Opinion: Vision Vancouver goes forward into election battle

Tuesday morning the first indications of an impending civic election began to appear: lawn signs dominated by Gregor Robertson’s smiling face and his name writ large, highlighting the party’s principle asset, along with this year’s slogan “Go forward with Vision.”

Tuesday was also the first day candidates could register their intent run, although it was hardly a stampede.

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By 10:45 a.m. clerks on the main floor of city hall informed me that just two men had done so. The rest have another week to get their papers in.

Of course, for months the major parties have been campaigning, making promises, announcing candidates, staking out their turf, firing off barbs at the enemy. But most of it has been buried by news of the teachers’ strike.

Compared with what is heading our way in this campaign, it’s all been relatively quiet. The common belief is that voters don’t tend to pay any attention to the election until after the Thanksgiving long weekend.

But with 30 days left until the advance polls open, the pace is picking up, most notably with the party that controls the majority at city hall and the one most likely to succeed in winning a third term. So I’ll focus on them for this column and get to some of the other guys next week.

My email inbox has been flooded with statements from Vision Vancouver — far fewer from the NPA and COPE — councillors asking for support, requesting small donations and seeking volunteers for any number of tasks from door knocking to working the phones. Vision is holding a “volunteer orientation” Saturday.

As the Vision campaign team assembles, there is a noticeable hollowing out of the mayor’s office.

A few weeks ago, anyone calling Robertson’s chief of staff Mike Magee on his city hall cellphone was informed: “I am on extended leave of absence.”

About a week later the mayor’s policy analyst Kevin Quinlan had a similar phone message; he will be away until Nov. 16, the day after the final vote.

They will also soon be joined by Braeden Caley, the mayor’s press secretary.

All will work out of Vision headquarters a few blocks from city hall where this week a table saw on the main floor of their building was screaming in the “sign department” slicing up lumber to support even more smiling faces. The second floor — a “media free zone” — is where the brains trust is assembled to discuss strategy.

What Magee, Quinlan and Caley all have in common is that they sharpened their election chops working on Democratic Party campaigns south of the border in either 2008 (Magee) or 2012 (Quinlan and Caley) helping elect and then re-elect Barack Obama.

That’s where they saw a revolution take place in voter outreach with the first-time-ever heavy reliance on social media — Twitter, Facebook and a variety of other platforms in their arsenal.

That revolution was imported here and is fundamental to what makes Vision tick at election time and through the year as Robertson and Vision stay in touch with supporters.

They are a mostly younger crowd who are increasingly “uncorded,” using mobile devices to communicate.
(Incidentally Vision’s “go forward” slogan is a straight lift from Obama too. In 2012, his campaign switched from the 2008 phrase “change we can believe in” to the single word “forward.”)

We are also seeing less reliance by Vision on major media that publish in English in a city where many citizens speak English as a second language.

Vision’s campaign will be conducted in at least four languages: English, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese and, probably, Tagalog.

This week a phone bank with several dozen cubicles was being set up on the building’s main floor, although the “high volume” phone contacts will be run offsite by Vision pollster Bob Penner and his company Stratcom.

They will campaign on what they have pretty well laid out already: transit, affordability, childcare, tanker traffic and their green agenda.

If they have a weakness it is simply their long time in office where they have said “no” to more and more people, causing an increasingly grumbling opposition.

But they say that group, though noisy, is marginal relatively speaking. Vision still holds the majority.

We’ll see.



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