Mayor Trump? It’s not as crazy as it sounds

Job losses and economic collapse in the oil sector are sowing the seeds of despair in neighbouring Alberta and Saskatchewan. The world burns in the Middle East and a political crisis has beset Europe’s leaders over migration. Irrational real estate prices continue to escalate in Metro Vancouver.

There are lots of anxiety-inducing issues out there. So what do Canadians spend most of their time these days ruminating over?

The rise of Donald J. Trump — the Republican nominee for U.S. president.

Few stories have absorbed as much airtime on traditional media and activity on social media as the Trump phenomenon.

How, we ask, can an apparently bigoted carnival barker with a spotty business track record garner so much grassroots support for his presidential bid?

Theories abound as to why. I believe it is thanks to Trump’s timing, his promise of change and his immeasurable skill at mastering the media that this wannabe politician has been able to create so many false hopes among the electorate.

Dare we also ask, is a Trump-like demagogue likely to ever lead a city in B.C?

Is a Mayor Trump — or for that matter a Mayor Ford — ever likely to emerge in Vancouver or one of our province’s biggest boroughs?

We would be shortsighted to think it could not happen. In fact, there have been many colourful — and controversial — men who have worn the chain of office in B.C.

In the late 1960s, Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell was a brash figure, known for egging on his police forces to clamp down on hippies during the Gastown riot. Affectionately known as “Tom Terrific,” Campbell won the mayoralty as an independent candidate by knocking off the NPA incumbent.

As far back as the 1930s, Vancouver elected another populist political disruptor named Gerry McGeer, who after defeating the incumbent took on police corruption, built Vancouver city hall on 12th Avenue in under a year, and battled “communists” by invoking the Riot Act.

Neighbouring Surrey has had its share of badly behaved mayors including Bill Vander Zalm — enemy of welfare “deadbeats.” The Zalm was succeeded by Ed McKitka, one of B.C.’s best retail politicians who was convicted of breach of trust and served jail time for misuse of his office.

While it has been a while since a head-bashing populist ran a city here, more recent mayors like Vancouver’s Larry Campbell and even Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan showed little time for the diplomatic niceties of being mayor.

The latter once told a newspaper editor he has no interest in setting up homeless shelters in his city — something unthinkable in Vancouver — and he remains as popular as ever.

The real lesson of the election silly season in the U.S. is that the public is frustrated with the status quo. Many have expressed how they feel they are being left behind in these rapidly changing times.

These sentiments are of course not unique to the U.S. Read the comments left behind on newspaper stories or on Facebook — particularly those about real estate prices — and you can see how belligerent the public feels on a range of issues.

If ever they mobilized behind the right political figure — someone who promises “change” and to benefit “the little guy” — the phenomenon we see south of the border could come home to roost here.

Because of our “weak mayor” system (where the mayor is just one vote on council) Canadian cities are less susceptible to the ravages of a Rob Ford.

Under the governance of Gregor Robertson’s council, however, an enormous amount of power has been shifted into the mayor’s office that was previously dispersed among the rest of council and the city manager’s office.

It is possible that Vancouver is more vulnerable today than ever in its history by electing someone to the mayor’s office who can do real damage to the institution.

What issue would catalyze those traditional and non-traditional voters into backing someone like Trump? Promising to stop foreign investment? Ripping out bike lanes? Slamming the brakes on the city’s densification?

One shudders to think that it could happen here.

But who could have imagined that in 2016 someone like Trump would be blazing a path to the White House?

Originally published in Vancouver Courier and Burnaby Now newspapers.