The yin-yang theory of Vancouver politics

Will the politics in Victoria be counterbalanced in Vancouver by candidates from the centre-right?

Our Thanksgiving meal last weekend was its usual bountiful affair with far too much food prepared for the occasion. And, as is often the case, there was that additional serving of casserole that I quickly wished I had not eaten.

Vancouver politics can be a lot like a holiday meal, where you hope to avoid that button-bursting extra helping. Just as you would wish to not overeat, Vancouverites have long aimed to strike an equilibrium between local government politics and the party holding power in Victoria.

It is referred to as the yin-yang theory of Vancouver politics, and it has been in evidence for the past few decades.

For example, as the B.C. Liberals held power in the provincial capital of Victoria, Vancouver has been mainly governed by left-leaning parties such as COPE and Vision Vancouver. Whereas, during the 1990s when the B.C. NDP ran the province, the right-leaning Non-Partisan Association (NPA) held majority control over city council, school board and park board.

The fact that provincial governments shifted to the right when councils tilted left, or vice versa, could not be chalked up to some master plan cooked up in a back room. It simply became the natural order of Vancouver politics.

And now, with the B.C. NDP back in power provincially, will the left’s grip on power in the city give way to an ascending NPA?

Or will Vancouver instead give itself a double helping of left-wing politics at both levels of government?

Just like when someone passes you the bowl of mashed potatoes, there is a temptation to add another dollop onto your plate.

With John Horgan as B.C.’s premier, why not re-elect NDP-allied Gregor Robertson — or, more likely, elect Andrea Reimer or Raymond Louie as mayor in 2018?

The yin-yang theory suggests it will not happen. Rather, it predicts that the politics in Victoria will be counterbalanced here in the city by candidates from the centre-right.

The byelection vote happening this weekend may or may not provide an early indicator of what will happen next. In Hector Bremner, the NPA has put forward an energetic, politically experienced candidate for city council. In addition to connections to business and neighbourhood groups, Bremner appears to have worked hard to court many of Vancouver’s prominent ethnic community leaders.

He is also running up against a crowded field of candidates such as Jean Swanson, Judy Graves and Pete Fry on the left. The wild card for council success may be the strength of Vision Vancouver’s election machine, and the pool of support it will draw upon from labour groups such as the CUPE locals.

For the school board byelection, the NPA has put forward a qualified five-member slate to help remedy the damage left in the wake of Vision’s alleged bullying of members of the VSB’s senior management team.

Should NPA candidates Lisa Dominato, Rob McDowell and Julian Prieto, as well as incumbents Christopher Richardson and Fraser Ballantyne, form a majority on school board, it could send a positive signal to prospective replacements for the superintendent’s job (and other senior leadership who recently fled their posts) that more stable and professional governance lies ahead.

The future success of the Vancouver school district depends upon who it can attract to leadership roles, making the composition of this board of education all the more critical.

As with council, there are several school board candidates on the left including from the fledgling OneCity party, COPE, Vancouver Greens, several independents and of course the Vision incumbents (minus the lightning rod former trustee Patti Bacchus) whose actions led the previous board to be fired.

The X-factor in the race for school board will be the efforts of the district’s powerful public sector unions, including the Operating Engineers and Vancouver Teachers’ Federation. Both organizations can muster significant manpower to get out the vote, and have traditionally supported the Vision team.

Though some suggest the multiple choices on the left strengthens the NPA’s chances of success, the notoriously low voter turnout of byelections makes the outcome highly unpredictable.

On Oct. 14, we’ll see if the yin-yang theory explains this vote, or if Vancouver voters will need to loosen their belt after overindulging on one half of the political spectrum.

Originally published in Vancouver Courier newspaper.