The winners and losers from BC’s 2022 municipal elections
Dysfunctional governments were on the ballot and lost; progressive ideas won across the board
How local governments should lead played out several interesting battles on Saturday night in choosing who would be BC’s mayors, school board trustees, rural directors and city councillors. For the past decade, most urban and suburban areas have voted in favour of BC NDP, Federal NDP, and Federal Liberal candidates; this year, many of those voting trends continued, albeit in unique ways.
Vancouver, a progressive stronghold for decades, has elected a new political force that brands itself as a broad, inclusive coalition where everyone is welcome won across all of Vancouver’s elected bodies. Vancouver’s new Mayor Ken Sim and his ABC party identify themselves as a centrist party with supporters from across the political spectrum.
In a split race for Mayor in Surrey, Brenda Locke and her team won Surrey City Hall with Locke receiving by 0.7% more support than incumbent Doug McCallum. Locke previously ran as a federal candidate with the federal Liberals and as a Provincial candidate with the BC Liberals.
In Victoria, a completely new set of Councillors will take over. They will be led by Mayor-elect Marianne Alto who was first elected as a Councillor in 2010 in a by-election. She ran on a pro-housing and progressive agenda and won a major victory with a team to implement it.
But taking a moment to step back and look into all the results, here are two losses and two wins from the 2022 BC municipal elections.
Winners: Progressive agendas
Progressives won nearly everywhere in BC, but especially in the suburbs. Champions of social, affordable, and rental housing, climate action, reconciliation, and progressive solutions to people's challenges were voted in with solid support all over BC.
As Andrea Reimer points out, Metro Vancouver has twelve new mayors, and most support progressive solutions. There is Dan Ruimy, a pro-housing advocate in Maple Ridge. Nathan Pachal in Langley has been a champion of affordable housing, stronger tenant relocation protections, and building a solid relationship with First Nations. Armand Hurford won in Squamish, defeating a well-funded campaign by third-party corporate and conservative backers. Linda Buchanan won re-election and has been a champion of progressive but popular ideas. She focused her campaign on delivering affordable housing, supporting financing opportunities for first-time buyers, and stronger renter protections. She’s been a leader in building new transit and cycling infrastructure in her community and the region. Expect her to be a leader in the region for bringing rapid transit across Burrard Inlet.
Marianne Alto won in Victoria with a platform focused on building purpose-built rentals, harm reduction services throughout the region, including safe supply, and expanding free transit services. Her platform on reconciliation and Indigenous relations is one of the most unique I’ve ever seen. Dean Murdock in Saanich, and Julius Bloomfield in Penticton are new mayors who both ran on progressive agendas. In Chilliwack, transphobic school trustee Barry Neufeld was tossed out, and a largely progressive school board was elected, including a trans man named Teri Westerby.
But what needs to be understood about all of the progressive wins is how these candidates focused on addressing their constituents' material needs and conditions during the previous terms. They all focused on community parks, sidewalks, roads, community facilities, and critical infrastructure, and they responded swiftly to needs and concerns pertaining to these typical municipal responsibilities.
The ‘woke left,’ which, rather than being an actual political stance, I define as a political and cultural obsession with social justice identities, gestures, or interpersonal behaviours, isn’t a hallmark of the progressive wins. Ben Issit, a long-time Victoria Councillor who infamously made funding of Remembrance Day a political issue, was defeated. In Vancouver, anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson, who with her party had championed mansion taxes, rent freezes, and rent control tied to units, was also not re-elected.
Losers: Voter turnout
Municipal elections in BC have comparatively low turnout compared to Federal and Provincial elections. In 2020, BC's provincial elections had a 75% turnout. In 2021, it was 62.6% for the federal election. However, Vancouver’s appears to be around 36.3%. Although Surrey increased from 32.9% in 2018 to around 34.5% this year, the turnout was low across the board.
