“You feeling happy tonight?” Gregor Robertson asked a packed-to-capacity room of Vision Vancouver supporters in the Hotel Vancouver, Nov 15.
“Yeah!” roared the crowd.
“Me too!” Robertson yelled back.
The mood at Vision Vancouver’s municipal election night headquarters was jubilant hours before Robertson danced his way to the stage to claim the Vancouver mayor’s seat.
By the time Robertson stood before the expectant crowd to accept the “enormous responsibility” Vancouver voters placed on him and a new Vision Vancouver-dominated city council, the magnitude of the Non-Partisan Association’s (NPA) defeat was clear.
Robertson had beat out his rival for the mayoralty, the NPA’s Peter Ladner, by almost 19,000 votes, garnering 67,598 votes to Ladner’s 48,794.
And Suzanne Anton was the only NPA-er to retain her seat on city council, making her the de facto opposition on a council that now comprises seven Vision and two Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) councillors.
Going into the election, the NPA held the majority on council with six seats including Mayor Sam Sullivan.
This time, voters re-elected Vision councillors Tim Stevenson, Heather Deal, Raymond Louie and George Chow, and added Andrea Reimer, Kerry Jang and Geoff Meggs to council.
COPE, which reached an agreement with both Vision and the civic Green Party in September to present a united alternative to the NPA at the municipal level, saw the re-election of councillor David Cadman and the return to council of lesbian Ellen Woodsworth, who was first elected in 2002 but lost her seat in 2005.
The election results highlighted the city’s geographic and socio-economic cleavages with NPA red carpeting the western and some southern sectors of the city’s electoral maps while Vision cut a huge swath across the eastern section of the city, extending a thinner arm into the West End and Kitsilano.
Only 16 percent of the 403,663 registered voters cast a ballot for mayor, while 30 percent of registered voters participated in the civic election overall, which included council, school and parks board elections as well.
According to Stevenson, there’s a “whole number of things,” including homelessness, the secretiveness at city hall and the arrogance of the NPA that account for the overwhelming mandate Vision received at the polls.
“I think people just got fed up with that,” said the openly gay councillor.
Soaking up the Vision celebrations Sat night, Stevenson told Xtra West that his last election to council in 2005 was bittersweet because back then “we didn’t have a majority and we didn’t have the mayor.”
This time, he said, “it’s just sweet.”
The queer community will once again have friends in city hall, said Stevenson, adding that it will have “a very strong voice, be able to make its desires known and not just be taken for granted.”
Homelessness and affordable housing are issues that affect every community and “certainly affects our community as well,” he noted. “But besides that, of course, we have other issues like making sure that the Village remains the centre for the queer community, and that we ensure that steps [are taken] naming it as such.
“Then, of course, I think that issues around safety and gaybashing are on everyone’s minds because of the recent beating that we have had,” he continued, “and so we need to work closely with the police and community on that.”
In a media scrum following his acceptance speech, Robertson told Xtra West that the queer community was “rock solid” throughout Vision Vancouver’s campaign and in helping build the party itself.
“We need to return that, and make sure we’re supporting the queer community, and Davie Village in particular,” Robertson said.
“I think we can look forward to the Pride parade being a civic designated parade; I think that will happen under this council,” Vision campaign manager Ron Stipp predicted.
Asked if he has any concerns about accountability and transparency in the face of such a sweeping win, Stipp said there is opposition and Anton will have to play that role. In the meantime, he added, Vision has to honour the mandate given and deliver on promises made.
“If we don’t deliver, then the people will speak again. But I think we’ve elected people here that will make sure we’re going in the right direction,” Stipp said.
“I feel like if I went to a council meeting now and had a question, I feel like I would be welcome to go,” said Adrienne Smith, “because it’s not an NPA council anymore and it’s not an NPA city anymore.
“I worked all day today on the Downtown Eastside and I feel like the people I spent today with have a voice now,” said Smith, who identifies as a Downtown Eastside transgendered person. “People who’d never voted before voted because Vision and COPE were running a slate.”
Smith remembers wondering “who’s this extra pretty juice man?” when first encountering Robertson in 2005.
“He’s intelligent and he’s cheerful. The man was an organic farmer. Beyond all that personal stuff, he actually has a vision for the city that could work,” Smith continued.
“I don’t have stars in my eyes. I don’t think it’s going to be perfect. But I’m going to wake up tomorrow happy and I’ve got some hope for the future of municipal politics, which I didn’t have before,” Smith added.
“They might not say, ‘Yes, here’s everything you want,’ but at least I would get an answer when before there was nothing.”
The mood was significantly different a few blocks away at The Renaissance Hotel where the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) gathered to watch the election results.
