Coupar as its mayoral candidate two weeks ago, through a private board decision rather than a membership vote.
The current elected NPA councillors, who already had concerns about a number of controversies surrounding the NPA board, have expressed dismay about that process and have not put out any statements of support for Mr. Coupar.
Ken Sim, the NPA’s mayoral candidate from 2018 who lost to Mr. Stewart by fewer than 1,000 votes, has said he is running as an independent and has raised more than $500,000 already to finance his campaign. There are suggestions he will run with a new party to be announced this week, one of two said to be on the verge of launching.
Those two candidates have the support of some well-known backers. Developer Rob Macdonald has been trying to work with and provide help to the NPA, while businessman Peter Armstrong has been raising money for Mr. Sim.
Mr. Marissen, 55, said he doesn’t have that kind of high-profile funders on his team.
He has been largely known for his work as a hard-hitting campaigner and lobbyist with federal Liberal connections and contacts within the Indo-Canadian and Chinese communities. In the 2004 federal election, he helped assemble a diverse group of Liberal candidates who led the party to a strong showing. His tactics and connections also helped propel Mr. Martin and Mr. Dion to party leadership, but those two politicians later did not go any further and the party was left with residual divides.
Besides that, Mr. Marissen has been a player and campaigner in the Vancouver civic scene since 2005.
That’s the year his then-wife, Ms. Clark, ran for the mayoral nomination of the Non-Partisan Association with his help, after Mr. Marissen had successfully pitched then-mayor Larry Campbell for a Senate position, leaving the field open. (Ms. Clark lost to Sam Sullivan, who went on to win for the NPA.)
He publicly supported Vision Vancouver for much of its 10-year reign, voting for Gregor Robertson as mayor three times, before turning against the party, he said, over its continued support for then-school board chair Patti Bacchus after reports came out about bullying on the part of the board and Ms. Bacchus.
In 2017 and 2018, Mr. Marissen helped get newcomer Hector Bremner elected as an NPA councillor in a by-election, then created a new party – YES Vancouver – with Mr. Bremner as the mayoral candidate.
A long-time federal Liberal campaigner said Mr. Marissen has an opportunity – though not a guarantee – to occupy key political space in Vancouver that could lead to a win.
“With the death of the old NPA and the death of Vision, people have nowhere to go,” said Greg Wilson, who worked with both parties over the years. “The most important things now will be listening to Vancouverites and surrounding himself with a strong, diverse group.”
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