The Vancouver party system no longer fits with today’s complex and diverse candidates and the pressure to fit into a party ideology detracts from their ability to present themselves fully to the voting public.

The embarrassment of candidate riches in this election presents voters with an unprecedented number of quality candidates drawing from a deep well of experience from which the City of Vancouver will benefit for years to come. We have an exceedingly interesting scenario playing out whereby many of the candidates for the tradionally center-right (and inaccurately-named) Non-Partisan Association (NPA), the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), and the center-left Vision Vancouver do not fit neatly into the ideologies once touted by those parties.

The announcement of architect and social housing planner Michael Geller’s entry in the election under the NPA banner is, by his own admission, something that surprises those who know him well who would have expected him to run for Vision Vancouver, or even COPE. Geller chose the NPA because he feels there is room for someone with his eclectic experience and he didn’t feel he could win a nomination – a refreshingly humble and likely wrong assertion – to the Vision roster given their full slate of qualified candidates.

City Council candidate Michael Geller

City Council candidate Michael Geller

If you look at the bios of many of the announced candidates seeking party nominations, it’s easy to see that the majority could run under any one of the two or three parties and have something to offer that falls within those ideologies. Disappointingly, the party system hamstrings candidates into having to toe the given party line to varying degrees or dumb down their rhetoric in order to win a nomination, so the voting public never sees the real candidate. Granted, that is the case with most politicians, but why not encourage transparency where it can be fostered in even small ways?

The first order of business for the new civic government should be to scrap the current partisan system in favour of an open race or possibly the implementation of a ward system where candidates run in a specified neighborhood and represent the interests of that neighborhood in addition to their duties to the city at large, much like the provincial and federal processes. The ward system engenders a sense of responsibility and accountability to voters whom many elected officials seem to conveniently forget are also citizens and taxpayers.

Viewing the decisions of the current civic government these past three years through this lens of increased accountability to neighborhoods would create some fascinating outcomes. Perhaps the votes on big box stores, Eco-density (where is the trademark symbol when you need it?), social housing at the 2010 Olympic Village and even the outcome of the 2007 civic workers’ strike would have been significantly different under a ward system where councilors answered more directly to their constituents.

Such a system would also serve to reduce the potential for distracting and misconstrued events such as the Jamie Lee Hamilton debacle. Hamilton could simply run as an independent – an option still open to her under the current system – and avoid the need for anyone’s rubber stamp of validation.