Toronto’s voter turnout unlikely to be repeated in Vancouver

Toronto's ballot anger isn't likely to carry over to Vancouver's election next year.

“The revenge of the suburbs” is the best explanation that I have heard about Rob Ford’s victory yesterday.

And if the voter turnout is any indication, the Toronto electorate wanted vengeance – an amazing 53.2 per cent cast a ballot.

By contrast, the last election in Vancouver saw an embarrassing 31 per cent of registered voters turn up, which was the lowest participation rate in over fifty years.

Anger might have been the motivating factor, but as difficult as it is for me to admit, there was a message that Ford delivered that resonated with people.

Unfortunately for those of us who believe in the merits of results based on participatory democracy, I see nothing to propel voters to the same extent here in Vancouver.

Was Ford a man that everyone respected?  Certainly not.  Was Ford a man that captured the imagination of the citizenry?  Hardly.  Was Ford a man that tapped into a general dissatisfaction for David Miller and his performance over the past 7 years?

Bingo.

A garbage strike that revolted the city.  Increased spending fuelled by increased taxes.  More employees at City Hall creating a ballooned unionized bureaucracy that people had begun to resent.  A suburban population that felt left out of the plans of a what they considered to be an elitist Mayor catering to the downtown core.  Transportation woes galore, from increased traffic congestion to slow and crowded subway lines.

What Rob Ford did was formulate the mood of the public immediately after the garbage strike of 2009, and began to plan how he – a man who for years has generally been considered as a blowhard that embarrassed the city – could tap into that the above-listed sentiments.

Now, politics in general these days, regardless of which level of government, most often elicits groans and generally a bad taste in most people’s’ mouths.

But that latent anger is also more often than not met with indifference – a lack of interest such that turning up at the polls is akin to having a toenail removed.

Ford sensed this, and riled people up so that they had a message, and a deliverer of that message, to believe in.

And that is what carried him to victory yesterday.  Purpose, a clearly defined agenda, and a personality that served as a spark to get people off their asses.

Obama inspired and propelled dreams…Ford perspired (something, I might add, he tends to do regardless of the setting) and prompted a simple action.

Now let’s contrast this with the state of politics in Vancouver.

In spite of the doomsday sayers, the pundits and bloggers with an axe to grind, and those that are angry about a bike lane taking up the space they feel is their rightful domain as a driver, there is NOT a sense of anger in this city with Gregor Robertson and the current Vision Vancouver controlled Council.

In fact, if I had to offer a criticism, Gregor Robertson’s fanfare has never seemed to match the outpouring of interest for a guy like Larry Campbell, whose rough around the edges and indifferent approach and attitude to the job still garnered a larger reaction (the wave that Campbell got elected under produced a turnout of 50 per cent, by the way).

But he has moved forward with an agenda that has tended to be popular – bike lanes are being embraced by many sections of the city, the homelessness agenda continues to top the polls as the number one concern of voters, and the fact that the City is now operating as a business that markets itself is also something that is being seen and appreciated by those looking for self-sufficiency rather than tax revenues to propel growth.

This state of satisfaction is the basis of why a repeat of Toronto is unlikely.

But the second factor, and quite possibly the most important, is the fact that there is no one to carry the banner for change.

As aptly pointed out in Frances Bula’s article in the Globe yesterday, no one seems to want the job.  That is a combination of being intimidated by Robertson’s re-electability, being completely unimpressed with the organization that he or she would be asked to lead, and a highly politicized environment that makes public life very unattractive.

And so, as I see it, an uninspiring NPA Mayoral candidate that really has no hope in hell of winning, combined with a general malaise amongst the Vancouver public, means that voter turnout could even drop below 2008 levels.

Last month I wrote a few posts about how incumbents across the North America were experiencing the same kind of anger that Toronto embodied yesterday at the polls.

As things stand right now, Vancouver seems likely to escape that kind of backlash.

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