Vancouverites, make sure you do your homework before going to the polls — an all-time record of 11 parties are running candidates in the upcoming municipal election on Oct. 15.
It’s resulted in a crowded ballot of 138 party candidates and independent hopefuls running for mayor, council, school board and park board.
Why so many?
An underlying reason: Vancouver doesn’t have a ward system. For council, Vancouverites choose 10 candidates to represent the whole city. Cities with a ward system only vote for one councillor to represent their part of town, like how they choose an MLA or MP to represent their riding.
A more recent change: a crackdown on “big money” in municipal politics. In 2017, the NDP introduced new campaign financing rules. Corporate and union donations were banned and individual donations were capped at $1,200, diminishing the fundraising of large municipal parties. It’s evened out the playing field for small parties vying for seats.
Also: there’s still a power vacuum waiting to be filled. The Vision Vancouver party under former mayor Gregor Robertson — known for its environmental policies, social progressivism and friendliness with real estate developers — dominated council for three terms and controlled the school and park boards for some of that time. Come 2018, voters booted Vision out of government (with the exception of a lone school trustee — we see you, Allan!).
In Vision’s place, Vancouverites elected a council with mixed leanings. It was thought that Kennedy Stewart, a former NDP MP who won the mayoral seat as an Independent, would be enough of a progressive unity candidate to get motions passed. While some big items were approved, the government was generally inefficient, with one councillor describing it as “running on fumes.”
But there’s trouble too on the right side of the spectrum: the NPA, the main rival of Vancouver progressives for decades, was splitting. A number of fresh parties have emerged, each picking up players who’ve ditched the NPA.
So there you have it! A race with a whole lot of parties: old ones, new ones, rebranded ones.
It’s a lot to digest before heading to the polls, so here’s our notes on all 11 parties to help you make sense of the battle lines.
In 2018, Stewart was able to win the mayoral seat as an Independent, though he did have the backing of the Vancouver and District Labour Council (no surprise, with his NDP roots) and was considered the leading progressive candidate due to his experience in federal politics.
Once again, Stewart has stayed away from running with other left-of-centre parties. Instead, he’s the frontliner of a new one, called Forward Together (the party’s logo looks a bit like the icon for Google Drive). The name is a popular political slogan that’s been used by the likes of Richard Nixon and the federal Liberals and Greens.
Stewart badly needs a majority on council if he wants to get things done. Presiding over a council of Independents and representatives from four different parties proved challenging last term. Disparate councillors were eager to file their own motions, drawing out already long meetings.
“When you think about it in parliamentary terms, it’s a minority government where every party has a chance to form a coalition on every vote,” Stewart told The Tyee last year. “It’s almost like an Italian parliament where you have a hundred parties and 35 governments fall in a row. You are literally surviving vote-to-vote.”
It would help if his new party could elect some council candidates to have his back. Forward Together is running a handful, many of whom have ties to the NDP. One of them is Stewart’s former communications director. One of them worked as a constituency assistant for David Eby. Another is Stewart’s wife, chair of the political science department at Douglas College. None have experience in elected office.
It’s the closest thing Vancouver has to a conservative municipal party, despite the misleading name. The NPA, founded in 1937, has been known for being pro-business and fiscally conservative, though it has picked up socially progressive positions popular amongst Vancouverites over the decades.
Ever since Vision showed up, the NPA has not been able to elect a mayor. But the power of the party brand has allowed it to maintain a presence on council. In 2018, the NPA won an impressive five seats, more than any other party, in the most crowded Vancouver election to date.
But signs of trouble on the NPA’s board were already showing when it forbade Hector Bremner, one of the party’s sitting councillors, to put his name forward for the party’s mayoral nomination for unknown reasons. Bremner left to lead a new faction, a self-described YIMBY party (more on that later).
Then came 2019, which marked a dramatic turning point for the NPA when it elected new board directors.
One of them was Christopher Wilson, a former bureau chief for the far-right online publication the Rebel, who had made headlines when calling former climate change minister Catherine McKenna “climate Barbie,” used by many as a sexist insult. Also elected was Angelo Isidorou, a writer for the conservative website the Post Millennial, who would eventually step down over a controversy reported by The Tyee related to a photograph of him crashing an anti-Trump rally and flashing a hand gesture that has come to be associated with “white power” extremists. Isidorou denied that he had flashed a hate symbol and said that he’s since been critical of Trump after previously being a supporter.
There were also two new directors endorsed by the Let’s Vote Association, which is against the province’s sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum.
NPA Coun. Rebecca Bligh, who identifies as queer, resigned from the party shortly after because of this, noting it was a break from the party’s history of LGBTQ2SIA+ support.
A domino of departures followed. In 2020, four directors quit the party, saying it had become “irrelevant” and disorganized. In 2021, three other sitting NPA councillors resigned from the party after it decided to appoint, rather than elect as per usual, a mayoral candidate for the 2022 election. “[I]t was about as old-boys-club as it gets,” said one. The councillors cited the recent party turmoil, such as its far-right characterizations, and said that they “lost confidence” and “don’t have faith” in the NPA.
