Back in the early 1980s, Mike Harcourt and Bill Vander Zalm squared off in the race to become Vancouver’s mayor.
Harcourt won handily. Maybe he ran a better campaign, maybe the voters liked his campaign promises more, but one thing sure set him apart from Vander Zalm – he actually lived in Vancouver.
There’s a long tradition in British Columbia and Canada of politicians running in areas where they don’t live, or maybe have never even visited. Sir John A. Macdonald famously represented a riding in Victoria, without ever setting foot in it. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been rumoured to be considering a B.C. riding as well, to find himself a seat in Parliament.
For federal or even provincial politicians, there are arguments to be made for this practice. They represent the whole province or country, as well as their own constituents.
But when it comes to civic elections, as Bill Vander Zalm found, residence matters. Harcourt mocked his opponent during that election, pointedly noting Vander Zalm’s Surrey home address.
Longtime Langley-based MLA Rich Coleman announced this week that he won’t seek election as mayor of Surrey. That’s for the best.
Civic politics is all about the local. You can live in a neighbouring community, you can know the issues back to front, but live there for a few years before you run for office! Get the dirt of a place stuck in the soles of your shoes, before you take up a position of power.
It’s not about name recognition, it’s about being a real part of a community.