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Who should you vote for? A guide to the attack dogs, workaholics, and more of Vancouver city council

November 17th, 2011 · 34 Comments

Everyone uses a different value system and set of criteria to decide who they want to vote for. I wouldn’t presume to give people a list of “best” candidates, because my best will never match your best. I’m not endorsing anyone either.

Some people are going to vote straight Non-Partisan Association or straight Vision/COPE slate because they know what those parties are offering and they want to make sure there’s a majority elected to ensure the party can carry out what it promised.

They don’t need my help or anyone’s.

Nor does anyone need my help deciding on whether to vote for Gregor Robertson or Suzanne Anton. They’ve had ample coverage and everyone who’s planning to vote has a sense of their leadership style by now.

This list is more for others who are considering not voting straight slate but are still confused about those beyond Robertson and Anton.

So here is my very idiosyncratic, sometimes frivolous, occasionally crabby guide, to the candidates so that you can mix and match (or not) according to what it is you’re looking for.


You’re mad about a big new project planned for your neighbourhood, you’re mad about the way the city just seems to be getting busier and more crowded all the time, and you feel like developers control everyone on council.

You want to punish Vision/COPE for having brought the latest round of development to the city, but you don’t want to vote for the right-wing NPA. (They’re just as bad, n’est-ce pas?)

You probably won’t elect anyone, but your protest vote will be visible, may result in some Vision councillors not getting elected, and will perhaps act as a caution to future councils that they need to spend more time working with neighbourhood groups. (Or maybe not. Other parties that have run on a slow-growth or anti-development theme in the past have only netted about 8,000 votes, not enough to make anyone change course visibly.)

You’re less concerned about the fact that the people you’re voting for yet developed a very precise plan about how thousands of new people will be absorbed in the city while they are consulting extensively with neighbourhoods on how to bring in density that won’t bother anyone.

Mayor: Randy Helten, who rallied the West End to object to new towers planned for the area and has since carried that campaigns for improved citizen participation, better planning, bans on developer contributions in elections, and a region-wide fight against Metro Vancouver’s growth strategy. Running with a group called Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver.

Councillors: Elizabeth Murphy (NSV), Nicole Benson (NSV), Marie Kerchum (NSV), Terry Martin (NSV), Adriane Carr (Green), Tim Louis (COPE)

(Helten’s group has also endorsed Louis and the other two COPE candidates, RJ Aquino and Ellen Woodsworth, independent Sandy Garossino, and NPA candidate Bill McCreery, but all of those people, with the exception of Louis, are likely to be slightly more nuanced in their approach to development.)


COPE’s Tim Louis, the NPA’s Mike Klassen, and NSV’s Randy Helten are your men. All are political WWF contenders, who have no hesitation in taking out the enemy – even if, occasionally, the enemy is on their own team. Tim Louis has been involved in COPE politics forever and was bitterly opposed to the peeling off of some COPE members to form the new Vision party. He’s maintained radio silence about Vision during the campaign, but don’t expect that if he’s elected. Klassen brought a new kind of attack politics to Vancouver with his CityCaucus blog (co-written with Daniel Fontaine) and it would be fascinating to see if he can turn his pitbull instincts to good use at council. Unlike Louis, who has a pretty straightforward leftwing agenda that he’s stuck to for decades, Klassen hasn’t made it clear what he’d fight FOR besides the right to go after his opponents. (Better planning, nicer neighbourhoods isn’t really an agenda.) But maybe the three years will give him a chance to develop one. And Helten has shown himself to be relentless in pursuing his idea of how the city should be run. God help the person who disagrees with him, even about comma placement.


Sorry, I have no one to recommend. A few live on the west side — Suzanne Anton, Ken Charko and Elizabeth Ball – but none are corporate fatcats.


Saving Planet Earth takes precedence over almost anything else in your life? Andrea Reimer, Heather Deal from Vision Vancouver; Adrianne Carr from the Green Party.


In descending order of leftiness: Tim Louis, Ellen Woodsworth, RJ Aquino from COPE; Raymond Louie, Kerry Jang, Geoff Meggs from Vision (though Geoff’s on the cusp, with all his bike-riding these days).


Aha, here we are. The serious category.