BC’s municipal elections are complicated and overly confusing for voters. At least in Federal and Provincial elections, it’s somewhat simple: you go in and pick one name or party to cast a ballot for. In Vancouver, you must pick up to ten candidates for Council, up to 9 for School Board, and 7 for the only elected Park Board in Canada in Vancouver. While some suggest a ward system where a city is balkanized into neighbourhood-level ridings, it’s not a better governance system than the current ones.
There are better ways to improve our municipal democracies in BC. Perhaps it's time to explore new ideas. Some countries or regions within a country hold elections on a weekday and declare election day a public holiday. In Australia, voting is a civic responsibility. It had one of the highest electoral turnout rates in the world at 91.89% for the House of Representatives in 2019. First-time offenders who don’t vote are potentially fined AU$20 with a maximum penalty of AU$180, which is regularly enforced.
Interestingly, BC Transit (but not Metro Vancouver’s Translink) offered fare-free transit days in some municipalities on voting day. Municipal elections could benefit from well-funded non-partisan marketing campaigns to engage people in voting and help them understand how and where to vote. It’s also important to recognize that it costs money to run a political campaign. A party donation tax credit, like what’s done for Provincial and Federal elections, would encourage better-funded political parties to engage more voters.
In a study of 6,000 voters conducted after the 2022 US Federal elections, FiveThirtyEight found that the voters they polled and matched to voter history showed some interesting insights that may be relevant to the current situation in BC: “Non-voters were more likely to have lower incomes; to be young; to have lower levels of education; and to say they don’t belong to either political party, which are all traits that square with what we know about people less likely to engage with the political system.”
Losers: The Leadership of Vancouver’s Progressive Parties
Vancouver rejected the multi-party style government of the past four years. But it’s not just the victory of Ken Sim and the ABC Party, but the stunning loss of the left-of-centre parties. Greens and COPE each lost an incumbent. OneCity didn’t gain any new seats anywhere. Other parties like Vancouver Socialist, Vision Vancouver, or Forward Together with Kennedy Stewart failed to get anyone elected.
As Mike McDonald pointed out between 2017 to 2022 elections, support for Green incumbents Adrianne Carr and Pete Fry dropped 40%, COPE’s incumbent Jean Swanson dropped 33%, and OneCity’s Christine Boyle dropped 15%. But Mayor Stewart held at the same level at around 50,000 votes. Meanwhile, ABC incumbents went up 42% to 66% and Ken Sim went up 76%, from around 49,000 to 86,000 votes.
There is one story some want to tell that explains this.
Centrist activists will say it's a story of who is representing the “moderate” voters. They might point to 2002 when COPE formed its first government when the NPA split between a more moderate and less moderate wing. COPE ran under the banner of moderate Larry Campbell for Mayor, but the group was fractured and short-lived. Larry Campbell formed Vision Vancouver, which lost massively in 2005 to the right-of-centre Non-Partisan Association. It wasn’t until 2008 when former BC NDP MLA Gregor Robertson pulled together a winning coalition of federal Liberal, BC NDP, and Green voters to control city hall. This was one of the longest left-of-centre governments in Vancouver’s history for three successive elections until 2018.
As CBC journalist Justin McElroy points out, Vancouver had elected centre-left mayors for four elections in a row, centre-left MLAs for three elections in a row, and centre-left MPs for ten elections in a row. Vancouver is a progressive city, but whoever comes out to vote decides the elections. Ken Sim and ABC benefited from a bifurcated left-of-centre, but also more successfully marketed themselves to a constituency who would come out for them.
There is another likely version of events: if costs rise too much for too many ordinary people, they take it out on the incumbent.
Housing prices and rents skyrocketed in 2017 after a 10-year rule under Vision Vancouver. As Danny Oleksiuk points out, “Apartment prices in East Van increased by 83% in Vision's last term in office, from 2014-2018. East Van apartment prices increased by 19% under Kennedy Stewart.”