The mayoral candidate appointed by the board was John Coupar, a longtime park board commissioner known for helping save the Bloedel Conservatory at Queen Elizabeth Park. Coupar had been ramping up his run for over a year, but abruptly resigned in August. Just two months earlier, he’d be touting a “bright future” for the city. Coupar didn’t share a detailed reason for his departure, but the Breaker reported a dispute between him and the party’s board over financial support and policy advice from developer Peter Wall.
To replace Coupar, the NPA found a new mayoral candidate in Fred Harding, a former cop with experience in London and West Vancouver. He now runs a business consultancy for corporate clients, looking to bridge North America and Asia.
This isn’t Harding’s first election. He ran under the fledgling Vancouver 1st party back in 2018, during which he said that the province was “overreaching” and “got it all wrong” with SOGI. It resulted in backlash that caused one of his party’s own school board candidates to resign. Harding later said that his comments were about the province’s lack of consultation with parents. Despite his emergence as a fringe candidate who received about one-ninth of the votes Mayor Stewart did, Harding received star treatment by Chinese-language media due to his marriage to Zhang Mi, a prominent singer.
Harding’s message with the NPA so far has been on law and order.
“I'm looking forward to restoring safety. I'm looking forward to bringing leadership back to the city,” he said at his campaign launch. “We need to bring the police back into the equation.”
Despite the revolving door of NPAers, one member on council has remained with the brand. Melissa De Genova is running for her third term.
Kennedy Stewart’s rival has returned for a rematch and he’s got a new party to back him up.
Ken Sim was the NPA’s mayoral candidate back in 2018, during which he lost to Stewart by an incredibly slim margin of 957 votes.
Sim ended up leaving his party after the board drama, saying the NPA isn’t what it used to be. Bremner, the former councillor who broke with the party first, had warned Sim that a mayoral candidacy with the NPA was a “poisoned chalice.”
Sim is now the mayoral candidate of ABC Vancouver. Polls are forecasting another close race with Stewart in the lead.
ABC has become a home for a number of ex-NPA politicians, one school trustee and three of the councillors who quit the party this past term, all running for re-election. The party is also running council candidates that include the vice-president of the BC Care Providers Association and a retired Vancouver police officer and spokesperson.
ABC says that it is “fiscally responsible,” a nod to its fiscally conservative NPA roots, which used the same language. Sim also made what he called a “pretty ambitious” promise to hire 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses, which opponents blasted as unrealistic.
Sim is the co-founder of Rosemary Rocksalt, a local bagel chain, and Nurse Next Door, which offers home care for seniors.
We’re expecting the party to blast the Jackson 5’s “ABC” on the campaign trail.
TEAM for a Livable Vancouver
Hmmm, sound a bit familiar?
The original TEAM, The Electors’ Action Movement, was founded in response to the freeway fights of the late-1960s.
The centrist party, which enjoyed a council majority in the mid-1970s, launched a number of very Vancouver lasting legacies such as the safeguarding of city land through a property endowment fund and the building of homes on its former working waterfronts, from False Creek to the downtown peninsula. Some consider it the decade when Vancouver “grew up.” The TEAM years also saw the creation of Granville Island and the revitalization of Gastown.
Colleen Hardwick, a former NPA councillor, is the mayoral candidate for the new TEAM for a Livable Vancouver. Her father Walter Hardwick, a geography professor, was a founder of the original TEAM and was elected to council three times.
At city hall, Hardwick is known for her “harsh” treatment of staff, according to one of her fellow councillors. Publicly, she’s been characterized during her term as either a neighbourhood defender or an anti-development NIMBY trying to preserve a bygone Vancouver (Hardwick once questioned whether people under 40 were really experiencing a housing crisis). In a rare interview with Glacier Media (she doesn’t give many), she rejected the negative labels, saying they were “developed and perpetuated by my enemies.”
That being said, she’s voted no on virtually every major council decision during her term: budgets, rezonings, an update of the reconciliation policy (the only councillor to do so), attempts to speed up rental and social housing construction, the Vancouver Plan and the Broadway Plan.
Hardwick is known for being fiscally conservative — her major council accomplishment was spearheading the creation of a municipal auditor general’s office — but in 2020, she outspent her fellow councillors on assistants and communications.
So what’s her ethos, especially considering the legacy of the original TEAM? Hardwick has said that she’s against rezonings because they inflate land values, especially since Vancouver can build on “huge swathes” of its own land that don’t require them. Her party says it accepts growth, but no more than necessary, and the city must respect each neighbourhood’s “scale.”