Okay, this is where my biases kick in. First off, yes, I tend to judge based on what I see people doing on the public stage: at council, in news coverage, in their tweets and blogs. But I don’t think that’s the worst bias to have. People who are going to be on council need to demonstrate they can communicate who they are and what they’re doing.

Second, I like candidates who take stands, even if they’re unpopular, and don’t just repeat their party’s policies like a bunch of Occupiers doing mic checks.

Third, I tend to favour people who have demonstrated over more than just a period of two months that they have an interest in the city. I wouldn’t hire someone as a babysitter or carpenter just because they showed up at my door, looking eager and promising to learn what they’re supposed to do on the job.

Councillors manage a billion-dollar budget and have to balance the desires and financial constraints of 650,000 different people. In my years of watching council, what I see happen when newbies get elected is they get led around the nose by two groups: city staff or the most forceful member of their party.

I just don’t feel good about electing someone to the difficult task of making decisions on my behalf if they haven’t spent any time learning about the city or council or at least their neighbourhood. Or if they seem only half-interested in the job.

That’s why I can’t bring myself to recommend people like Tim Stevenson from Vision Vancouver, who seems to have lost interest in council the past three years. (I would have said the same about COPE’s David Cadman, but COPE members already did that job for me.)

Or candidates like George Affleck, Joe Carangi, Ken Charko, and Jason Lamarche from the NPA, who all seem like nice enough people but who didn’t show up at city hall until last month or even appear at a community meeting. While some, like Carangi and Charko, have campaigned hard, I don’t get any sense, from talking to them about what they’d like to accomplish as councillors, that they know much about how city hall actually works. Affleck seems to have just coasted along, with nothing more than retweets from NPA head office, and Lamarche did not distinguish himself in this campaign.

Similarly, Adrianne Carr from the Green Party has not spent any time I know of getting involved in local city issues. She seems to have jumped at the last minute onto the anti-Vision, anti-development bandwagon that Randy Helten drove out of the barn long ago. The only things I’ve heard her talk about are the need to develop better neighbourhood consultation for development and the possibility of banning bikes on certain arterials.

As I noted above, you might want to consider (depending on your politics!) one or more of the three candidates I listed above as the strong offensive linemen: Mike Klassen, Tim Louis, and Randy Helten. Like the following people I’ve listed here, they have learned a lot about the city and aren’t afraid to take stands. They do tend to be strong partisans, though, and haven’t shown so far a huge interest in talking much with people who don’t agree with them. That could change, especially with Klassen if he wants to move on in politics.  He did tone down his style during the campaign.

But in a different category, the following councillors have impressed me with the hours they’re willing to put in and their openness to talking to everyone, not just those who have the same mindset. You may not agree with their views. I certainly don’t, in all cases. But if hard work means more to you than party labels, you may want to consider these people first.

Geoff Meggs. Vision Vancouver. If Meggs doesn’t get re-elected to council, it will be Vancouver’s loss. The former chief of staff to Larry Campbell has thrown himself into this job with an energy I haven’t seen on council in a long time. He spends hours researching the main issues, goes out and talks directly to people who are affected by council decisions, and is always prepared to give his opinions so that reporters and the public know where he stands – which has been less true of some other Vision council members. He’s smart, quick-thinking, and, though obviously has an ideological framework he works from, is always listening. He’s sometimes pegged by people on the right as the “real mayor” who’s controlling everything at city hall, but in fact he’s kind of outside of the mayor’s inner circle and that shows in his willingness to take stands, even when the going gets tough. And it’s not just me who feels this way. Former NPA candidate Michael Geller has recommended him too.

Sean Bickerton. NPA. After coming in second-last in the 2008 election, Sean worked hard to help rebuild the party and to develop and explain his points of view on city-hall issues. He’s got a strong arts and culture background, but he’s also spent a lot of time in his Crosstown (between Gastown and Chinatown by Rogers arena) neighbourhood working to improve that. He’s come out in favour of looking at re-purposing the viaducts, he worked with anti-casino crusader Sandy Garossino on opposing the casino expansion, has been active in the False Creek Residents Association, and he’s shown that he can maintain civility under attack in any issue he’s involved in.