Either way, moderate and more fiscal conservative-minded voters coalesced around Ken Sim and ABC. In contrast, more leftist, progressive, or typical NDP supporters had to choose between six (!!!) left-of-centre political parties to be aware of, to understand, and to support their platforms.
A coalition that includes large parts of the moderate Vancouver voters could be the key to success in winning City Hall in Vancouver.
Still, it’s more straightforward than that: your ability to organize, not just advocate, is key. There is power in building a single big-tent coalition. With six left-of-centre parties, there are therefore six separate operations for voter outreach, voter identification, platform development, candidate recruitment, fundraising strategies, message testing, brand development & protection, and relationship building. Being an advocate is not enough to win governments; one must also be keenly aware of the importance of organization for successfully drawing in voters.
A well-funded ABC seems to have out-organized the bosses of OneCity, Vision, COPE, Vote Socialist, Greens, and Forward Together. They had a single operation which was out early, and they listened to their target voters to identify what ideas were popular and how to best respond to their concerns. They filled marketing platforms with ads about material solutions, not just gestures or symbols. They filled these platforms with ads that aired early and frequently. They also successfully created a frame around attacking ideas of a “road tax” and pinning it on the previous government.
I doubt the inner leadership for some left-of-centre parties like OneCity Vancouver, Vision Vancouver, COPE, and Vote Socialists will do anything about there being too many left-of-centre parties. I think their donors, volunteers, and supporters should question their need to exist if their goal is to elect a more progressive city hall government in 2026, 2030, or 2034. It’s not just about merging parties or building a new coalition; it’s about the competency of the inner leadership in these parties, and if they are the right people who voters should be following in these electoral battles.
While the Greens retained two seats on Vancouver Council, their brand association with the Provincial and Federal Greens makes them a unique entity that will likely stay around for a while. I also doubt “Forward Together” needs to go forward after this election.
Winners: Kareem Allam, Ken Sim, and the ABC Party
People might not know his name but be prepared to get to know Kareem Allam. Previously the campaign manager for BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon during their leadership race, he moved on to run the highly successful ABC sweep for Ken Sim. Kareem’s strategy: build a coalition around Vancouver’s federal liberal voters.
“It became clear to me how far to the right the NPA had gone, and maybe how far left some of the other traditional liberal-appealing groups had gone,” he said. “There was this wide-open space right in the middle. That’s where we ran our campaign. That’s where we put our platform. That seemed to be the sweet spot this election.”
This is a similar strategy employed by Vision Vancouver under Gregor Robertson when they won three consecutive majorities in 2008, 2011, and 2014.
As reported in The Tyee, according to ABC’s internal polling, the bulk of the support, 60 percent, came from Vancouverites who vote for the Liberals federally, while 20 percent each comes from NDP and Conservative voters.
It cannot be overstated how massive Ken Sim and ABC’s victory is.
For City Council, Park Board, and School Board, ABC candidates topped the polls with at least a 20,000 vote margin over their nearest competition. They likely would have won every seat if they had run the maximum number of candidates under their party banner. People assumed competition between the NPA, Progress, TEAM, and ABC would split the right. Still, all centre-right political parties lost big except ABC. The election wasn’t just that the right coalesced around one party, but also that the centrist and right coalesced around one party.
Some may want to villainize ABC as some kind of far-right bogeyman. But I think elections are a useful opportunity to look at an electors’ platform and voting record to see what to expect. An ABC government promises to support UNDRIP and implement TRC Calls to Action, aid non-profits in housing delivery and strengthen protections on Vancouver’s existing market and non-market housing rental stock and a bold promise to build 5,000 day-care spaces in the first four years of an ABC-led City Hall. On housing, they committed to supporting purpose-built rental construction, decreasing wait time for development processes, and doubling the number of co-operative (co-op) housing units. Yes, they won’t be as socialist or woke as some voters in Vancouver want from their city government; however, they are bringing some ideas to city hall that will improve the lives of certain groups who live and work in Vancouver.
Thanks for reading Khelsilem! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.