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British Columbia Vancouver mayoral candidate’s clearing of conflict allegations is latest twist in civic vote

A billboard for mayoral candidate Hector Bremner in Vancouver, B.C on Sept. 14, 2018.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A Vancouver mayoral candidate who was pushed out of the city’s centre-right party over conflict of interest allegations during his time as a councillor has now been cleared.

But those allegations from months ago prompted Hector Bremner to go off and start a new party – one of many complications in this year’s civic election that has led to one of the most confusing ballots in the city’s history and near-paralysis among some voters.

In a break from previous Vancouver elections in which two or three major parties made up most of the names on the ballot, voters on Saturday will need to pick up to 27 candidates in the races for mayor, city council, school board and park board. (Unlike most Canadian cities, Vancouver does not have a ward system for council and has political parties in its municipal elections.)

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There are nine parties, including several new ones created for this year’s campaign, and two of the front-runners in the mayoral race are independents. Vision Vancouver, the party of outgoing Mayor Gregor Robertson, is without a candidate to replace him after Ian Campbell withdrew from the race.

Recent changes to campaign-finance laws have also made it easier for smaller parties who aren’t competing with the same limitless fundraising and spending that has caused the cost of previous election campaigns to balloon.

The result is an arms-length ballot – with candidates listed in an order picked at random – that is so complicated the city has created an interactive tool to help voters map out their voting plan in advance. The strategy, for others, has been to develop curated lists of who they are going to vote for and then posting them on Twitter or Facebook, which friends then use as a guide.

“People are finding there’s no credible way of figuring this out,” said former councillor and long-time political observer Gordon Price. “There’s been so much movement in and out of parties, like Hector Bremner. My hunch is that people will go for the brands.”

Despite the apparent confusion, University of B.C. political science professor Max Cameron said he thinks the proliferation of new candidates and new parties, such as Mr. Bremner’s Yes Vancouver, may inspire voters to search more energetically for information as they try to figure out how to navigate the lists.

“It does raise the bar for voters, they’re going to have to learn more,” Prof. Cameron said. “We’re operating with a very low level of information without [the usual] party labels. But we’re kind of hitting the refresh button in our local politics.”

One local voter, Christopher Porter, has compiled a spreadsheet to aggregate the information on the lists so people can see how like-minded voters chose.

Several academics have also produced charts that provide general categorizations, in order to help people understand the sometimes contradictory positions of the many choices.

The Green Party, for example, is viewed by many as a safe choice for those wanting to support environmental policies. But critics have noted that the party’s councillor, Adriane Carr, has voted or expressed opposition to the Broadway subway and to dozens of new housing developments in the city – positions that are seen as anti-environmental by those critics.

One chart, by UBC sociology professor Nathanael Lauster, identifies the Green Party and the Coalition of Progressive Electors as left-leaning “preservationist” groups that tend to support neighbourhood opposition to development, on the same end of the spectrum as right-leaning groups such as the NPA and Coalition Vancouver.

Mr. Bremner’s party is similarly ideologically confusing for people because he is promoting an aggressive new approach to zoning and housing densification in the city, by opening up single-family neighbourhoods to new forms of housing.

The result, on both the left and the right, is that people are picking and choosing among multiple candidates and parties to craft their next city council.

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