Candidates are on their own in a campaign without parties

It’s one big puzzle, 10 candidates for mayor and 29 for councillor.

But voters–and candidates–won’t get any help from the major political force in this city, the NDP.

In past elections, the party would hand out membership lists to campaigns, organize volunteers, endorse candidates, and even form a local NDP clone, the Victoria Civic Electors.

But not this time. The break in precedent can be explained this way: one part concern over violating new campaign spending laws; one part resistance from party members to their names and personal info being shared; and one part local dissatisfaction with the pro-development stance on council.

At the annual meeting of the Victoria Beacon Hill NDP last Sunday, candidates for council and school board faced this new reality–they were not asked to speak from the floor.

Council candidate Marianne Alto and school board, hopefuls Ryan Painter and Diane McNally were introduced to members but there was no endorsement or call to arms to work on their campaigns.

Alto managed to get a photo arm in arm with MLA and finance minister Carole James. But James insisted that was a courtesy, not an endorsement. “Anyone is free to take a picture with me–I took one with (mayoral candidate) Stephen Hammond the other day.”

In an interview after the meeting, James said, “We’re in a very different time politically now. People want more independence, that’s part of the change.”

So does that at least mean NDP members will at least cheer from the sidelines? Not exactly. In Nanaimo, long-time NDP MLA Leonard Krog is running for mayor, but if he wins, he’ll have to give up his seat in the legislature, which would threaten the NDP/Green balance of power.

If the NDP lost Krog’s riding to the Liberals in a by-election, their alliance with the Greens would be reduced to a 43-43 tie, which could topple them from power. So, in a weird twist on party loyalty, some NDP stalwarts are actually hoping Krog loses the mayoralty and keeps his job in Victoria.

Despite the official party absence, members can still volunteer to work on civic campaigns and some have. But many NDPers are deeply involved in the provincial Referendum on Electoral Reform, which will be decided in a mail-in ballot between Oct. 22 and Nov. 2.

The NDP government is campaigning in favour of the change to our electoral system and an appeal to join this effort was issued at the Beacon Hill meeting, leaving the municipal candidates in the room even more isolated.

The ultimate result of all this change in direction is a lack of an NDP candidate on the Victoria mayoral ballot and no declared Green candidate nor one of any other political stripe.

That’s a stark difference from the past when Victoria had NDP-elected mayors like Dean Fortin and David Turner and Green councillors like Sonya Chandler.

James herself and fellow Victoria cabinet minister Rob Fleming both rose to the legislature from local politics, so you wonder if the New Democrats are neglecting the farm team by withdrawing from civic campaigns.

Enter Together Victoria, a new left-leaning political group with no official party backing, but something of a mirror of the provincial NDP/Green alliance in the legislature. Their three councillor candidates are Laurel Collins and Sharmarke Dubow, who have NDP roots, and Sarah Potts of the Greens.

One reason the Together coalition has not put forward a mayoral candidate is because many Greens in the grassroots group support Mayor Lisa Helps, perhaps assuming (like I did) that Helps is a Green member. But she says she is not and is proud of her non-affiliation with any political party.

The photo mentioned above with Carole James and Stephen Hammond of New Council.ca may be more than a random brush between two local politicians. Hammond has donated to the BC NDP and, though some connect him to the Conservative Party, the federal Liberals as well.

Hammond’s late mother Gerrie was a PC MLA in Manitoba and some of his advisers have Conservative connections. New Council campaign manager Vanessa Schneider worked in Ottawa for Gary Lunn, MP for Saanich Gulf Islands and a cabinet minister in the Harper government. Another New Council adviser is Don Nightingale, who sits on the Conservative National Council, but did not respond to interview requests.

Hammond, Helps’s major rival, says he belongs to no party and enjoys the support of people of all political stripes. “Partisan politics have nothing to do with my campaign,” he told The Record.

All these non-political politicians leave many voters wondering how to choose among a three-page list of candidates. More than ever, they’ll have to rely on electoral forums, media coverage and their own judgment.