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An exodus of B.C. mayors is in the offing, and some point to social-media nastiness
'It's going to be a different world' as about half of Lower Mainland's sitting mayors say they won't seek office again

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Saturday, April 14, 2018 – Page A16

VANCOUVER -- he Lower Mainland will unT dergo a massive political upheaval this fall as about half the region's mayors, some of whom have served for multiple terms, decline to seek re-election for a number of reasons.

The departures include mayors from the area's two largest cities: Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner announced this week she would not run again, and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced earlier this year that he was leaving.

Those two, along with the departures of nine others - for a total of 11 mayors leaving out of 21 in office - will leave two-thirds of the region's population under new leadership.

"The amount of knowledge we're losing is worrying to me," said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, now in his 17th year on council. "I really regret that there are so many of the mayors who are leaving. The region is going to be very different politically."

Usually, only about a third of incumbents decline to run again, but mayors say the unusually high proportion this year is a result of a combination of coincidence, generational change, the rise of vitriolic social-media attacks on people in public life, the intense fights and workload resulting from the blistering pace of growth and development, the housing crisis, and the switch to four-year terms from three.

Joining the exodus will be Richard Walton of the District of North Vancouver, Darrell Mussatto in the city of North Vancouver, Lois Jackson in Delta, Greg Moore in Port Coquitlam, Ted Schaffer in the City of Langley, Nicole Read in Maple Ridge, and Wayne Baldwin in White Rock.

The mayors say they believe at least two more of their colleagues will be joining that group in advance of the Oct. 20 civic election.

The change will likely introduce younger and more diverse candidates, some mayors have said. Some community groups would likely add that the older generation of politicians made huge mistakes and needed to go.

But some fear the region could see the emergence of a more populist Rob Ford-style candidate - something Metro Vancouver has not been prone to.

"It's going to be a different world. You get a community that's frustrated for whatever reason and they are going to elect people responding to that," said Mr. Mussatto who is leaving politics at 57 after 25 years on council. "People want simple solutions to complex problems."

Two long-serving mayors, Derek Corrigan in Burnaby and Mr.

Brodie in Richmond, say they will be running again, in part to ensure there are still some veterans in the region.

Mr. Brodie added that there could be a rise of more populist voices because of the new campaign-finance rules that were introduced last year.

Political parties, which by their nature tend to be less radical and more centrist than independent candidates, will have a harder time raising money. According to the new rules, a person donating $1,200 maximum to one candidate in a party won't be able to give money to anyone else in that party. But, independents will be able to raise $1,200 each without worrying about competition from other party candidates for donors.

As a result, "those kinds of populist people could be more dominating than in the past," Mr. Brodie said.

He doesn't have an official challenger yet, but he is likely to see one, given his city's fierce debates over mansions on farmland, empty homes, foreign homebuyers, protests over housing for the homeless, short-term vacation rentals, massive amounts of development, and more.

While Mr. Brodie said the level of unpleasantness in socialmedia debates about civic politics isn't a concern, other mayors did.

"We've heard from some [of those who are leaving] about the rise of social-media viciousness," said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who said he is still deciding about whether to run again.

Mr. Stewart himself has performed adroitly on social media, with relatively few attacks. In fact, he has received a lot of favourable or sympathetic attention as he jokes about the fact that, as a man, he could wear the same suit for weeks and no one would notice, or when he speaks openly about the mental-health challenges his daughter is going through.

But other mayors, particularly Mr. Robertson, Ms. Hepner, and Mr. Mussatto, have attracted hugely critical social-media groups. And Ms. Read in Maple Ridge endured among the worst attacks, going into semi-hiding at one point because of the online harassment she was facing, apparently as a result of her support for local homeless people.

Mr. Stewart said current and aspiring politicians say it's a deterrent.

"We've heard from many prospective political candidates about their worry that it's nasty out there," he said. "And when everybody assumes anyone elected is malignant, is useless, it's hard to try to attract people to elected office."

Mr. Stewart said the increasing volume of property development, combined with the new social-media combativeness, has made a local politician's job particularly rough the past few years.

In Coquitlam, for example, a new SkyTrain line has meant the council has had to deal with an unusually high number of development projects as the city has rezoned land around the lines in order to encourage density near transit.

"Our council agendas are full, with hundreds of pages. And even when projects are widely supported, you still get criticism that you don't have enough affordable housing or something else," Mr.

Stewart said.

Those aren't the issues that worry Mr. Walton in North Vancouver, even though he has had his fair share of criticism over the big increase in development that came after his community created a new official plan in 2014.

He believes the intense pressures many councils went through in the past decade as they grappled with demands to create more space for new residents, combined with four-year terms, took a toll.

Many mayors now leaving, including Mr. Robertson, Ms. Hepner, Mr. Moore, and Mr. Mussatto, oversaw significant and frequently controversial changes in the plans for growth in their communities during the past decade.

Mr. Walton said it took almost three terms to do all the work for his city's plan.

"I'm sad to go. But you need a fresh set of heads sometimes," he said. The 67-year-old said he still has one more career in him besides politician, accountant, and teacher.

He might have stayed another term, he said, if the terms were still three years. But the BC Liberal government changed them to four years as of the 2014 election.

That means two terms now means eight years for a prospective mayor, instead of six.

For one ex-politician, the current mayoral exodus is just a natural part of the cycle. The boomers are leaving and there are indications that a whole new crop of young people are interesting in running.

"There is a generational change," said former Vancouver councillor Gordon Price. "The millennials are preparing themselves. That's inevitable and good."

Associated Graphic

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner has announced she will not be back, one of 11 mayors who are stepping aside.


Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie worries about a loss of experience.


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