Vancouver’s Long Vote Leads To Discussion About The Neighborhood System – Again

British Columbians are going to the polls this month – and if you’re voting in Vancouver or Surrey, consider taking notes to the polls so you don’t get lost in the long list of candidates.

There are over 70 city council candidates in Vancouver and over 50 in Surrey. Unlike other major Canadian metropolitan areas, they are chosen using a general system rather than a district system, where candidates represent a specific geographic area of ​​the city.

It’s a system that’s often debated in BC because of how tall the ballots are in major cities and how it differs from the rest of the country – but there are reasons why the general system has remained.

“It would simplify the choice, but people may not be very happy with the choice when all is said and done,” said Stewart Perst, a political scientist at Quest University.

“It really shifts the focus – from candidates making up arguments for what the city needs, to what [their] certain corner of this town.”

What is a department system?

In a neighborhood system, residents vote for their area representative, just as in provincial and federal elections, and those representatives vote on all council motives. Mayors are still generally elected.

Proponents of the neighborhood system argue that it improves representative democracy and voter turnout, which lag far behind federal and provincial elections.

“It really represents the locals on a fundamental level,” said former Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang.

The idea of ​​switching has been kicking around in both cities over the past two decades. In 2004, a plebiscite was held in Vancouver and residents voted 54 percent against a neighborhood system. In 2020, Surrey councilors asked city staff to study the idea, but nothing has come of it so far.

There is academic research suggesting that neighborhood systems can suppress housing construction, and the issue of affordable housing is at the forefront of election campaigns in both cities.

A peer-reviewed article published in The Review of Economics and Statistics looked at housing in the US in May and found that when municipalities moved from general to neighborhood systems, local housing production fell by an average of 20 percent.

“The effect on multiple families [housing] is greater in cities with high homeownership rates,” wrote author Evan Mast.

Winds of change?

There are signs that a transition to a departmental system could still come, at least in Vancouver.

Mayoral candidates Kennedy Stewart and Colleen Hardwick both said the wards were worth investigating.

“Neighbourhoods and city residents are being ignored and they need to stand up and take their voices back,” Hardwick said during a campaign debate.

According to a poll by Research Co. held in June, 58 percent of Vancouver residents were in favor of moving to a neighborhood system (400 likely voters were polled, with a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points).

Across the Fraser River, Narima Dela Cruz is running for the independent Surrey City Council. She says that not only would the city’s diverse neighborhood interests be better served under a neighborhood system, but it would also give grassroots candidates a better chance at a seat.

“Right now, with the current first-past-the-post system, we have to… [campaign] everywhere in the city and this is almost impossible,” said Dela Cruz, who has made electoral switching part of her campaign platform.

Future planning

If there were to change in Metro Vancouver and perhaps elsewhere in BC, what would change for the average voter?

“It would obviously lower the mood,” said Gerald Baier, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, adding that administratively it would mean dividing cities into geographic areas.

Baier, speaking further BC Today, says the change would administratively mean dividing cities into neighborhoods.

Jang says now is the time and voters are already familiar with the voting process for local representation, such as in provincial and federal elections.

“It’s not a new system, it just makes sense,” Jang said.

He also says that wards can lead to greater success when city councils negotiate funding with Victoria or Ottawa to address housing and transit issues.

“[It] would fundamentally change the interaction with the higher levels of government, because then it would be a unified voice.”

Leave a Comment