In politics, it's easy to predict you're unbeatable when you don't know what lies ahead
Metro Vancouver's biggest daily newspapers – The Sun, The Province and The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) have embarked upon a pro-Vision Vancouver editorial bent in recent months. All three papers have remained unflinchingly positive about Gregor Robertson during his term of government. In spite of some fine reporting from all three publications, it has been hard to overlook the prominent play given to seemingly mundane policy pronouncements and empty political posturing.
Examples include when The Province recently featured a full-page report on Gregor Robertson's talk about creating a green business sector – half of the page being a close-up shot of the Mayor's mug. Then on Saturday the Vancouver Sun also gave Gregor a full page – labeling it "Two Views of the Mayoralty at the Halfway Point".
With that headline one might predict that it would be a point/counterpoint. Perhaps a friendly assessment of Robertson balanced by a more critical take. No such luck. What readers got was one article supposedly penned by Gregor Robertson (the Mayor's dissertations fall apart after 140 characters, so we know it came from his staff), and the second piece by the normally reliable Miro Cernetig.
What Cernetig wrote was not the typical man crush that we've seen from other local journos. This was perhaps the greatest outpouring of admiration for the Mayor's telegenic perfection ever put in writing. The column begins:
When he came to power there was no doubt Gregor Robertson had the GQ. That's a natural when you're blessed with that chiselled jaw, the Happy Planet Zen and an apparent inability to take a bad picture.
Just imagine if we elected a woman as mayor. How long could a reporter last in a newsroom today if all they wrote about was her lipstick, or how her hair draped her shoulder at a meeting? It's a pretty clear double-standard, and one that we've let Vancouver's Fourth Estate get away with. What comes out of Robertson's mouth might be incomprehensible, but it apparently doesn't matter as long as his jaw is chiselled.
I've worked on political campaigns at the civic, provincial and federal level for 30 years, and my early work in campaign media monitoring has helped me to identify who knows what they're talking about when it comes to politics, and who doesn't. Cernetig's leap of faith on the power of Robertson's charisma and his political message comes across to me as breathtakingly naive.
Take for example this explanation of the source of Robertson's stratospheric public approval ratings:
The latest poll from Stratcom -- the polling company that has the mayor's party, Vision, as a client but is known for carrying out reliable surveys -- gives Roberson a 78-per-cent approval rating.
Let's talk about Stratcom, or Strategic Communications for a moment, shall we? Stratcom is run by Bob Penner, a key Vision Vancouver financial supporter and political adviser to Mayor Gregor Robertson. Their clients include the New Democratic Party, and the top labour unions in the province including CUPE (Vision's biggest net donors). Stratcom received their startup capital from Renewal Partners, the funding organization run by Joel Solomon and funded by Carol "RE" Newell's Rubbermaid inheritance.
Think that that's not enough of a connection? This company known for its so-called "reliable" surveys donated $48,004.73 toward paying off Vision Vancouver's 2005 election debt, with $40,004.73 donated on single day in July 2007.
Then according to Vision's 2008 campaign finance disclosure, Stratcom donated another $58,525.00, with $56,525 donated on a single day just over a week before the 2008 election. That's a grand total of $98,529.73 donated in a span of 18 months. Now they've just conducted a poll for an estimated cost of $30,000 making Bob Penner's Strategic Communications among the largest individual donors in British Columbia's political history at $128,529.73.
How on Earth is the breadth of this conflict not factored into Cernetig's story? His whole premise is based upon these poll numbers.
When it comes to the Mayor's popularity, most people can surmise Robertson is in a one-man race. His popularity reflects the lack of any alternative provided by an opposition party. In reality mid-term polling is about as useful as a spent piece of tissue paper for a number of reasons, including:
- Voter turnout in civic elections is just over 30 percent on average. A broad poll sampling does not reflect the reality of who will or will not actually vote.
- Politics 101 tells you that the only polls that matter are done in the weeks just before an election. The vast majority of voters (some say five to one) tune out on all things political between elections.
What mid-term polls do best is make politicians feel good. But the real downside of this data is that it makes governments complacent and arrogant. If you're Vision Vancouver and you see that your leader is polling at 78% you say to yourself, "We did chickens, STIR and crapped all over North False Creek, but the people STILL love us!"
If you think Vision have been just a little high-handed with various Vancouver communities in the first half of their term, don't expect it to get a whole lot better in the second half. The Stratcom poll tells Vision that they're on the right track.
What will be interesting to watch in this second half of their term is what I call the "George Chow Factor". You see, Coun. Chow has been phoning it in for months. Apparently despite the wishes of his spouse, Chow decided to run for a second term on council. He's not going to run again in 2011 which means that at least one spot will open up on Vision's slate.
Think about all the folks waiting in the wings salivating at the opportunity to take George's spot. There's Aaron Jasper, the ambitious and volatile Park Board commissioner. Jasper thinks he's meant for city council, and will vie to replace Robertson in 2014. There's also Patti Bacchus and Mike Lombardi over at School Board. Both of them think they're ready for the big dance at City Hall.
The other X factor is whether Vision Vancouver's board decides to provide their current council members incumbency protection. How will that be perceived by the rank and file if that happens? Vision would be crazy to not run a South Asian and Filipino candidate on their 2011 council slate, given the inroads they're making with those communities. And Chow is Vision's go-to guy for Chinatown and council's only Cantonese speaker. How indeed will they make room for these requirements?
Of course, it points to doing away with the coalition with COPE. COPE, according to Stratcom's poll, are at a record low 13%. For all intents and purposes, the Stratcom poll shows that COPE is at the brink of annihilation. There are several folks at COPE who don't want to settle for the table scraps Vision has given them thus far. They want more than 2 seats on council. People like Am Johal and Rachel Marcuse are investing a lot of time with folks like David Chudnovsky to make COPE into a reinvigorated voice of social justice. But if Vision squashes them, as they probably will, that work is for naught.
Then there is the NPA. If they can hold together three seats on council are almost a certainty, which means someone on the Vision slate will inevitably be roadkill. Meggs, Stevenson and Reimer polled the lowest for Vision in 2008 – so might that translate into a defeat for them? According to reports Stevenson is in big trouble in the West End thanks to the unpopularity of the STIR program, and Meggs was loudly booed at a recent public consultation in that community. And given that the "Chicken Lady" label is sticking to Reimer, don't be surprised if she starts updating her résumé early next year.
So it's fine for the editors of our local dailies to boost Robertson and his team in the mid-term. But the fact is that there are so many dynamics in play right now, no person or poll can accurately predict who will come out on top in November 2011.
- post by Mike