Liking the view, Vancouver voted Vision

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson celebrates after he was re-elected in a civic election in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday November 19, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

In the end, he survived a riot and a showdown with a rag-tag band of protesters. And now Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is in firm control of both his city and the political institution running it.

The ease with which both the mayor and his Vision Vancouver party cruised to victory in the weekend’s civic election leaves little doubt that residents are quite content with the governance of a centre-left party pushing a strong eco agenda while demonstrating overall fiscal competence.

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In some ways, Mr. Robertson has an even stronger mandate now to continue the job he began three years ago to transform Vancouver into the greenest city on the planet, one replete with chicken coops in backyards, wheat fields on front lawns and bike lanes everywhere.

If the rest of the country wants to scoff, go ahead.

Mr. Robertson’s decisive 13-point win over his mayoral challenger, Suzanne Anton of the Non-Partisan Association, defied polls that suggested his handling of the Occupy Vancouver protest threatened to cost him his job. While Vancouverites certainly grew wearier of the actions of the activists as the election campaign rolled along, they didn’t punish the mayor for his efforts to try and negotiate an end to the standoff and seek help from the courts instead of setting a deadline and ripping down the tents if the protesters defied it, as his challenger recommended.

Diplomacy won the day.

Nor was the mayor rebuked at the polls for the Stanley Cup riot in June, an event for which many felt he was partially to blame because of his role in encouraging the street parties that led to the mayhem. It seems voters decided that the ones who deserved their wrath were the rioters themselves.

What we’ll never know is what would have happened had Vision run 10 candidates instead of just seven, all of whom were elected. That was an agreement made with the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), the hard-left party that had two members on council. In exchange, COPE didn’t run a candidate for mayor. But COPE was wiped out in Saturday’s vote, while the NPA got two people elected and the Green party one.

The seven Vision candidates topped the polls. There was more than a 2,000-vote difference between Vision’s Tony Tang, a largely unknown candidate who collected the seventh greatest number of votes among the new council members, and the NPA’s Elizabeth Ball, who finished eighth. It is not inconceivable that had Vision run a full slate it would have run the table.

Certainly, the vote result prompts some major questions about the short-term horizon of Vancouver politics.

Does this spell the end of COPE, a political institution in the city whose appeal has been waning for years? The prospects for any type of revival would certainly seem limited, especially when there is such a policy and ideological overlap with the party that is running the city.

There is also much uncertainty surrounding the NPA, once considered Vancouver’s natural governing party. There is perhaps some solace to be taken from the fact it has doubled its number of seats on council – from one to two – but it is the second election in a row in which the party was soundly rejected by voters. Its base on the city’s west side is solid but the party seems incapable of growing beyond it.

Ms. Anton, while waging a valiant battle against a Teflon opponent, was not the strongest of challengers. Truth is, the party couldn’t find any one better. Anyone who might have been considered a stronger candidate looked at the dim prospects for victory and said forget it. Give Ms. Anton marks for at least taking up the battle and giving as good as she got.

But the NPA waged a particularly nasty campaign, one that likely turned many people off. Ms. Anton’s incessant criticisms of some of her opponent’s most easily mocked policies – backyard chickens, lawns for wheat – came across as petty and mean-spirited in the end. And some of the NPA’s campaign pledges were simply goofy, such as a streetcar for which no one seemed to be asking. The party’s platform seemed out of touch with a modern city that has a growing environmental consciousness.

The NPA simply didn’t give people enough to vote for.

Residents mark ballots in their own self interest. They consider the things that are important to them. In Vancouver, those top-of-mind issues are matters such as sanitation, public safety, the environment, homelessness and quality of life. And those are all issues for which people living in the city feel Vision deserves top grades.

And that’s what made the mayor and his team impossible to beat.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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