Independent Vancouver Mayoral candidate Shauna Sylvester

Vancouver mayoral candidate Shauna Sylvester is the centre of this interview by the cool dudes at Cambie Report.  The 2018 civic election is the topic (duh), and Ms. Sylvester ranges widely and in depth with Ian Bushfield and Patrick Meehan.

It’s a fascinating interview (1:02:11 in length), and it makes me wonder about something.

Apparently, political wisdom holds that an election campaign is no time to discuss policy — one of those diktats that all politicos know but no one is supposed to say out loud. Never. Ever. Recall the fatal media storm that fell upon Prime Minister Kim Campbell when she was accused of saying much the same thing during her 1993 campaign to retake the Prime Minister’s office in our Federal Government.

But as Ms. Sylvester says in the podcast, she has concluded that voters are tired of political rhetoric, and are looking for substantial content.  Personally, this suits me big-time, as someone who’s been appalled at the serious focus given by media and parties to monumentally unimportant things like bike lanes and to gratuitous stunts like trotting out people in chicken suits.

Is Ms. Sylvester right, though?  Are voters really tired of being treated like tired and distracted children? Maybe there’s just me and a small number of others who are tired of the status quo in campaigning.

Not so, says Ms. Sylvester, who thinks that some 60% of voters are “persuadable”.

She also thinks that a front-runner on policy can set the frame on issues.

Such is Ms. Sylvester’s gamble.  And she’s tossed the dice irrevocably with her lengthy series of fairly detailed policy announcements.

The election results on October 20 will validate this approach, in the face of bland and insubstantial opponents, one-issue candidates (bike lanes!!!), and who knows what sort of traditional shallow stunts, vacuous slogans, name-calling, and negative personal attacks that will probably emerge.

On to the Cambie Report podcast (available HERE in shortened version at 0:31:16, and behind a low-cost paywall HERE at 1:02:11).  My precis is in no particular order, except that I group ideas as they seem to need it.

Politics:

  • Old divisions are receding:  east vs. west, left vs. right.
  • Emerging themes:  strongly green (note the small “g”); housing solutions; financial accountability; homelessness; opiod poisoning epidemic; climate change; traffic; transit
  • Voters feel that traditional parties have moved away from them (hello, NPA).  I.E. the West Side, where NIMBY is receding and emerging instead are concerns around hollowing-out of their ‘hood, childrens’ ability to afford housing there; downsizing opportunities there for parents
  • Voters are looking for an end to polarization; want independence, competence, stability; with strong green and social policies.
  • Party-dominated councils have resulted in a Gov’t/Opposition mentality, which may end in 2018. What model may emerge?  How about group goals and a Mayor to lead them all?

Creds and Fundamentals:

  • Major board experience:  VanCity, DVBIA, MEC; with a focus on good governance for these entities
  • Comfortable with money and numbers; literate and experienced here
  • Has learned how to move policies forward amid disparate viewpoints and agendas (a.k.a. leadership); a strength when the new council will likely not have a party majority, so could become divisive and dysfunctional (e.g. Nanaimo). Independence from any party is an asset in this.

City Hall:

  • Staff have complained to her about partisanship.  This must end.
  • Sadhu Johnston is a “. . very strong city manager”, and Gil Kelley seems impressive in limited contact
  • Citizens are disconnected from politics and city hall, but a full ward system could lead to rule by local neighbourhood associations. Better model is to have, say, 5 wards and 5 at-large councilors.
  • Lobbyist registry; one-year ban on former staff and officials becoming lobbyists

Housing:

  • This complex topic has no silver bullet solution. Get used to it.
  • Push growth into more places with gentle density across the city; rentals on arterials only is a policy that needs to change.
  • Sylvester’s vision:  mixed income, community environment; co-ops, co-housing.  Recall the Feds being involved here; with land supplied by the city
  • Must build a lot of purpose-built rental quickly
  • Possibility of housing authorities to control some housing
  • Quick approvals and low fees for homeowners who build affordable housing; and CAC charge for those who build for the market

Other:

  • Great big stuff as seen by futurists:  energy transition away from fossil fuels; revamp of governance structures at all levels
  • Kinder Morgan:  never supported it, preferred renewables focus; pipeline has no economic basis and will be a stranded asset in 10 years; KM dumped it and the purchase is a colossal waste of money.
  • It is absolutely the role of Mayor to be active in any issue if it affects the city. [Ed.  presumably regardless of jurisdiction].

Ms. Sylvester strikes me as serious, fun, articulate, committed and experienced. She seems to have identified a strongly-needed role for herself in leadership.  It’s needed because of the distinct possibility of a mostly-rookie city council not dominated by any party, with no back room in charge. She wants to be the someone in charge.

However, she may be too thoughtful, too experienced and too policy-oriented for a city in a country that (by her own observations) is increasingly disconnected from the democratic process.  Maybe we’ll get what we deserve, seeing someone win the mayor’s chair with 10% of the eligible electorate’s votes, on the strength of a cute slogan, a winning push of a hot-button (bike lanes!!!), a fortuitous splash of name recognition, or the 2018 version of someone in a chicken suit.

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