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On Saturday, Vancouverites will choose a new mayor from among a crowded field of candidates, in one of the city’s most unusual races of recent memory. The candidate nominated by the incumbent mayor’s party is out of the race, while newer parties and independents are fighting over a political landscape transformed by stricter campaign-finance laws. Whoever wins will inherit messy challenges in housing policy, urban planning and more. Here’s what you need to know first.

More reading: The candidates' housing policies compared


What makes this election different

April 30, 2018: Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks during an announcement at the future Amazon office in Vancouver.

BEN NELMS/Reuters

Exit Robertson: After a decade in power, Mayor Gregor Robertson of the Vision Vancouver party decided earlier this year that he wouldn’t run for re-election. In June, Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell was acclaimed as Vision’s next mayoral candidate, but last month he abruptly dropped out of the race for vaguely explained personal reasons. The party opted not to replace him before election day, and a host of other parties and independent candidates are hoping to exploit that power vacuum on Oct. 20.

Spoiled for choice: Vancouver residents have 21 mayoral candidates to choose from and a record number of candidates for seats on its city council, school board and park board. In all, there are 158 candidates fighting for only 27 positions. Political observers argue that Mr. Robertson’s exit and the departure of other incumbents is emboldening more newcomers to run.

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Campaign financing: Last year, B.C.'s NDP government overhauled the province’s political fundraising laws, banning corporate and union donations and capping individual contributions at $1,200. While established parties have still raised a lot of money in this election – the centre-right Non Partisan Association (NPA), for instance, has more cash than every candidate and party on the left – it’s less than they had before, and the parties have a somewhat more level playing field. The new laws also have a loophole that benefits independents who pool their efforts unofficially, but without declaring themselves part of the same party, which would allow them fewer $1,200 donations. Some independents have been doing just that by buying joint advertising, which they say is legal as long as they disclose everything to Elections BC.

Vancouver’s party system explained

Vancouver's City Hall.

BEN NELMS/The Globe and Mail

Aside from Montreal, Vancouver is the only major Canadian city whose government has a party system. Some parties have been putting forward mayoral and councillor candidates for decades, while others have crystallized around new mayoral candidates and are running this year for the first time.

Putting those parties on a traditional left-right spectrum can be messy, but here’s how the Cambie Report politics podcast did it. In an online survey, respondents rated parties and independent candidates on economic and social issues, and on a scale from “conservationist” (generally anti-development) to “urbanist” (generally pro-density, favouring more transit and bike lanes). On the economic versus social grid (shown below), the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) is farthest left, and the NPA – which has elected 10 Vancouver mayors since the 1940s – is the main right-wing party. But both COPE and the NPA were deemed more conservationist, while Mr. Robertson’s Vision Vancouver (which was founded as a breakaway group from COPE) was more urbanist.

Not every party is fielding a candidate for mayor this year. We’ve previously mentioned Mr. Campbell’s exit from Vision, but COPE is also without a candidate after the man seeking their nomination, Patrick Condon, had a stroke. Other established left-wing parties didn’t put forward candidates either and reached a union-brokered deal over the summer to limit their candidate pools and avoid splitting the vote.

Here’s a breakdown of who the parties are, with their mayoral candidates in parentheses.

Ken Sim, NPA's mayoral candidate.

Rafal Gerszak

ESTABLISHED RIGHT-WING PARTIES

  • Non-Partisan Association (Ken Sim)

ESTABLISHED LEFT-WING PARTIES

  • Vision Vancouver (no candidate)
  • COPE (no candidate)
  • Greens (decided not to field a mayoral candidate)
  • OneCity (no mayoral candidate, but has endorsed independent Kennedy Stewart)

Wai Young, the Coalition Vancouver candidate.

DARRYL DYCK

THE UPSTARTS

  • Coalition Vancouver (Wai Young)
  • Yes Vancouver (Hector Bremner)
  • ProVancouver (David Chen)
  • IDEA Vancouver (Connie Fogal)
  • Vancouver First (Fred Harding)

Kennedy Stewart, left, and Shauna Sylvester listen to a question during a mayoral debate on Sept. 17.

