Gregor Robertson survives challenge from Meena Wong in Vancouver poll

Gregor Robertson keeps top job after a tough campaign that saw rival from Hong Kong Meena Wong question his left-wing credentials

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 November, 2014, 5:17am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 November, 2015, 1:56am

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has been returned to power after a tough campaign that was threatened with being upended by the candidacy of Meena Wong, a Hong Kong emigrant and fellow progressive who accused Robertson of having sold out to the city's powerful real estate industry.

Robertson, a telegenic former fruit-juice magnate whose popular brand of left-leaning politics has dominated the western Canadian city for the past six years, won 46.7 per cent of the vote in Saturday's election.

He beat journalist Kirk LaPointe of the business-friendly Non-Partisan Association (NPA) with 41.1 per cent, and Wong of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (Cope) with 9.4 per cent.

The mayoral race was not as close as some had predicted, but Robertson's Vision Vancouver team had its grip on the city's elected bodies weakened.

In his victory speech he said he was "confident that we are going to find common ground" with new opponents on the city's council, park board and school board, as he sought to build a "green, inclusive and vibrant city".

He said he had heard "loud and clear that there are things we can do better", pledging to focus on climate change, homelessness, affordability and public transit.

Wong was still in a fighting mood after the results were declared on Saturday night. She said she had no regrets about running against Robertson, that he was no longer a true progressive, and that she had felt "disrespected" by his plea last week for would-be Cope voters to support him instead of Wong. He had claimed only he could defeat LaPointe, former managing editor of The Vancouver Sun.

Cope had sat out the last two civic elections, allowing Robertson to romp home.

"Begging for another party's supporters to vote for him… what had he done to earn their support?" Wong said. "He has sold his soul to developers," she said, claiming that Robertson had done little to promote affordable housing.

Robertson's campaign was heavily funded by the real estate industry. Vancouver has attracted waves of wealthy Hong Kong and mainland Chinese immigrants, raising questions about their impact on the city's sky-high real estate market, which is the second-most unaffordable in the world behind Hong Kong's, according to Demographia's study of 378 cities in nine major markets around the world.

Affordability was the single most important issue for Vancouver voters, according to a survey last week by pollsters Insights West. Wong's pledge to levy a vacancy tax on rich absentee homeowners who left their homes empty was among the most popular policies of the campaign, supported by 72 per cent of voters, Insights West said.

Wong said she was "impressed and honoured" to have received as many votes as she did, considering that Cope's tiny campaign budget of around C$70,000 (HK$480,000) was dwarfed by Vision's multimillion-dollar campaign. "But we would not change Cope's position: No corporate agenda, no corporate money."

Wong said she spoke to LaPointe just before he conceded, telling him he would have needed a "bucket of disinfectant" for City Hall, if he had won.

"I thought [Wong] raised several important issues and ran a great campaign. We should be proud to have a party like Cope [in Vancouver]," LaPointe said in his concession speech.

Vision's presence on the 10-member council was reduced from seven to six, with Hong Kong-born Tony Tang falling short in his bid for re-election; the new face on council will be the NPA's Melissa De Genova.

Voter turnout was relatively high at around 43 per cent, compared to 35 per cent in 2011. Some polling stations ran out of ballot papers, resulting in the 8pm voting deadline being extended.

Strong interest in the election was also reflected in advance polling, with 38,556 ballots cast ahead of Saturday, a 98 per cent increase compared to 2011.

Robertson had acknowledged Wong's potential to split the progressive vote in a CBC debate on Wednesday, when he unexpectedly issued an apology for unspecified failings, then told Cope supporters: "We share all the same values and ideals and it's really important in this [election], when it's between Vision and the NPA, that progressive voters ensure that they vote for the party that can win."

Wong had countered that if there were any similarities between the candidates, they were between Robertson and LaPointe. She said it was time for progressive voters to "come home" and support Cope.

[*Update: This story has been updated to include a link to the latest Demographia study and to describe its scope]


Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie fends off Chinese-Canadian ticket

The sitting mayor of the Vancouver satellite city of Richmond has won re-election, easily fending off a challenge from an all-Chinese-Canadian slate in what is the most ethnically Chinese city in North America.

Malcolm Brodie, mayor for 13 years, was returned in Saturday's election with a crushing 69.8 per cent of the vote, beating Richard Lee of the Reform Richmond team with 27.4 per cent.

Brodie was initially elected in 2001 as a member of the centre-right Richmond Non-Partisan Association, but now serves as an independent.

Lee and his team were pushing an even more conservative low-tax agenda.

Reform Richmond's other candidates, Sunny Ho and Kenneth Ho, fared no better than Lee, missing out on places on Richmond's city council and office of the school trustee respectively.

During the campaign, Lee had complained that the "race card" was played against him when a Richmond News headline described Reform Richmond as an "all-Chinese slate".

Hong Kong-born Chak Au, a former professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was returned to the council. Among two council newcomers was former Olympic snowboarder Alexa Loo, running as an independent.

The City of Richmond, which has attracted waves of immigrants from Hong Kong and mainland China, is 47 per cent ethnically Chinese. The downtown core of the city is about 80 per cent Chinese.

Ian Young