TEAM is running a number of candidates, which include two park board commissioners who left the NPA, lobbyist and former NDP political strategist Bill Tieleman (a former Tyee columnist) and Cleta Brown, a retired lawyer who served provincially as crown counsel, and the daughter of politician Rosemary Brown, the first Black woman to be elected to a Canadian provincial legislature in 1972.
While polls are predicting a two-way race between Stewart and Sim, Hardwick is the runner-up. To the segment of Vancouverites unhappy with how quickly the city has grown, Hardwick is their champion.
Remember the YIMBY party we mentioned earlier?
Progress Vancouver is the rebrand of Yes Vancouver, which formed last election and was likely the first municipal party in B.C. to announce its dedication to YIMBY principles, which call for a boost in all types of housing supply.
Mark Marissen, who helped found the party, is now running as its mayoral candidate. Marissen is a political strategist who’s worked on Liberal and BC Liberal campaigns. While it’s his first time running for mayor, he worked on the campaign of Christy Clark, his former wife, for the NPA’s mayoral nomination. She ended up losing in a tight race to Sam Sullivan. After Marissen announced that he was running for mayor this year, Clark — who’s since made a name as a BC Liberal premier — gave him a public endorsement.
The party is running six council candidates, one of whom is Morgane Oger, the former NDP vice-president and a well-known trans activist.
As a YIMBY party, Progress’s housing promises include loosening up zoning to allow more density and more housing types citywide. The party is also floating promises that lefties like, such as compensation for displaced renters (currently being studied by the city) and the creation of a municipal housing corporation to develop and manage homes.
Coalition of Progressive Electors
The oldest of Vancouver’s progressive parties, COPE has not won a majority on council since the 2002 election. That term saw a number of councillors with moderate positions on taxation and development leave the party to form Vision Vancouver.
The party has struggled to elect candidates since, though there was renewed excitement when anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson ran with COPE in 2018 and won a council seat with the fourth most votes.
She’s running for council again alongside a handful of others. As in 2018, the party is not running a mayoral candidate this year.
The party said its candidates will be fighting for rent control, a living wage, a mansion tax, a safe drug supply and an end to homelessness.
This COPE offshoot has been gathering steam. It was founded in 2014 but no candidates were elected. In 2018, Christine Boyle and Jennifer Reddy earned seats on council and the school board respectively. Boyle was a dependable ally of Mayor Stewart when it came to voting for council motions.
Both are running again, alongside other candidates for council, school and park board with experience in education, law, labour, Indigenous governance, urban planning and more.
The socially progressive party has advocated for more of all types of housing supply and proposed taxing lifts in land value as the result of zoning and new infrastructure for social spending.
The party often talks about “six floors and corner stores,” proposing this kind of density citywide to boost homes and local businesses within walking distance.
Like the Liberals on the federal stage, Vision tried to position itself as the de facto Vancouver party (complete with brand colours that match the city’s). How the mighty have fallen.
After Gregor Robertson decided not to run for a fourth term in 2018, Vision chose Ian Campbell, a Squamish Hereditary Chief. But Campbell abruptly withdrew from the race. About a week later, former charges of assault and impaired driving came to light, details that he had not disclosed to the party. (Campbell has since gone on to continue his work in economic reconciliation.)
This time, Vision is not running a mayoral candidate, nor is it seeking a council majority with the three candidates it is running. The party does have eyes on a school board majority, running five candidates.
Vision did manage to lure two experienced candidates from other parties to run under its banner. John Irwin left COPE to run again for park board. Stuart Mackinnon, after three terms on park board, left the Greens to seek a council seat with Vision.
Green Party of Vancouver
The Greens have always maintained some presence in municipal government in recent years, but 2018 saw their biggest gains yet, with three seats each on council, school and park board.
The Greens did well in the crowded race, likely benefiting from voters on the left and the right giving them a few seats due to their recognizable brand and collaborative role in government.
That election, the party’s politicians also garnered the most votes on those bodies. Adriane Carr in particular, running for her fourth term this year, has become a council favourite.
Compared to other councillors, the Greens’ have been more conservative when it comes to new housing, with a fairly even mix of approvals and rejections.
With so many parties bearing vague or confusing names, here’s a party that stands for exactly what it says on the tin.
It’s VOTE Socialist’s first election and the party is running one candidate each for council, school board and park board. It was founded after some COPE members were displeased with the party’s direction.
They’ve released an aspirational budget with 218 promises, which include some that have been already rejected or are outside of municipal control, from vacancy control, halving the police budget and free transit for teens and seniors.
Affordable Housing Coalition
Housing remains the hot topic this municipal election and this new party has decided to put that right in its name. The party is only running one council candidate, a civil engineer. They’re pushing for supply solutions like denser zoning, saying that Vancouver is a “city, not a suburb,” but also measures to cool the market, from taxes on luxury homes and land appreciation.
Will incumbent Kennedy Stewart be able to rally the left for a victory? Or will there tough competition from a coalition on the right? You can read all our municipal election coverage in lead up to voting day on Oct. 15 here.