VANCOUVER — In Vancouver’s crowded mayoral race, observers say one candidate is courting controversy and setting herself apart from others in the field.
Political scientist Stewart Prest says the city, which is one of the few in Canada operating on a party system, is politically fractured in a way that hasn’t been seen in years ahead of the Oct. 20 election.
While the left wing has long been splintered, the right is now largely divided between three main parties: the Non-Partisan Association, the newly formed Coalition Vancouver and YES Vancouver, said Prest, who teaches at Douglas College and Simon Fraser University.
Wai Young of Coalition Vancouver seems to be carving a niche for herself on the ruptured right, he said in a recent interview.
“Wai Young and her party seem like they’re really focused on capturing the right-hand side of that spectrum, which is, to be honest, not a bad place to be with a field so fragmented,” Prest said.
The former Conservative MP has drawn attention for waging a war on bike lanes and using populist language.
The policy consultant says she has worked on behalf of the community for almost 35 years with various levels of government, but promises she’s not part of the established power structure that she refers to as “backroom boys.”
She has adopted the campaign slogan “100 per cent for the people,” and pledged to return common sense to city hall.
In an Aug. 1 news release, she referred to the existing council under Mayor Gregor Robertson as a “dictatorship” that has started a “war on transportation.” On Twitter, she later called bike lanes divisive and “discriminatory” against seniors and single moms.
Young has also been criticized for retweeting a post that said: “In Vancouver if you stay clean, study, borrow, finish university, get a job & pay taxes, you’ll be renovicted to Surrey. But if you’re crazy, a crackhead or a criminal, you get a free apartment in an expensive neighbourhood. We call this Social Justice.”
In an interview, Young stood by the retweet, saying it’s a message that she has heard from many constituents.
“Where do you cross a line between inflammatory or stating an issue?” she asked. “How are we going to get to real solutions if we don’t use real words and describe things in a real way?”
She used her experience working in the Downtown Eastside as a native youth worker and creator of a breakfast program for kids when she was president of the Strathcona Community Centre to highlight her credentials on social issues.
Young also brushed off the comparison some have made between her rhetoric and that of United States President Donald Trump, saying she doesn’t understand why parallels would be drawn between her and “someone in another country.”
“I feel that those are desperate words from desperate people,” Young said.
Prest said that while Young shares some rhetoric in common with other populist leaders like Trump, the issues they’re tackling are different.
“They’re not going to focus on the same issues, but they’ll make the same style of appeal, where everyone who is currently in power is untrustworthy and they’re going to be the candidates of the people,” he said.
In terms of policy, she’s vowed to remove or cancel bike lane projects, cancel plans to remove two major viaducts and is promising free parking on Sundays and after 8 p.m. Vancouver needs more affordable housing, she said, but details of her housing platform won’t be revealed until a later date.
Young seems to be focusing on talking points that are different from her opponents, Prest said, pointing to the war on bike lanes and the free parking promise.
“She’s trying to find a way to give people what they want without any sense of the consequences — in that sense she’s reminiscent (of other populists),” he said.
It may not be enough to win the mayor’s seat, but it could mean that Young influences the election either by creating talking points or attracting votes on the right, he said.
“It’s still an uphill climb. We have these two clear front-runners in (Independent) Kennedy Stewart and (the Non-Partisan Association’s) Ken Sim. Everyone else seems to be scrambling to have the chance and name recognition, but her having carved out that clearly defined niche is going to help her,” he said.
Pollster Mario Conseco says he doesn’t believe Young’s rhetoric, nor that of other Coalition Vancouver members, will gain traction in the city.
“Obviously the statements from people connected to her party that have been unearthed in the past few weeks have definitely been eye-catching, but it’s not going to be enough to make people switch from one party to the other. There’s got to be some policy or some meat behind the bones,” Conseco said.
About 40 per cent of the electorate was still undecided in early September based on his polls, which typically have a sample size of about 400 and a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points, he said.
But while the race is relatively wide open, he said it could be tougher for conservative candidates, since the city turned away from the federal Conservative party in 2015 and the B.C. Liberals in last year’s provincial election.
“So someone coming from either of those two wings trying to get appeal across the city looks like a challenge.”
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press