News Dispatch

Vancouverites say city election was about communities making their voices heard, not Left versus Right

Vancouver mayoral candidates Mark Marissen, from left to right, Ken Sim and Kennedy Stewart stand together for photographs before a town hall hosted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., in Vancouver, on Wednesday, September 7, 2022. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press.

When given a choice between an incumbent mayor declaring Vancouver safe or a challenger asserting the opposite, Vancouverites chose the latter in a landslide this month.

It was the first sign of a growing trend that voters may be turning their minds to public safety and casting ballots for politicians who reflect those concerns.

“We basically took an approach to policymaking that was: what are the facts saying? What does the science say? What does the data say? What are moms and dads saying? What are teachers saying? And let’s just do those things,” says Kareem Allam, the campaign manager for A Better City.

ABC is the Vancouver municipal party founded by Ken Sim, a local businessman who narrowly lost to Kennedy Stewart in the previous 2018 municipal election. In the Oct. 15 rematch, Sim bested the NDP-backed Stewart. Sim and ABC won, respectively, the mayoralty and majorities on city council, as well as the school and park board. 

One of ABC’s biggest promises during the election was hiring 100 new officers for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), and 100 new mental health nurses. Violent crime in Vancouver has spiked considerably compared to 2019, with a 35 percent rise in serious assaults, while robberies and assaults against police officers were both up by over 20 percent.

ABC’s triumph was celebrated by federal Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre as a defeat of the political Left, comparing the “fired” Stewart and his policies to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

However, Allam says portraying the Vancouver election as a Left versus Right contest misrepresents ABC, and that provincial and federal political allegiances were left at the door when ABC was formed. 

“We wanted something that was truly free of anything other than what individual communities in Vancouver wanted to see at the municipal level,” says Allam. 

Lorraine Lowe is the executive director of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, located in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood. She says the Chinatown community felt unheard during the tenure of Stewart, who insisted Vancouver was a safe city even as violent crime rose in the neighbourhood. 

“We can’t necessarily say it was just him, it was we just didn’t feel heard…we were left to the wayside,” says Lowe. 

Stewart is a drug decriminalization advocate who supports “safe supply”, which entails providing addicts with toxic-free narcotics, or narcotic replacements. 

During Stewart’s mayoralty, he called on lawmakers to abolish street checks by police officers, while the school board voted to end the VPD’s school liaison officer program

Anti-Asian hate crimes and random assaults became frequent in Vancouver’s Chinatown during the pandemic, with seniors often being the victims. Although the city’s large Chinese-Canadian community lives in every part of Vancouver, Chinatown is home to many older Chinese-Canadians and business owners. 

Random assaults, such as an 87-year-old in Chinatown being attacked with bear spray, occurred as the homeless encampment, located at the nearby intersection of Main and Hastings, exploded in size over the last two and a half years. The sale and open use of narcotics like heroin, meth, and crack cocaine are commonplace there. 

Post-electoral surveys that emerged since the election suggest some of Stewart’s heaviest support in his unsuccessful re-election bid came from the Downtown Eastside. Nearby Downtown areas voted heavily for Sim, as did many of Vancouver’s most culturally diverse neighbourhoods

“We went into the community, we went to the quarters of the city where people felt they didn’t have a voice, we recruited their leaders,” says Allam. 

As an example, Allam points out that ABC recruited park board candidates from the rugby community, who felt unheard of by the former incumbents at city hall. In what became one of the election’s most controversial moments, the Vancouver Police Union (VPU) endorsed ABC, the first such endorsement ever made by the VPU.

Relations between Stewart and the local police were described as “strained” in 2021. Allam says ABC was honoured to have the VPU’s endorsement. 

“Our view was that it wasn’t the VPU that decided to politicize the police,” says Allam. “The police were politicized by the actions of the previous administration to the point where the police felt that they had no choice but to get active in politics.” 

The day after the election, the VPU released a statement congratulating Sim. 

“This was a campaign focused on change at city hall and voters recognized we couldn’t afford to continue down a path that led to an unlivable and unsafe community,” read the statement

Other cities in Canada are also confronting these trends. On Oct. 19, the Ottawa Police Association publicly criticized Catherine McKenney, a mayoral candidate in Monday’s municipal election. McKenney has publicly voiced support for defunding or diverting funding from the Ottawa Police Service and ultimately lost to Mark Sutcliffe, the centrist candidate, by 13 percentage points.

Violent crime rates in other cities across Canada are rising as well, and Lowe says concerned residents should look at Vancouver as an example of what happens when governments are soft on crime. 

“Is this what you want with your city, and what do you want in the future?” asks Lowe 

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