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Opinion: Tight race leaves Vision Vancouver in a final scramble

In an election campaign where Vision’s percentage lead has dropped to mid-single digits over the NPA, Mayor Gregor Robertson took a quiet half hour out Wednesday afternoon to talk about the “nastiest” campaign he has ever faced.
Gregor Robertson with Vision school board candidates Patti Bacchus and Cherie Payne. Photo Dan Toulgoet

In an election campaign where Vision’s percentage lead has dropped to mid-single digits over the NPA, Mayor Gregor Robertson took a quiet half hour out Wednesday afternoon to talk about the “nastiest” campaign he has ever faced.

This, by the way, is his fourth election battle; one as an MLA and three for mayor.

This one began, although it seems an eternity ago now, with a series of unproven and provocative smears about Robertson’s split with his wife. They were launched by NPA vice-chair and the party’s biggest donor, Rob Macdonald, before briefly setting social media on fire. Having done his work, Macdonald has since been removed from the scene.

Since then there have been what Robertson considers attacks on his character where his opponents have accused him of “corruption” and “lying.”

In this town a third term run for mayor, which in the recent past has been  a relative slam dunk for Mike Harcourt, Gordon Campbell and Philip Owen, is proving to be anything but for Robertson.

A recent survey by Insights West asking folks in municipalities across to Lower Mainland to assess their mayor’s places Robertson at dead last with 52 per cent. Insight West’s pollster Mario Canseco told me the single biggest factor pulling Robertson down is the perception out there that he has failed on so many files to effectively consult with the public.

That should come as no surprise. In fact, when I asked Robertson what he considered the single biggest mistake of this term, he pointed to the Grandview-Woodland community plan.

That’s the one where the neighbourhood was totally taken by surprise when they discovered the plan included a series of towers at the corner of Broadway and Commercial. The push back was immediate and very noisy. And it was joined by other neighbourhoods unhappy with the plans for their communities.

But none did more damage than Grandview-Woodland being in the heart of Vision’s most staunch supporters, many of whom are now leaning towards COPE and the Greens.

The plan was withdrawn and put off until after the election. And while Robertson takes “complete responsibility” for the blunder, it was really a screw-up by the city’s new chief planner Brian Jackson and aided and abetted by city manager Penny Ballem.

But more to the point, it was just another example of an administration that choses to seek forgiveness rather than ask permission. Citizens have complained about that approach on spot zoning decisions, homeless shelter and transition housing locations, manhandling of volunteer boards at community centres and the installation of separated bike lanes.

Vision will note that their policies and practices have led to improvements: there is more rental housing, more shelters and housing to move homeless people off the streets, an increase in safety and numbers of cyclists particularly in the downtown core, and better access to community centres.

But there are also clearly more citizens who remain to be convinced that Vision isn’t increasingly arrogant in its governance style and only seeks to serve its friends.

You may have been puzzled by the announcement this week that former three-term COPE councillor David Cadman has endorsed Vision and Gregor Robertson.

After all, Cadman has been absent from the political landscape for the past three years, ever since his own party dumped him at its 2011 nomination meeting.

But Vision, with its slim lead in the polls, is losing support on the left to COPE where that party’s mayoral candidate Meena Wong is gathering enough momentum to be a spoiler.

And they are losing support to the Greens which, while only running a small slate of candidates, will reduce the chances of Vision being able to form a majority on council.

Cadman, in his day, was considered the leading politician on the municipal scene when it came to issues of the environment and improved public transportation. His ouster by COPE was the beginning of the disintegration of that party leaving many on the left with nowhere to place their vote.

Vision hopes Cadman’s support can help pull them back from the brink and slow down the NPA as it continues to close the gap.

That will now prove more difficult with Thursday’s announcement that independent mayoral candidate Bob Kasting is throwing what little support he has behind the NPA’s Kirk LaPointe.