His name may not be familiar to some readers but Randy Helten plans on being the next mayor of Vancouver. Helten, the founder of civic watchdog websites CityHallWatch.ca and MetroVanWatch.ca and the former president of the grassroots activist group West End Neighbours, is making his political debut with the newly created Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV), a party also running four candidates for city council.
Helten acknowledges that third-party mayoral candidates are generally considered a bit of a long shot-the last one to win more than 10,000 votes was former NPA councillor Jonathan Baker in 1996-but he believes a sense of change is in the air.
"We are at a rare moment in Canadian history right now and it relates to global movements and global financial woes and the huge dissatisfaction across the city with Vision and the old way of doing things," the 51-year-old freelance translator told the Courier Tuesday. "Occupy Vancouver is getting a lot of attention and their core message is really to get corporate influence out of the political system. I and the others running with me with NSV also feel compelled to stand up and take action. We're ordinary citizens but we've spent thousands of hours over the past few years fighting city hall and I could give you hundreds, maybe thousands of examples of systemic dysfunction there."
He hopes to get NSV's message to a wider audience through the use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which last year helped fellow idealist Naheed Nenshi to an unexpected victory over front-runners in Calgary's mayoral race.
Helten's biggest beef with Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association-a party his name is indelibly linked with after Mayor Gregor Robertson infamously, and unknowingly, dismissed him and others at a public hearing as "f---ing NPA hacks" last year-is the vast sums of money both parties receive from corporate donors.
"This is the most expensive municipality in Canada for civic elections and [Vision Vancouver and the NPA] are like evil, identical twins, and it makes very little difference whether [Suzanne] Anton or Robertson get in because they are both beholden to the development industry. Both got 2.5 million each for their budgets this year with the largest share coming from developers_ If you look at the governing documents for the city, there's the Vancouver Charter and then there is the code of conduct for all city employees. Right at the top of the code of conduct, it says that all staff, elected officials, everybody has to serve the community first and that they are prohibited from having undue influence. I believe the public should decide on Nov. 19 if that huge amount of money from the developers is undue influence."
He pulls out a well-worn copy of Donald Gutstein's 1975 book Vancouver Ltd., which lambastes how corporate influence and the old boy network shaped city policy decisions in the in the 1960s and early 1970s.
"You could change the dates and the names but it's the same stuff, the same archetypical stuff that happens in any place in the word when you have precious land where there is money flowing."