Vancouver mayor remains popular as municipal vote approaches

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in Vancouver June 23, 2011. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver politicians have a clear run to the municipal election in November, after Premier Christy Clark decided against a provincial contest in the fall.

The municipal scrap begins in vigour in October, but governing Vision Vancouver and the rival Non-Partisan Association will spend this month quietly staking out their positions. Incumbents generally hold a strong advantage in municipal politics but in Vancouver the governing party lost the past three elections. This tumult came after a decade and a half of NPA rule.

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Support for Vision has eroded in the past year but the NPA has ticked up only slightly, as the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors picks up Vision voters. The shift, however, doesn’t suggest a big change come Nov. 19, given that Vision and COPE are running a slate of councillors together, led by Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson.

The mayor remains popular, more so than his party. His support rating was at 54 per cent in July, up from 44 per cent last November. Pollster Barb Justason said Mr. Robertson has managed to evade public blame for issues such as the Stanley Cup riot in June. Pinning blame on the mayor has been the strategy of the NPA’s mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton, who spent the past three years as the lone voice of opposition against Vision.

“The things we expect to stick don’t stick,” said Ms. Justason on Monday. “He’s something of a Teflon mayor.”

She said trends suggest Vision is poised to hold the mayor’s chair – which would mark Vancouver’s first two-term mayor since the NPA’s Philip Owen – but struggle to maintain its dominance of council. Vision has seven out of 10 seats on council, with ally COPE holding another two.

“We know leads can evaporate in a matter of weeks in a campaign,” said Ms. Justason. “I just don’t see the trajectory changing between now and election day.”

Vision plans to unveil new affordable-housing strategies and highlight its progress on alleviating homelessness. The party wants to campaign on “ideas”– but girds for negative attacks, according to party executive director Ian Baillie.

Initial flares include NPA’s push to blame the June 15 Stanley Cup riot on Mr. Robertson and NPA’s hiring of Campaign Research Ltd., the Ottawa firm that helped elected right-wing Rob Ford to the mayor’s chair in Toronto.

“It’s gotten off to a scrappy start,” said Mr. Baillie on Monday.

It is a distinct contrast to 2008, when Vision eclipsed the NPA and the two mayoral candidates, Mr. Robertson and the NPA’s Peter Ladner, shared positions such as advocacy for bicycles.

“Now it seems [the NPA]are there to just pump some lead in to us,” said Mr. Baillie.

The NPA is visiting with community leaders across the city as part of a listening tour ahead of their platform release, said candidate Mike Klassen, who was a vocal critic of Vision and the mayor as co-founder of blog citycaucus.com.

NPA is running on the themes of listening to the concerns of specific neighbourhoods, general accountability and economic strategy. On economics, NPA feels Vision has focused too much on its green agenda at the expense of other industry.

Mr. Klassen summarized NPA’s approach as “Vancouver for all” rather than Vision’s alleged attention on specific special interests.

Ms. Justason’s polling suggests public perception of Vision has softened somewhat. The party had been criticized for imperious governing and lack of consultations, reflected in its general support falling to 37 per cent in July from 45 per cent last November.

But in the same span, support for Vision on the question of “considering needs of all residents” rose to 53 per cent from 46 per cent. On consulting on “neighbourhood issues,” Vision’s support climbed to 50 per cent from 41 per cent.

Mr. Robertson’s personal popularity will be an important factor versus rival Ms. Anton.

“Despite what people want to spin, he’s a very popular mayor,” said Mr. Baillie.

“We’re going to go out there and convince Vancouverites we deserve another three years, because we have the best ideas and are best suited to run the city.”

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