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Seeking votes in Vancouver, an independent candidate battles the odds

Vancouver voters have long been cool to independent candidates who try to get elected to city hall.

Carole Taylor pulled it off in 1986, but since then anyone who has tried to muscle in has been trampled. The reason is simple. In the fractious political landscape that's developed in Vancouver, you need the weight, organizational power and financing of a party to succeed.

Sandy Garossino hopes to change that. And if Vancouver voters can get over the habit of voting for slates (if only because it is an easy way to simplify a long, confusing ballot), she just might succeed.

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Ms. Garossino, a businesswoman and former Crown prosecutor, came to public prominence last February when she helped found Vancouver, Not Vegas. That grassroots campaign came out of nowhere and within months halted a proposal to build a 680,000-square-foot casino next to B.C. Place.

Ms. Garossino, who with her husband, Ravi Sidhoo, has raised five children, said she just couldn't imagine a giant casino sitting in the heart of her beloved city. So she got together with a group of like-minded people, raised $l0,000 – and slammed the brakes on a project that seemed like it was a done deal.

Independents rarely win municipal campaigns, but when they do, they usually have an impact, as Dianne Watts did in Surrey in 2005, when she became mayor.

And like Ms. Watts, Ms. Garossino brings fresh new ideas and a pragmatic, conciliatory approach to politics.

She says she is running as an independent not because no party would take her, but because she doesn't want to be assigned to one camp or another.

"It was really a deliberate choice," said Ms. Garossino of her decision be a lonely independent. "Party politics has been so fractious and so rancorous in Vancouver, I feel it is keeping a lot of great people out of politics. … I'd like to show there is a place for an independent voice at city hall."

It was her experience with Vancouver, Not Vegas that got her thinking about entering politics.

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"That was really fun. It was exciting," she said of the campaign to stop the casino. "And afterwards a lot of people began urging me to run for council."

So she did.

Initially it was tough to get rolling, but she feels the momentum is snowballing, just as it did with Vancouver, Not Vegas.

"The casino campaign was incredibly heavy lifting at first, but it just grew and grew. It feels like that now," she said. "People seem to really want an independent. They like to think an independent could have a chance. And they want to talk about affordability."

The affordability of living in the city is a key campaign issue for Ms. Garossino. She argues that Vancouver's residential real estate "has become a speculative commodity for global investors," and it is making the city unaffordable to many young people.

The issue of foreign investment in Vancouver real estate is a tough one for politicians to tackle, because the investors driving the market are largely from China, and no elected official wants to alienate that demographic.

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But Ms. Garossino said she has a lot of friends and business contacts in the Asian community, and they are as concerned as she is about the way young people are being priced out of the city.

"As an independent candidate, I do not have the answer to this problem. But win or lose, I pledge this much: we are going to start this conversation," she said.

Ms. Garossino is also concerned about the way big parties are financed. She says between them, Vision and NPA will spend about $5-million on the campaign.

"I find that very troubling and worrisome," she said. "Corporations that have an interest in the outcome of the election are major donors. That raises questions about the ability of council to be truly independent."

As an independent, she would love to raise that issue for discussion at council. But first she has to get elected. It might look like she doesn't have a chance, but occasionally a wild card does win, just as sometimes a small group of citizens can rise up to stop a giant casino.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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