It’s sometimes hard not to be despondent about electoral politics.
In Toronto, the years-long surreality TV show known as the Ford brothers was finally defeated, only to be replaced by John Tory, an old school conservative who previously backed the Fords to the hilt. Rather than progressive ex-city councillor and Member of Parliament Olivia Chow defeating Doug Ford, the politics of lesser evilism won the day, with Tory getting the anybody but Ford vote. Toronto will now likely get some variation of “Fordism without Ford,” the neoliberal, austerity politics will remain, minus the thuggish populism.
Everything looks good by comparison to Toronto, but here in Vancouver the municipal election seems unlikely to produce much meaningful change. Developers run the show in Vancouver politics. This gets noticed and denounced from time to time, like earlier this year when Mayor Gregor Robertson’s $25,000 lunch hosted by Condo King Bob Rennie was the subject of much satire, but it seems like big money will continue to run City Hall for the next four years.
At least this time, however, it won’t be without a fight.
Meena Wong and COPE’s campaign for mayor has fundamentally changed the terms of debate around this election. Even the harshest critics of COPE have to concede this point. By running a mayoral candidate who has advanced concrete policy proposals, Meena Wong and COPE have made this a more interesting and relevant election. From proposing to charge a surtax on empty properties, to calling for a $15/hour minimum wage, to making an ambitious push for affordable transit for all, Wong and COPE have pried open space for a wider political discussion.
Meena Wong deserves support from everyone who wants a Vancouver with more fairness and equality. COPE has also fielded a diverse slate of candidates for Council, School and Park Board, including Indigenous activists Cease Wyss, Audrey Siegl and Diana Day. RJ Aquino, the sole candidate for One City, has added another important voice advocating for concrete measures to solve the housing crisis in Vancouver. The Green Party has also had a good showing, and stand a chance of adding at least one more councillor to join Adriane Carr.
Kirk LaPointe and the NPA, in contrast, would only make things worse. Although his face is plastered on Skytrain and bus ads all over the city, LaPointe’s campaign has been a non-factor, never going beyond platitudes. And Vision Vancouver has been right to call LaPointe out for his position on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker expansion. The idea that Kinder Morgan should not be an issue here because formal approval of the pipeline doesn’t fall within Vancouver’s jurisdiction is a reactionary canard. This city has a long and proud tradition of standing up on issues of national and global importance, from the peace marches and anti-nuclear stance of the 1980s, to the COPE council’s unanimous opposition to the Iraq War in 2003. Municipalities across Canada spoke out against that immoral war, contributing to pressuring the Liberal federal government to stay out of the US-led “coalition of the willing.”
The NPA is the developers’ back-up plan, the political expression of some of the city’s old money. Frankly the NPA doesn’t just not deserve your vote, they deserve political oblivion.
Against despondency, we must remember that the odds are always stacked against the political left. And, despite suffering defeat after defeat, we still win some important victories. That’s because the goal of the left is not to win office for the sake of being in office; the goal is to make necessary social change, by any means necessary. Engaging in the unfair terrain of electoral politics is just one of many imperfect ways for moving things forward.
The rich are class conscious enough to get out and vote for their candidates; that’s why the NPA is guaranteed a certain percentage of the vote no matter how dismal their campaign. Low voter turnouts, especially in a city like Vancouver, tend to favour right-wing politicians. That’s reason enough to take the time to vote on Nov. 15.
There are a number of very worthy candidates, people who will follow through on their commitments and people who understand that social change comes from the streets as much or more than it comes through the ballot box. Vision will likely win again, but this time they’re going to feel the heat from a growing electoral movement for a more affordable city.
Speaking of activists running for office, a quick note for readers in Richmond. Harold Steves is one of the best and longest serving city councillors anywhere on the planet. First elected in 1968, he’s now 77 and seeking another term. He says there are just too many issues he’s involved in to retire now. Here’s hoping voters give Steves the right to fight on for another four years.
Meena Wong, COPE’s candidate for mayor, has provided concrete policy proposals.