I went off to the advance poll for the November 15 municipal election here in Vancouver today. It was necessary, as I’ll be three time zones east of here on election day, and although much of the information about municipal politics comes out at the last minute I did my research and made my choices.
There was a fair-sized crowd using the advance poll set up for my part of the city this morning, and in talking to the returning officer on site they’d had a continuous flow since opening at 8.00 am. It’s gratifying to see a little enthusiasm for civic affairs, especially considering how “electioned-out” many of us in this city are feeling: a federal by-election, two provincial by-elections, a federal general election, now the municipal election, plus the campaigning for next spring’s provincial election already starting up and the spill-over, in the news, of the American elections … just exactly how many ads and signs are we expected to process, especially in this decade of “negative campaigning” as a first-strike option?
But here in Vancouver we have a number of excellent positive choices on the ballot, as opposed to the usual round of ho-hum-oh-well candidates — and, it seems, fewer diversionary candidates. Even the ones running for notoriety seem to be taking a serious look at affairs this time around, for which I’m thankful.
In the race for the Mayor’s chair, we’re blessed with two sensible and viable candidates in the NPA’s Peter Ladner and Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson. Either Gregor or Peter should make a fine mayor; while I’d like my choice to win the day (don’t we all want our candidates to be the winners?) I will be happy with his opponent as well. Indeed, I spent a good two minutes in the voting booth going back and forth between the two one last time before finally inking the page. I devoutly wish I am faced with this same problem at all future ballots I am asked to cast.
I will say nothing much about the candidates for City Council, the School Board or the Parks Board. (For those not from around here, Vancouver has no wards, so all candidates are elected city-wide: the top ten vote getters for Councillor, for instance, become the new Council — and our Parks and Recreation system has an elected set of “trustees” much as does the Vancouver School Board. Then, too, we have party politics in Vancouver, so we’ll have voters who vote a near-straight party ticket [the parties don’t always run a full slate of candidates].) We had good people offering their services for all of them, scattered around the NPA, Vision and COPE — plus a smattering of candidates from other parties and a number of independents. What I will say is that every vote I cast was a positive one, in that it was cast for the candidate (not the party) and on that candidate’s merits.
Ideally, we will wake up on the morning of Nov. 16 and discover that the Mayor must face a “minority” council — one where they must find support from Councillors who are members of other parties — rather than our last few councils, where party discipline could create sheep-like votes. It would be good for Vancouver to need to do some coalition-building around the issues.
The three referenda on spending were the most interesting part of the ballot. Municipalities in Canada have very limited revenue potentials and are generally left to plead for pennies from senior levels of government, yet it is in municipalities that our future lies, not in larger national or provincial entities. In this city, despite the fact that we are already burdening businesses and property owners with too much of a take relative to other communities’ options, we really do need to invest in our ageing community centres, in our ageing water/sewer/transport infrastructure and in our community housing. (We also need to invest in more regional transportation options, but that’s at another level of government.) No, the numbers don’t add up, but the Council must have some freedom to act, and that’s the referenda questions that were asked: do you approve our taking action without further consultation. I said “yes” to all three — and let’s hope a divided Council, Parks Board and School Board, in turn, will intelligently reach courses of action that all sides of the debate, from NPA through Vision to COPE, can approve of. It would be the beginning of a civic infrastructure that could handle the demands of the 2010s.
So I shall enjoy the rest of the candidates’ campaign, even having voted. But I do feel good about this one. A little residual “Obama hope”? No — some real hope that maybe, just maybe, we’re maturing as a community. 2009-2011 will tell me whether my hopes are real — or misplaced.