BC ELECTION – the Tides are Changing
On October 15, residents of British Columbia went to the polls to elect their municipal councils and school boards. To say that the election was interesting or intriguing, is an understatement. Change was in the wind, and councils, in particular, saw massive turnover.
As always, there were a few characters to keep an eye on. Bruce McCallum, Mayor of Surrey lost his seat handily. Could it be that his mischief charges and putting a hold on the public complaints to council just before an election had anything to do with it?
Surrey’s big issue was the changeover from RCMP to Surrey City Police. The new Mayor, Brenda Locke, has vowed to stop this process. It will be a daunting, costly process to undo the work already started.
In Langley, Mayor Val Vanden Broek running for re-election had already been sanctioned by her own council, but she chose to try for reelection. The writing may have been on the wall. Her opponent received almost double the number votes that she did.
In Victoria, where Mayor Lisa Helps stepped down, incumbent Councillor MaryAnne Alto took over as Mayor with essentially an entirely new council. There will be some steep learning curves. The electorate will need to be patient as they learn the ropes.
And let us not forget the City of Vancouver… where coalitions abound. As a voter, it must be very confusing. Is this party politics or local politics – or maybe both? Am I voting for the person or the slate? There were 11 coalitions with a whopping 58 candidates for Councillor seats. Hot topics included public safety, health care, housing costs and environment. New mayor, Ken Sim and his ABC slate are promising 100 new police officers and 100 new health care providers. While this is attractive on the surface, it will no doubt be more complicated than it seems.
Mayors across the province made promises in their campaigns that would speak directly about voter issues. In reality though, the mayor is only one vote on Council, the position itself is not singular, it requires convincing at least of half of your new colleagues to vote with you in a team approach that may be new to some of the councillors. Outlier councillors can prove problematic to the best laid plans over the course of four years.
As often seems to be the case, voter turnout was distressingly low. In Victoria the voter turnout was 38% but in poor Langley City and Township the voter turnout plummeted to 18%. As we know, there are many factors that play into why people vote (or don’t vote), but regardless, there is a no shortage of work for municipalities to do in the area of engagement.
Looking provincially, 37 incumbent mayors were ousted in the lower mainland region. Keith Baldrey, of Global News BC, said the electorate was “cranky” and the vote was for CHANGE, pure and simple.
Not only did BC go to the polls this fall, so did (or will) Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Yellowknife. Effectively, more than half of Canadians have had the opportunity to lend their voice to local democracy this year.
In BC the change was real. New councils will need orientations to understand their governance roles, they’ll have to learn to work as a team, they’ll want to plan their governance priorities over this term and finally, they’ll need to find ways to engage with their electorate and meet residents where they are.
Here's to four more years of interesting local politics! Best of luck to all!
At Strategic Steps, we have a keen interest in local governance done well, with role clarity and clear expectations for both elected officials and administrators. I would be happy to share what I’ve learned with you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org