The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Wednesday, July 30, 2003


Reforming Vancouver Elections

Yup, wards are coming to Vancouver. We now get to join the big cities’ club. Yay.

Last night's party-line vote means that for the first time in Vancouver history, voters will elect their city council on some sort of a ward system in the 2005 municipal election.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the formerly dominant Non-Partisan Association (NPA) voted against the motion to introduce wards (districts) to council election. Councillor Sam Sullivan cries that bringing wards to Vancouver is “an abomination”. Well, it certainly is abominable for Sullivan’s electoral prospects.

The NPA has long benefitted from Vancouver's electoral system where the city's ten councillors are elected at large by voters across the entire system. Voter turnout has always been higher in areas where the NPA gets its support—the West Side, Little Mountain, and South Vancouver. On the East Side and the downtown peninsula, home to the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors’ (COPE) base, turnout is generally lower. This has been reflected in NPA majorities on council for most of the last 65 years, of ten with very few members of council being from either Downtown or East Vancouver.

For the last 35 years, COPE’s argument has been that a ward system will ensure that every part of the city has a representative on council (and of course the unstated argument that a ward system will tend to put COPE on a more even footing with the establishment politicos in the NPA.) Since it was founded, COPE has always pledged to bring wards to Vancouver. This is trhe first time that COPE has gained a majority on council outside a coalition, and the party’s councillors argue that Vancouver voters voted for wards when they voted for COPE.

In the 1980’s, Vancouver council dominated by Mike Harcourt’s Civic Independents (a mish-mash of COPE, the Civic New Democrats and the remnains of the middle-of-the-road TEAM party) twice put the ward question to Vancouver voters. Both time, Vancouver voters gave the proposals greater than 50% support, but less than the 60% required by the province. The provincial government of the time was dominated by the old Social Credit party, which were allies of... the NPA. The current Liberal government has promised to be hands-off with cities contemplating electoral reform, and earlier this year said that a referendum is not necessary for Vancouver (or any other city in BC) to adopt a ward system—all that’s needed is a vote of council.

What of the COPE-dominated council’s inconsistent stance on referenda? Last year, they had no problem holding a non-binding, legally useless, referendum on the city’s participation in the 2010 Olympic Games. That’s politics at work. The Olympic referendum was the only position on the games that every faction in COPE—Olympic supporters (most connected with the former NDP government that started the bid process), skeptics, and opponents (drawn from the social-activist crowd)—could agree on. That’s not the case for wards, where it is some sort of article of faith among COPEsters that having representation from all across the city is a Good Thing, but where citywide support for such a move is not so strong. Yeah, it’s a cynical view, but politicians are rarely pilloried for making those sorts of moves. If COPE councillors get tossed from office in 2005, it likely won’t be over the introduction of wards, but how well they’ve run the city and dealt with issues like drug addiciton, crime, municipal services, development, transportation, and the myriad other issues that City Hall faces.

Of course, the details of how such a system will work haven't been hashed out—will it be a system where every councillor is elected from a ward, or will it be a mix of five at-large councillors and five councillors elected from wards? If this does go through, how will the ward boundaries be drawn? For a ten-ward system, it’s pretty simple: there are ten provincial electoral districts in the City of Vancouver at least through 2009, so you can simply borrow those boundaries. If it's five wards, the city could use those in the upcoming federal representation order. On the other hand, the city might want to build its own wards. If that’s the case, then there has to be some sort of independent commission to draw the boundaries lest there be the worry of gerrymandering by the party in power.

Those are questions that will be answered sometime in the fall, when city staff reports back to council on how to implement a new electoral system. If there is going to be a commission on reforming voting in Vancouver, I do have a few candidates. Candidate Numero Uno is former NPA councillor Jon Baker, who is by trade a lawyer specializing in municipal issues. No longer an NPAer, and removed from municipal politics since a run for mayor as an independent in 1996, he has great knowledge of the city and local governance. Christine Wiebe, a former senior officer in the provincial elections agency, has recently completed her stint as secretary to the federal electoral boundaries commission in BC. There’s SFU poli-sci professor Kennedy Stewart, a rare bird in political science in that he actually specializes in local government. THere are plenty of others that I likely can’t think of in my early morning, rush-rush and dash this thing off and post it kind of state.

Should be interesting. Stay tuned.
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