At 8:30 pm an estimated 60 people (40 percent of whom were media) quietly mingled in the ballroom. By 9 pm the room had filled to nearly 200 people but the tone remained subdued.
At approximately 9:20 pm, with 66 of 133 polls accounted for, Ladner trailed Robertson by 6,000 votes, while Sean Bickerton, the NPA’s lone gay city council candidate, trailed far behind the city council pack in 19th place, where he would remain when all the votes were counted.
By 9:45 pm, it was evident that the decision-making power in Vancouver’s municipally elected bodies was shifting to Vision Vancouver; the NPA was poised to suffer a huge loss.
Former gay NPA city councillor Alan Herbert had hoped for less of a sweep by any one party.
“I would like it to have been a little bit more balanced,” he said. “I think it is important for the governance of the city of Vancouver to have a couple of extra voices in order to facilitate debate —otherwise it’s bad government.”
Shortly after 10 pm, with 123 of the 133 polling stations reporting and Vision Vancouver’s win clearly irreversible, Ladner and the other NPA candidates gathered on stage to address the crowd.
Introducing Ladner to the podium, NPA president Ned Pottinger called the 2008 run a “tough” one, and said that Ladner had run it well.
“It’s been a long, hard battle, fought with integrity,” Pottinger said.
After thanking his family, fellow candidates and campaign team, Ladner kept his concession speech short and to the point as he addressed his disappointed supporters.
“We’ve done so much over the past few years. It’s true, voters obviously wanted a change, but we have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “We delivered some very, very good results to the city of Vancouver.
“We worked very hard,” he continued. “We stayed on the high ground. We never resorted to lies.”
Ladner said he was disappointed in the low voter turnout. But those who did vote “have spoken,” he acknowledged.
“Our city is at a crossroads,” he continued, promising that the NPA will continue to serve in civic politics. “We have the high of the Olympics coming and we have the low of economic problems facing us.”
Ladner said he has confidence in those NPA candidates who will carry on their work on Vancouver’s city council, school board and parks board. Out of 27 spots up for election in Vancouver, the NPA secured only four seats: incumbents Suzanne Anton on city council, Ken Denike and Carol Gibson on school board, and Ian Robertson for parks.
Bickerton said he has no regrets about his own run for council.
“I’m happy with what we’ve done,” he told Xtra West. “We had very small resources to work with and I thought we mounted an incredible campaign in 10 weeks.”
Across town at COPE’s election night party on East Broadway St, the mood was anything but sombre.
With music blasting and drinks flowing, the 100 or so supporters remaining after 10 pm seemed almost giddy in anticipation of what a progressive change at city hall could bring.
Trying to talk over the blaring music, newly re-elected queer trustee Jane Bouey said she was happy to have regained her seat on the Vancouver School Board.
“I’m feeling really good, really pleased that we’ve elected a strong progressive board that I know will work hard to defend public education and will be strong allies and support queer youth and same-sex families in the district,” she said.
“I’d like to expand and improve on the work that has been done on the board around queer issues,” Bouey continued, pointing in particular to the need for more trans-friendly policies.
After flipping in and out of the 10th city council seat all night, lesbian Ellen Woodsworth finally secured the seat with 45,877 votes, beating her closest competitor by 1,023 votes.
“I feel ecstatic,” she said after all the votes had been counted. “I feel that the people of Vancouver have spoken, they’ve come out and they’ve said, ‘We want a change, we want Vancouver to work for everyone, we want to get rid of the NPA who have really reduced this city to something that works for the developers —it doesn’t work for the homeless, it doesn’t work for renters, it doesn’t work for transit users, it doesn’t work for those of us who want to fight climate change or work for gender equality or queer rights.'”
Woodsworth, who now returns to council having lost her seat in the 2005 civic election, promises that council’s new majority will breathe life back into city hall.
“We’re going to work together and bring back excitement, life, democracy and engagement to city hall,” she said, adding that she wants to bring Pride celebrations back into council chambers.
Homelessness and housing strategies need to be implemented as well, she emphasized.
“We want this city to be able to work for everyone. I want transit for everyone, I want housing for everyone. I want to be able to be proud to be a lesbian in this city,” she added.
“I think the queer community came out to vote and they made a difference,” she continued. “I think they knew they were electing an out lesbian that fought hard for the LGBT community when I was in power… I’m going to work hard to get the Pride festival designated a civic festival.”
Kat Braybrook and Dashiell Brasen, both in their early 20s, are excited about what the new administration will mean for Vancouver.
“It means that people who actually value people are in charge of the city I live in,” said Brasen.
“The fact that the queer community has representation in government means a world of difference,” he added. “It’s not just a target demographic city anymore; it is also an electoral demographic with a voice in power.”