Mid-term report: who will lead Vision Vancouver in 2018?

In just over one week, our American neighbours will elect a new U.S. President. Barack Obama, as a result of the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution, is limited to eight years in that highest of elected offices. He was first voted in on Nov. 4, 2008.

A week after that, on Nov. 15th, Gregor Robertson was first elected as mayor of Vancouver. In his case, however, no mandated term limits exist.

The next time Vancouver voters are scheduled to go to the polls to elect their mayor and council is Oct. 20, 2018, making this week the midway point in the third term for Robertson’s Vision government. With only 24 months left in this mandate, a surprising number of shoes are about to drop.

Gregor Robertson: photo credit, Vancouver Metro

Gregor Robertson: photo credit, Vancouver Metro

For Robertson himself, the pressure will build from within the Vision organization. We should expect him, at the latest, to make his intension to run (or not) known by this time next year.

Leave that decision too long and you risk the fate of other leaders such as Jean Chrétien, Gordon Campbell and Philip Owen, who each faced revolts from within their caucus.

After eight years in office, there are signs of wear on the Vision brand. They have lost control of park board and now school board, and kept control of council only by a few hundred votes in 2014.

In spite of past electoral successes, Robertson is not a shoo-in for re-election. Ten years is the typical expiry date for leaders in a modern democracy. Mayor Gregor therefore has to choose whether he should hang onto the chain of office, or update his LinkedIn profile.

Should he decide to leave, however, we know who wants to succeed him.

You did not have to read about Coun. Andrea Reimer taking Cantonese lessons to know she has her eyes on the big chair in council chambers. Reimer is signaling that she is making a run for the mayor’s job, and will happily be sworn into office with one hand firmly pressed to a copy of the Leap Manifesto.

Her competition for the next leader of Vision Vancouver will be formidable. Coun. Raymond Louie in his role as acting mayor has been acting the part already through his various appointments to the Metro Vancouver board and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The former print shop worker cum finance committee chair belongs to the labour wing of the Vision coalition, and has support from the powerful public service unions operating at city hall.

Therein lies the biggest challenge for the post-Gregor Robertson Vision Vancouver party. While Robertson had the political coattails to win three elections, his biggest feat was bringing together traditionally hostile forces in the labour and environmental movement to stand against the centre-right NPA.

Building and maintaining political coalitions is the skill that allowed Gordon Campbell to be both mayor and premier of British Columbia. Coalition building is unquestionably a component of the political success of Premier Christy Clark. Whoever challenges Premier Rachel Notley in neighbouring Alberta in 2019 will also need that ability to coalesce the forces of the centre-right there.

Even if you win the leadership, you must raise enough money to mount an effective election campaign. In 2014, Vision Vancouver spent $3.4 million to hold power on city council, which means a lot of people have to open their wallets for a Reimer or Louie-led slate of candidates.

It is hard to imagine Andrea Reimer crowdsourcing her campaign war chest beyond six figures. She could perhaps make up the difference with the help of longtime Robertson bagman Joel Solomon, and the outgoing mayor himself working the phones.

Raymond Louie, on the other hand, will have the full backing of labour organizations such as CUPE, the BC Fed and the teachers’ union, which history shows is worth about a half million dollars, give or take. After 16 years on council, Louie will be able to tap into his longstanding relationships in the development community too.

It seems like just yesterday Obama was trumpeting his “yes we can” agenda. It serves as a reminder that all political movements are tested by time.

With a leadership battle likely imminent, we will soon discover whether a post-Robertson Vision Vancouver can maintain power.

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Originally published by Vancouver Courier.