At least half of Metro Vancouver’s 21 mayoral seats could be vacant going into this fall’s municipal election, according to many of the region’s mayors.
“It’s probably going to be one of the largest turnovers of mayors this region has ever seen,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté. “That’ll be a really interesting dynamic.”
With eight months to go before the Oct. 20 election — and just under seven before the nomination period begins — six Metro Vancouver mayors have already announced that they will step down or indicated previously that this is their final term: Gregor Robertson (Vancouver), Greg Moore (Port Coquitlam), Ted Schaffer (City of Langley), Nicole Read (Maple Ridge), Wayne Baldwin (White Rock) and Lois Jackson (Delta).
Many more mayors, from Coquitlam to the District of North Vancouver, are on the fence while some have confirmed their intentions.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who described himself as “one of the fools that keeps coming back again, and again, and again,” said he’ll be running for a sixth term in October.
He says he has some big issues he’d like to see through — including the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, to which the city is opposed — and he’s comfortable in the position.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan plans to run for re-election this year for a sixth term.
Corrigan is one of the region’s longest serving mayors and he estimates, based on the conversations he’s had, that half of the region’s mayors won’t be running for re-election.
“Come October I think we’ll see more change than we’ve seen in a lot of years,” he said. “There’s going to be a kind of a leadership deficit that’s going to go on while some new mayors get their bearings.”
Over the past 30 years of elections, there have only been two occasions where the number of Metro Vancouver areas mayors leaving has come close to the number of mayors who have already announced for 2018.
In 1987, there were six mayoral seats up for grabs in Langley Township, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Delta and Lions Bay. Technically, a seventh seat was available in Anmore, which held its first municipal election that year. Five mayors decided not to run in 1993 and 2011.
In the other seven elections that took place between 1987 and 2014, between two and four mayoral seats were vacant.
“This sounds unprecedented, to have that many at the same time,” said Gordon Price, a fellow at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue and a former Vancouver city councillor. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be very tough to find any time you’d have 50 per cent turnover, maybe more — so there’s something going down.”
There is a multitude of reasons why a mayor would decide against running for another term.
“I think every mayor will have their individual and very personal reasons,” said Coté, who will run for a second term in October.
Some have been in politics for a long time and are looking for a change.
“It’s a busy, busy job and I think after people have done it for a period of time they often get burned out and they look for a change,” Corrigan said.
Incivility and constant criticism online — both warranted and unwarranted — have become more prevalent in recent years and could be contributing to burnout.
“You get criticized for a lot of things that you have to do as part of your job — it’s not an easy thing to do,” Corrigan said.
Others decided when they started out how long they wanted to be in the position, and it’s just a coincidence that other mayors are leaving at the same time. For instance, White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said he vowed after being elected to a second term in 2014 that it would be his last.
The lengthening of municipal terms from three to four years, which began with the 2014 election, is also a factor.
“Everything has to be right because you’re making a four-year commitment,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who is intending to run for a sixth term. “It does make a noticeable difference.”
Added Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, “It does potentially mean more turnover every election than we’d normally have.”
Municipal campaign finance reforms, which took effect on Oct. 31, 2017, are a factor for people who have relied on large donations in the past. The changes ban corporate and union donations, and individuals are limited to $1,200 in donations per year to any one candidate or political party’s campaign.
Price posited that there is a generational shift happening.
“It’s just the younger generation always wins by default,” he said. “Eventually they prevail simply because they last out the old boys — and in most cases it literally is the old boys.”
Mayors said they see both opportunity and risk in so many mayors leaving at the same time.
“I think on one hand it’s good to bring new mayors on to the table bring new ideas and new energy,” Coté said. “But, there’s no doubt there’s long-standing mayors that bring experience and knowledge.”
Stewart said there are enormous pressures around housing and transportation in Metro Vancouver and it will be tough to lose mayors who have been working on resolving those issues before all of the work is done.
“It does potentially create challenges related to continuity in the corporate memory, if you will, of the region and there are so many important aspects of local government that are being pressured right now,” Stewart said.
“Fresh faces could be good, but large scale turnover can create discontinuity in the direction that cities have to take.”
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said that in her more than three decades of local government experience, both as a member of staff and an elected official, she cannot recall an election with this much turnover, and it will be a challenge to adjust.
“It will be a steep learning curve,” she said. “Even after three terms as a councillor, to turn to mayor there is a learning curve. To have all new mayors some potentially with no experience at all it will be an exciting time for brand new ideas and a lot of hard work catching up, too.”
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