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Vision Vancouver lost votes in West End

Independents' popularity attributed to dissatisfaction over rental policy

Support for Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver slate in the West End took a noticeable dip as it was eroded by competition from the Green Party, independents and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) in the civic election held on Nov 19.

“It was interesting that it was one West End poll that put Adriane Carr on council at the 11th hour very late in the evening,” says Qmunity executive director Jennifer Breakspear. “I thought that was an interesting one to note.”

Carr, who secured the 10th seat on Vancouver’s city council, won the most votes of any council candidate in the West End. She believes West End residents were attracted to her stance against the Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) program, which offers developers subsidies to create rental units in Vancouver.

“There were people running in this election that I believe expressed strongly and reflected strongly the concerns of a whole lot of Vancouver voters that we’re not getting the right kind of development right now and that we need to switch how we do it so there is an alignment with peoples’ concerns over density, height and affordability,” Carr says. “NPA’s Eco Density and Vision’s STIR are experimental programs which reward developers and aren’t delivering what they intended to, which was affordable housing in Vancouver.”

Across the city, Robertson’s support remained relatively stable at 53.2 percent, compared to 54.4 percent in 2008. In the West End, however, his numbers decreased by 10 percent, from 69.4 percent in 2008 to 59.2 percent in 2011.

NSV mayoral candidate Randy Helten attributes Vision’s decline in the West End to the STIR program.

“I kind of think one of the factors was the controversy in the West End with rezoning and development,” Helten says. “I was president of West End Neighbours until I stepped down in October to run for mayor. West End Neighbours has 13,000 people of all political stripes calling for no rezoning without a comprehensive plan.

Vision Councillor Tim Stevenson, who ranked as the West End’s second choice for city council, attributes Vision’s decline in support to public misconceptions of STIR.

“We have dipped from what I can see from your data,” says Stevenson, referring to elections data obtained by Xtra from the City of Vancouver’s website. “It makes sense given the controversy in the West End around rezoning and STIR program. What that means is that we have to do a much better job at communications of explaining what it is we are trying to do because there is a lot of misunderstanding and that has spread throughout the West End to a certain degree and has dropped the numbers as much as 16 percent.”

Stevenson points out that despite the dip in support, Vision still received the most number of votes for all races in nine of the West End’s 10 voting divisions.

“I had someone yell at me, saying we’re out to destroy the West End,” he recalls. “I asked them where they heard that. I then told them that I’m not trying to destroy the West End but that I’m trying to get more rental housing in the West End because 85 percent of the people in the West End are renters and that’s exactly what the STIR program is for. That’s why it was developed, because for the last 30 years there has not been any development of rental units.”

The biggest shift in West End votes occurred in the city council race, where votes cast for Vision slipped by approximately 16 percentage points, from 52.6 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2011.

Few of the lost votes, however, went to COPE or the NPA, whose council candidates witnessed a marginal increase of support in the West End. Support for the NPA climbed by only 2.4 percent (from 26 percent in 2008 to 28.4 percent now), and support for COPE increased by approximately 1.4 percent (from 11 percent in 2008 to 12.4 percent in 2011).

The balance of votes shifted to the Green Party, NSV, De-Growth Vancouver and independents, who collectively doubled their support from just under 10 percent of votes in 2008 to more than 21 percent in 2011.

“It seemed to me that in this election race we saw much stronger candidates from the ‘other’ category,” says Breakspear. “Even though it didn’t result in wins, a lot more attention was given to those ‘others,’ which might be something for the established parties to pay attention to.”

This comes as no surprise to independent candidate Sandy Garossino, who won the most votes of any independent candidate for council. She, too, says land use was the biggest issue raised by West End voters during her campaign.

“I think that the independents, Adriane Carr and the NSV candidates in many ways were articulating the same or very common themes that resonated in the West End, which have to do with development and how much developers are dominating the public discourse around building and land use,” says Garossino, who views Carr’s election as a sign of a more independent council. “Adriane Carr is a very strong urban-planning candidate. She really has the chops there. I saw a lot of her appeal coming out of that same perspective.”

While support for Vision candidates declined in the mayoral and council contests in the West End, it increased from 35.7 percent to 38 percent for the school board and from 40 percent to 41.1 percent for the parks board. Garossino attributes this to the fact that the mayor and council are responsible for land-use bylaws.