The race to become the next mayor of Vancouver is officially a gong show.
Kennedy Stewart, the activist MP from neighbouring Burnaby, announced this week that he was resigning his seat in the House of Commons to run for mayor as an independent. Mr. Stewart is probably best known for his strident opposition to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. This makes him a natural to take over from the Kinder Morgan foe who has held the mayoralty for a decade – Gregor Robertson.
Mr. Robertson represents Vision Vancouver, the centre-left political party that has dominated politics in the city during his time in office. Initially, the party bizarrely said it would not be fielding a candidate for mayor. Now, it says it will – we think. Meantime, there is a plethora of left-wing organizations promising also to run a mayoral candidate. The field is getting congested, with the possibility of the so-called progressive vote splintering in all directions. This could open the door to a winner from the centre-right Non-Partisan Association.
That is, if the NPA wasn’t in the process of imploding.
The party is now enveloped in an ugly controversy involving Hector Bremner, who currently sits on council under the NPA flag. He was planning to seek the party’s nomination for mayor and had signed up 2,000 new members. He apparently got the go-ahead from a vetting committee only to have that approval overturned at the board level under mysterious circumstances.
The board won’t say why Mr. Bremner’s candidacy was rejected, only that it involved serious concerns it had about something. It’s been suggested that concern involves the fact Mr. Bremner works for a marketing company that deals with developers, something that could put him in a conflict as mayor.
That would seem to be a matter that could easily be remedied. As mayor, Mr. Bremner could recuse himself in situations where there might be a conflict. Or, better still, he could take a leave from his job while in office. (Given that the mayoralty is a full-time gig, that would likely have been the best option).
Mr. Bremner’s supporters believe there is something else afoot. They say the board has been stacked with supporters of Glen Chernen, someone who is also seeking the party’s nomination for mayor.
Mr. Chernen is an interesting fellow, to say the least. He ran for mayor in the last election under the banner of the fringe Cedar Party, which he founded. He was a non-entity. He became best known for launching frivolous lawsuits against Mr. Robertson. In the last election, he was anti-development, anti-rapid transit (he was against the Broadway subway) and all about lowering property taxes. In other words, he was the Back to the Future candidate.
Word has it he’s also signed up a lot of new members for the NPA; that means he could win the party’s nomination, which would be a disaster for the party. Sure, there might be some bluebloods on the city’s west side yearning for the good old days who might fall under the thrall of Mr. Chernen’s status quo, let’s-give-the-city-back-to-the-people message. But he couldn’t win the city. Not a chance.
If Mr. Chernen prevails, the NPA will have let the best chance to return to power in a decade slip through its fingers.
Which leaves the spurned Mr. Bremner to decide what he will do next.
He is an agreeable, hard-working sort, who believes in densifying the city. One of his ideas is taking some land in Vancouver’s tony Point Grey neighbourhood and building low-cost market housing that millennials could afford. This has gone over like a ton of bricks in pricey Point Grey, which may be another reason the city’s most powerful made sure he didn’t get the NPA mayoralty nomination. This is a proxy war over housing.
Mr. Bremner may still run for mayor as an Independent. There is also some talk of him heading up a new civic party, which would be wild. He has credible allies, some of whom planned to run for council under the NPA label but who have now left the party over its treatment of Mr. Bremner. They could run alongside him.
Mr. Bremner’s backers don’t have much time – the election is in late October – but crazier things have happened.
Right now, however, the race for the mayor’s office is a wide-open crapshoot. In a crowded field anything can happen. The choices people have could be stark.
But given the crossroads at which the city finds itself, the decision couldn’t be more important.