So…what to make of the 2018 municipal election in the City of North Vancouver?
While voters in neighbouring municipalities opted for slow-growth advocates, CNV voters returned majority control of their city council to the pro-development slate led by former councillor Linda Buchanan. She will be supported by three new pro-development councillors, all relative unknowns.
How did this happen? And what does it mean?
First, let’s look at the big picture. In recent years CNV has seen an unprecedented building boom, far surpassing development targets that were debated and established just four years ago. Time after time, high-rise condo proposals that exceeded the city’s Official Community Plan have come before a city council dominated by a slate that was elected with the help of developer money and union “volunteers”. And time after time, those proposals were approved by a 4-3 vote.
The result? All this condo building has done nothing to improve housing affordability. In fact it’s getting worse as big new market rental buildings replace affordable older apartments, leading to a rise in “renovictions”. Meanwhile, predictably, traffic has spiked, with the approaches to both North Shore bridges gridlocked at almost every rush hour. Commuters have been grousing about the traffic tie-ups. Long-time residents have been complaining about the density explosion, urging their neighbours to get out and vote for the slower-growth side in 2018. Surely it was time for a change, no?
As it turned out…no. Only 34 per cent of eligible voters came out in 2018 – a little better than the 30 per cent who voted in 2014, but far short of a wave for change. And those who did vote opted for the same developer-backed slate that facilitated the condo explosion and traffic nightmares we see today.
It could easily have been different. In the mayor’s race, Buchanan – a two-term CNV councillor mentored by outgoing mayor Darrell Mussatto – outpolled former councillor Guy Heywood by a mere 400 votes.
Vote splitting was a big factor here. Buchanan enjoyed the unified support of the real estate industry, while those residents who want to put the brakes on the condo boom had to choose among three experienced, high-profile independent candidates in Heywood, Rod Clark and Kerry Morris. Combined, those three garnered 64 per cent of the vote, against Buchanan’s 30 per cent.
In hindsight, it seems clear that if just one of the three had stayed out of the race, the mayoralty would have gone to an independent and the entire complexion of CNV government would have changed. Did egos and personal grudges get in the way of a unified front? Possibly. But hindsight is always 20-20, and I don’t begrudge any candidate who runs because they sincerely believe they have the right vision for the city.
On the other hand, the power of slate voting in municipal elections has never been more evident. Among the 24 candidates for CNV council were several experienced former office holders with considerable local name recognition. Yet thanks to being endorsed as part of a five-candidate slate, three relative unknowns with virtually zero experience in CNV civic affairs – Tina Hu, Angela Girard and Jessica McIlroy – received more votes than their better-known opponents.
(One thing I can say for Buchanan’s new team – according to their campaign materials, they share a common attribute: all say they are “passionate”… so I guess we can expect more stirring oratory at future council meetings.)
Many veteran council watchers were surprised by this outcome. They shouldn’t have been. Remember this is municipal politics, where low turnouts magnify the impact of bloc voting. Without an organized front by citizens who want a rational, slow-growth approach to development, the one faction that is organized and funded will win every time, no matter who the candidates are.
In any case, don’t expect much in the way of collaboration with the District. And I predict the Harry Jerome rec centre plan is due for a rethink, shrinkage, and more delay.
In the meantime, the slate holding the reins at CNV city hall plans to continue the strategy of making housing more affordable by building a whole lot more of it. It has never worked before, but hey, maybe this time.