DARRYL DYCK/for The Globe and Mail

HIGH-PROFILE INDEPENDENTS

  • Kennedy Stewart
  • Shauna Sylvester

OTHER INDEPENDENTS

  • Maynard Aubichon, Golok Z Buday, Sean Cassidy, Ping Chan, Mike Hansen, Sophia Cherryse Kaur Kaiser, Jason Lamarche, Katy Le Rougetel, Tim Ly, Lawrence Massey, Angela (Rollergirl) Dawson, Satie Shottha, John Yano

The big issue: Housing

Housing isn’t the only election issue – there’s transit, campaign financing, and the logistics of Canada’s upcoming cannabis legalization – but housing is definitely No. 1. You’ve all heard the horror stories: Living in Vancouver is expensive, despite crackdowns by the province on speculative buying and money laundering and Vancouver’s tax on empty homes. Prices have been slowly easing down, and the city recently moved toward more density by allowing duplexes in almost every neighbourhood that previously allowed only detached houses.

The mayoral candidates are promising all kinds of new measures to go further and make homes more affordable. Here’s a breakdown of their major proposals. Their promises broadly fit into three main types:

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  • Zoning and density: The candidates are sharply divided on a city hall proposal for blanket rezoning that would allow more density in all single-family and duplex areas. Critics argue more density would damage the character of existing neighbourhoods. Mayoral candidates Ken Sim and David Chen oppose blanket rezoning, while Shauna Sylvester says the plan “only got it half right” by not including incentives to create more affordable rental housing. 
  • Taxation: Taxes have been the province and city’s main weapons in the housing crisis. There’s the foreign buyers tax, which the Liberals introduced and the NDP expanded; a speculation tax that the NDP has introduced; and Vancouver’s empty-homes tax, the first of its kind in a Canadian city. Candidate Kennedy Stewart wants to triple the size of the empty-homes tax, from 1 per cent of a vacant property’s value to 3 per cent, while Vancouver First wants to scrap it and other candidates want to review it or limit its scope. 
  • Public vs. market housing: Ms. Sylvester and Mr. Kennedy are pushing for more public housing, with the latter proposing 85,000 new units in a decade, 25,000 of which would be non-profit rentals. Hector Bremner argues that market-side building and rezoning can address the problem, and that “most people don’t need public housing.”

How do I vote?

  • Am I registered? Anyone can vote if they’re 18 or older and a Canadian citizen, as long as, at the time of registration, they’ve been a resident of B.C. for at least six months and a resident or property owner in the city for at least one month. If you haven’t registered yet, here’s how to do it online. You can also register in person at the polling place.
  • When and where do I vote? Advance polls are already open until Oct. 17, and on Oct. 20, the polls open at 8 a.m. (PT). You can search for your nearest polling place here. 
  • What should I bring to vote? If you’re already registered, you should have received an information card at the end of September. Bring it with you to speed up the voting process. If you’re not registered yet, these are the kinds of ID they’ll accept at the polling place. At least one of the two documents should have your signature on it.
  • When do I know who wins? Polls close at 8 p.m. Check back at globeandmail.com or follow our B.C. bureau staff on Twitter to get the latest news.

More reading

ON THE CANDIDATES

Hector Bremner’s clearing of conflict allegations is latest twist in civic vote

Kennedy Stewart tells city to brace for density

ON HOUSING

In the Vancouver election, it’s all about housing

Mayoral candidates offer sharply differing plans for boosting housing density

Affordability crisis reaches Vancouver suburbs, report finds, increasing threat of homelessness

ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE

Union electioneering sparks legal controversy in Vancouver mayoral race

B.C. to review campaign finance laws after civic elections

Several Vancouver mayoral candidates pledge to disclose names of donors

Vancouver developer’s money paid for billboards supporting mayoral candidate

ADRIENNE TANNER’S TAKE

It may be time to elect an independent again this Vancouver municipal election

Vancouver voters should keep expectations in check amid the wealth of spending promises

Former Conservative MP Wai Young could be spoiler in Vancouver mayor’s race

Where did Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner get all that money for those billboards?

GARY MASON’S TAKE

The verdict on B.C.’s new campaign-finance laws at local level: Still bad

Vancouver is desperate for a new mayor who is unafraid to make unpopular decisions – now

Compiled by Globe staff

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