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BC has the most re-elected mayors in Canada: analyst

METRO VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – While Surrey and Vancouver’s mayoral races may be too tight to call, many other cities are almost guaranteed to see the sitting mayor returned to city hall.

In fact, BC may lead the country when it comes to the incumbents winning civic elections.

“It’s not surprising, particularly given the low level of tur-out and relatively low level of interest in municipal politics,” says Max Cameron, a professor in UBC’s Political Science Department.

“You don’t tend to get strong challengers unless you have a situation where, like in Surrey, a very popular mayor decides not to run again and there’s a bit of a vacuum for power. Or if one candidate can capitalize on some dissatisfaction and use that to develop a challenge to a sitting mayor.”

But Cameron suggests that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“My sense is that, for the most part, we are basically well-served by our mayors and municipal governments and people are generally relatively satisfied with the performance of the incumbents,” he tells us.

That being said, it can be a challenge for candidates to unseat mayors who have the benefit of name recognition.

“A big challenge Kirk LaPointe has in Vancouver, for example, is — even as recently as in polls this week — about a third of the electorate does not know who he is or is undecided about what they think of him. The number is even higher for Meena Wong, whereas mayor Gregor Robertson is generally well-known. And if mayors are performing well, there’s a tendency to get elected,” explains Cameron.

“What I find striking about the Vancouver election is Kirk LaPointe, who is a relative newcomer to municipal politics, has managed to tap into a series of grievances that people seem to have with the Vision government and leverage that into a campaign. But generally speaking, that tends not to happen.”

In New Westminster, Cameron points to Mayor Wayne Wright, who is being challenged from within his own council.

“That’s another way a mayor can lose. We saw problems in the City of Vancouver when Sam Sullivan was mayor, again having much to do with the dynamics within the council. But if the council is relatively unified and the mayor hasn’t messed up in some significant way, then the tendency is to get re-elected.”

Cameron also believes low voter turnout can be a positive sign, of sorts.

“It often reflects high levels of satisfaction with city hall. Higher levels of turnout reflect there being a problem. We saw a high level of turnout in Toronto as a result of the disastrous performance of Rob Ford and the desire of many Torontonians to either put that behind them or elect his brother,” he explains.

Cameron says Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s approval rating has declined slightly as a result of the campaigns run against him and expects a bump in voter turn-out in the city.

But whether the mayoral races are tight or not, he believes high levels of incumbency in BC are not a problem.

“The fact that we’ve had mayors in places like Richmond and New Westminster who have won three, four or five terms… that is in no way a bad thing. It would only be a bad thing if it was because they were somehow using their power in such ways to prevent challengers from taking them on,” says Cameron.

“The reality is the barriers to entry into politics at the municipal level are almost zero; almost anybody can run. The hard part is actually getting elected because developing the connections in the community, understanding your constituency, and getting the publicity is the real challenge.”