Tent city unlikely to occupy Vancouver voters: experts
Published Thursday, November 17, 2011 7:56AM PST
What to do about the motley collection of tents and signs erected on the downtown lawn of Vancouver's landmark art gallery has been a question thrust into the middle of the city's civic election.
But it isn't one likely to have much sway at the ballot box, says a pollster and other experts.
"I don't think you're going to get a lot of people to switch from one side to the other by talking about Occupy," said Mario Canseco, vice-president with Angus Reid Public Opinion.
"When it comes to this type of election, it's ultimately about the services. Are you satisfied with the way things are going?"
Only 31 per cent of Vancouverites voted in the 2008 municipal election. A similarly low turnout expected again this time favours the incumbent, Mayor Gregor Robertson, and his Vision Vancouver slate, Canseco said.
It also bodes poorly for challenger Suzanne Anton, with the right-leaning Non-Partisan Association, who Canseco said hasn't taken the crucial tact of mobilizing new voters.
Anton's campaign has taken a hardline approach to the encampment, along with chastising the mayor for policy around bike lanes and backyard chicken coops.
But polling data suggests people's major concerns revolve around good sanitation services, protecting the environment, ensuring public safety, quality of life, poverty and implementing policies to help small businesses.
"The way you win as opposition candidate is you engage people," Canseco said, noting the NPA's base of mainly voters aged 55 and older has not likely grown.
Centre-left Vision Vancouver's platform is based around affordable housing and safe, green neighbourhoods.
The city runs its elections based on an at-large system, with some groups running slates of candidates for the mayor and ten councillor positions. People will also be asked to vote for seven park commissioners and nine school trustees.
More than 100 candidates are running for the 27 offices.
Incumbent Robertson is vying for his second term, and was formerly CEO and founder of juice company Happy Planet Foods. He's often seen riding his bicycle around the city, and his first campaign attacked homelessness. He won with 54 per cent of the popular vote.
Competitor Anton is a two-term city councillor and former Crown prosecutor. She has been a vocal opponent of Robertson in city hall chambers and is now pushing for a new streetcar line and expansion for a downtown hospital.
Among the other candidates are several with quirky profiles. They include Golok Buday, a five-time mayoral candidate who wants to unite people through liberty, trust and a sense of humour; Lloyd Cooke, who promises to serve with all his heart; single-dad Dubgee, who facilitates hip hop empowerment workshops; and Gerry McGuire, who suggests "when it's time to vote, rock the boat."
The two front-runners have garnered the most media coverage.
With the Occupy encampment intersecting with the campaign period, protesters have trailed alongside the whole way. They converged to shout out two public debates, have held several marches and rallies and have issued news releases hoping to get their cause greater traction.
The group has sent letters to all mayoral candidates asking them to reveal the sources and amounts of all donations greater than $100.
"Corporations are effectively buying elections," Eric Hamilton-Smith, who calls himself an Occupy Vancouver organizer, said in a release.
"This is particularly problematic here in Vancouver, where big developers have contributed to an affordable housing crisis."
Kathleen Cross, a lecturer in the school of communications at Simon Fraser University, said whether or not Occupy impacts the race, the movement itself is fuelled by the same concerns that resonate with voters.
Distilling the competition to just a few basic elements, the way Anton has, has been a gamble, she said.
"I haven't seen this kind of overly-simplified, if not consciously naive, approach to public relations coming out of an NPA campaign before this. This sounds and looks a lot like a Rob Ford campaign," Cross said, referring to the controversial mayor of Toronto.
Patrick Smith, director of SFU's Institute of Governance Studies, described Anton's strategy -- until Occupy took up residence -- as "shadow boxing."
She's made greater headway by labelling the mayor as "dithering," Smith said, but he still doesn't expect that move -- or any other issue the candidates try to run with -- to be enough.
"I'm not trying to be cynical at all," he said. "There are some good and important issues out there."