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Fierce campaign boosts advance voting turnout in B.C. municipal elections

Vancouver mayoral candidate and incumbent Gregor Robertson carries his ballot for the civic election to an official after marking it at an advance poll on Nov. 12, 2014.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe And Mail

Voter turnout at advance polls in Vancouver and Surrey has nearly doubled in this election, as tight races in both cities have produced fiercely energetic campaigns, advertising wars and public debate.

In Vancouver, the fighting has ramped up noticeably since polls indicated last week that support for the ruling Vision Vancouver party was only five percentage points ahead of that for the Non-Partisan Association.

In Surrey, polls have shown that the race is split almost equally among the three main candidates: Linda Hepner, Barinder Rasode and Doug McCallum, along with their teams.

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Follow the B.C. civic election results live.

On the second-to-last day of campaigning Thursday, both major Vancouver mayoral candidates faced a barrage of questions from reporters and on social media about the gaffes, doubtful statements, missing reassurances, and questionable affiliations of their parties.

Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was grilled repeatedly about the startling public apology he made Wednesday. In a broadcast debate, he said he had occasionally overstepped in his drive to tackle the city's difficult issues, and he asked voters from left-wing COPE to support Vision to keep the NPA from taking over at city hall.

Mr. Robertson claimed he knew nothing about a poll done a few days before his statement where people were being asked whether they thought it was a good idea for him to apologize.

"It's an apology I offer in earnest," he said, refuting the idea that it was a calculated political move. "I want to make sure people feel heard."

NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe was asked about candidate Suzanne Scott's statement earlier in the campaign that she was the "last normal person able to buy" in her west-side neighbourhood. West-side residents have been complaining for the last couple of years that wealthy buyers from mainland China have been buying up houses and leaving them empty.

Mr. LaPointe said that sometimes candidates have been "goaded" into saying things that sound inflammatory, while Ms. Scott said she had zero intention of sounding racist.

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Mr. LaPointe was also asked about what his real plan is for housing, and about his party's ties to the federal Conservatives

On housing, Mr. LaPointe once again told reporters to read his platform, rather than answering a question about his plans to tackle it. And he dismissed recent suggestions from Vision representatives that the NPA is largely a Conservative party vehicle.

Both Mr. Robertson and his long-time supporter, philanthropist Joel Solomon, appeared in the Vancouver Observer, an online publication run by Mr. Solomon's sister, to float that theory in the past two days.

"The NPA has one of the key players from the Harper administration doing their mastermind strategy," the mayor was quoted saying. "And we don't have any doubts that there's big oil behind their campaign. Basically on the right, there's a very big conservative push to take power in Vancouver."

Mr. LaPointe dismissed those charges, saying that his campaign manager is a long-time federal Liberal and that the party has received money from both Liberals and Conservatives.

He did acknowledge his party is using the services of pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos, who has worked with the Harper Conservatives and, most recently, the B.C. Liberals in last year's election win.

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In turn, Mr. Robertson is also being accused of being a front for big-oil interests – only American ones. Vivian Krause, a researcher who has who has made a career of looking at American foundations that give money to Canadian environmental causes, laid that familiar charge in a couple of opinion pieces Thursday.

The intense back and forth in city campaigns has come as cities have ramped up their efforts significantly to make advance voting easier.

Almost 39,000 people have voted in Vancouver's eight days of advance polls, 98-per-cent higher than in 2011. In Surrey, advance voting increase by 84 per cent this time.

The increase in Vancouver came after the city added three new advance-voting stations and four more days to the early voting period.

Voting analyst Norman Gludovatz said the increase in numbers shows the initiative is working.

Susanna Haas Lyons, a public engagement specialist in Vancouver, said the increase in advance voting turnout may have been driven by reports that showed the gap between Mr. Robertson and Mr. LaPointe narrowing.

In the recent Toronto election, high early voting turnout was concentrated in higher income neighbourhoods.

Because Vancouver uses an at-large voting system, not a ward system, it's hard to track who votes in advance polls, but Ms. Lyons said people who vote early tend to fall in a higher income brackets because they have "more privilege in terms of their ability to have flexible schedules and commitments."

Frances Bula is a freelance writer

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