News Local

Hector Bremner wins city byelection

Nick Eagland, Vancouver Sun

Former B.C. Liberal candidate Hector Bremner is running for the NPA in the upcoming Vancouver byelection to fill the council seat vacated by Geoff Meggs. (Nick Procaylo/Postmedia)

Former B.C. Liberal candidate Hector Bremner is running for the NPA in the upcoming Vancouver byelection to fill the council seat vacated by Geoff Meggs. (Nick Procaylo/Postmedia)

The Non-Partisan Association has snagged a fourth seat on Vancouver city council while four school board trustees fired last year by the previous provincial government will return to their positions.

Saturday's byelection, the city's first in 25 years, drew nine council candidates to fill a single seat vacated over the summer by Vision Vancouver's Geoff Meggs, who, after nine years in council chambers, left to take a job as Premier John Horgan's chief of staff.

The NPA's candidate, Hector Bremner, came out victorious with 13,372 votes or close to 28% of the 48,645 ballots cast, according to unofficial results reported at press time late Saturday.

Official election results will be declared by the chief election officer by Oct. 18, according to the city.

Bremner will now join NPA councillors George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball and Melissa De Genova on city council. His term will end shortly after the next Vancouver civic election in October 2018.

"We've worked very hard to bring a message of hope to people and I feel like it connected," said Bremner, just as unofficial results showed a clear path to his victory.

"Right away, we've got to sit down and talk about how we're going to fix housing."

The pro-development Bremner, who ran for the B.C. Liberals in New Westminster in 2013 and is vice-president of public affairs for communications firm Pace Group, campaigned on a platform focused on fixing the city's housing crisis.

Bremner proposed zoning changes to increase density, bolstering the use of city-owned land for social and market-rental housing, and streamlining the building-approval process.

Saturday night, he vowed to work with the NPA to address homelessness, a rental-stock shortage and the overdose crisis.

"I hope Vision will work with us, and (Green) Adrianne Carr," he said. "I think it's time to park the partisanship and we've got to work together ... the reality is, people are hurting and they don't want partisan sniping and they don't want positioning."

As councillor, Bemner will receive a salary of $82,029 plus an annual supplement of $3,048.

With his election, Vision is left with five councillors with Mayor Gregor Robertson giving the party a single-vote majority of six Vision votes out of 11. The NPA's four seats will effectively block Vision from "supermajority" votes on major matters requiring two-thirds approval such as issuing grants and selling or swapping city-owned land.

Trailing not far behind Bremner was independent candidate and longtime anti-poverty advocate Jean Swanson with 10,263 votes. Swanson, who was endorsed by COPE, failed to win on her campaign of implementing a mansion tax and rent freeze but took a hefty 21.5% of votes without carrying any party's banner.

The Greens' Pete Fry was a percentage point behind Swanson with 9,759 votes. He ran for council in 2013 too, and is the son of Liberal MP Hedy Fry.

OneCity's Judy Graves, a homeless advocate who has worked with the city in various capacities for four decades, followed Swanson with 6,327 of votes, while Vision Vancouver's Diego Cardona trailed with 5,411.

Cannabis advocate and business owner Mary Jean "Watermelon" Dunsdon ran for the newly-formed Sensible Vancouver (1,737 votes), and was trailed by independents Gary Lee (886) independents Damian J. Murphy (157) and Joshua Wasilenkoff (131).

Nineteen candidates vied for the nine trustee positions, including six people who sought to return to the job after the entire school board was fired last October by the previous provincial government, when it failed to pass a balanced budget on time.

Soon after, the provincial government appointed Dianne Turner as the lone official trustee.

Four of those ousted trustees will now return on a split board, with only former Vision board chair Mike Lombardi and the NPA's Christopher Richardson failing to return, by a narrow margin. Lombardi's former Vision colleagues Joy Alexander and Allan Wong were re-elected and Ken Clement is returning after previous terms in 2008 and 2011.

Three Greens led the race with more than 20,000 votes each, with Janet Fraser returning to the board, now joined by Estrellita Gonzalez and Judy Zaichkowsky.

From the NPA, Fraser Ballantyne will return, joined by Lisa Dominato. Carrie Bercic will be OneCity's first trustee.

Key issues for the trustees will include school closures, seismic upgrading and program cuts.

Board conduct will also be under scrutiny after an independent investigation by an outside lawyer in March 2017 revealed that “bullying and harassment occurred and that a toxic work environment existed at the school board.” The report didn’t go into details about who was doing the bullying, but a WorkSafeBC investigation came to a similar conclusion last October.

School board trustees received salaries between $26,975 and $28,167 in 2015-16, according to a statement of financial information.

Roughly $1.5 million was budgeted for the byelection, said Janice MacKenzie, Vancouver’s chief election officer and city clerk, earlier this month.

Voter turnout was low, with just 10.99% of the city's 442,792 eligible voters having cast ballots, according to unofficial results. For the previous by-election in 1992, just over 10% of Vancouver’s 269,580 registered voters cast ballots.

For the 2014 general civic election, turnout was 43%, up from 35% in 2011.

With files from Dan Fumano and Patrick Johnston