Sandy Garossino. Independent.  I thought Sandy was sometimes over the top in her anti-casino arguments, but I couldn’t doubt the effort and time she was putting in. Since she announced her decision to run for council, she’s consistently put out statements and tweets that show she takes thoughtful stands on contentious issues but she’s not a wimp. She’s advocated looking at the idea of controls on speculation and foreign ownership, which neither Vision or the NPA will touch with a 10-foot pole. She maintained her cool about the Occupy camp, when people were screaming their heads off. And she’s nice to everyone.

Andrea Reimer. Vision Vancouver. Andrea can sometimes come across as the smartest girl in the room and who knows it, but she does her homework diligently, competing with Raymond Louie for time logged on reading dense city reports. She’s a big proponent of opening up city data streams to the public (something that hasn’t paid off hugely so far, but will some day if they keep going) and is the most active member of council in communicating out through Twitter what she and council are doing. A big leader in driving the city’s environmental issues and rounding up public support at Metro Vancouver for issues like alternatives to the garbage incinerator.

Ellen Woodsworth. COPE. She comes across to some as hopelessly mired in naïve 1960s idealism, but Ellen fights hard for what she believes in and is willing to go out and take the flak for it. She worked doggedly with groups in the West End and Marpole to help them push back on unwanted projects and has voted against Vision on a number of key motions that she felt were wrong when it came to protection of free speech or to development. Four city neighbourhoods are getting the chance to develop new plans in the next few years, something she suggested and pushed for. Plus, she takes my calls even when she’s riding on her bike, talking as she pedals.

Bill McCreery. NPA. Bill is a bit stuck in the Vancouver of the 1970s, when he represented as a TEAM park-board commissioner, but he has demonstrated an unusual willingness to get out and debate planning issues with anyone who comes along. He also pitched in the last three years to work on rebuilding the party, along with Sean Bickerton. As someone who’s lived in the West End (though temporarily camped in Richmond with a partner), he’s one of many who have questioned Vision’s STIR projects in that area and he’s also recently called for a moratorium on laneway houses.

Raymond Louie. Vision. A slogger who specializes in the city’s finances and development issues. Been kinda quiet in this council, but still the go-to guy for money questions.

Heather Deal. Vision. Food carts, studio spaces for artists, the York Theatre and more have been her babies. This former David Suzuki Foundation house biologist has become the arts, culture and chow specialist.

Elizabeth Ball. NPA. She was never the strongest of the NPA councillors on the last council, but Ball has a long history in theatre in the city and she’s knowledgeable about the whole arts scene.

Kerry Jang. Vision. Much beloved by media in the city 🙂 for his propensity to say whatever he’s thinking about anything, Jang, a UBC psychiatry professor, spends time educating himself about his homelessness and mental health files. Then he passes it on to us. Always a learning experience.

Bill Yuen and Francis Wong from the NPA and RJ Aquino from COPE are three candidates some might want to consider because of their community experience. Bill has been a long-time community advocate and political organizer in Renfrew-Collingwood; Francis has been active in the Chinatown BIA; and RJ has done substantial work with the Filipino community.

A final note about park board.

I can’t see how anyone can not vote for John Coupar, for the NPA, after his heroic effort to save the Bloedel Conservatory. He strikes me as the kind of person ideally suited for the board – someone who cares passionately about whether the plants are being cared for at Queen Elizabeth Park, perhaps obsessively so, instead of whether he’s laying a good first stepping stone for his future political career.

Others who have demonstrated real interest in making the city’s parks and community centres better: Brent Granby, COPE, a long-time community advocate with West End Residents Association; Sarah Blyth, Vision, a champion for activities for young people during her last three years on the board; Constance Barnes, Vision, a Sun-Yat Sen Gardens  marketing manager who has brought her skills to the board; Dave Pasin, NPA, who has been on the board of the West End Community Centre and very active in this campaign on making suggestions about park improvements.

There seem to be a lot of promising newcomers here – Gabby Kalaw, Melissa De Genova, and Jason Upton from the NPA and Niki Sharma and Trevor Loke for Vision,  Donalda Greenwell-Baker for COPE, but I can’t sort them out, so you’ll have to do it.

Those who want to express their opposition to Vision’s handling of park-board finances could consider voting for the Green Party’s Stuart Mackinnon, who joined NPAer Ian Robertson in opposing the big cuts in 2009.







Categories: 2011 Vancouver Civic Election