Congratulations to our new Council & School Board!
With only 1 incumbent voluntarily retiring & 2 long time former Councillors attempting to make a comeback, there was a good chance of some changes. But then you insert a new person into the Mayor’s shadow slate, add a well known local developer, a kid with serious family connections, and a host of activists that have been vocal not just for this term, but for the better part of this last decade and it certainly made the results all too unpredictable.
In the end there only a few surprises.
We all knew David Davis and Kim Richter were shoe-ins. They regularly top the polls and there was no reason to think they could lose this one. However, despite placing #1 & #3 AND despite the voting numbers being up +13.4% since 2014, both Davis and Richter loss actual votes. Davis was down approximately 500 votes since the last time around. It’s too early to say where he loss these votes since advance polling breakdowns haven’t been revealed, but general voting day losses definitely came in Walnut Grove and Brookswood areas. Richter loss over 1400 votes since 2014 – more votes than any other incumbent. Again, Richter’s anti-establishment voice seems to have weakened in North Langley and Brookswood, with less controversies than past years to fuel it. Next to Woodward & Quaale, she probably also had the most nasty things said about her of the main candidates and whether these things are true or not, they can always hurt a candidate.
Fort Langley commercial developer Eric Woodward came in strong, as suspected, in 2nd place. Although he may have had past legal & development wins around Coulter Berry, placing 2nd only to David Davis in the Fort Langley/Glen Valley polls may be considered his first true public validation of his sometimes controversial actions. Apart from this, Woodward dominated in North Langley, beating out every other council candidate. His multi-pronged campaign was a well oiled machine, from his well-timed popup park to his coffee meetings to live streamed community events making way for polished videos, advanced social media tactics & highly targeted traditional on the ground campaigning.
I’m still trying to figure out how Bob Long, who many -including myself – had deemed to be the one incumbent most likely to be knocked off, not only survived, but thrived. Long increased his vote count by just shy of +25% since 2014, which was stronger than any other incumbent. While he obviously did much better in the Fort Langley/Glen Valley polls than his 2014 showing, I’ll need to wait on the advance polls to see where these votes came from because there isn’t a strong increase anywhere else without them. He obviously secured his standard Aldergrove vote and had the backing of the Firefighters endorsements and the conservative base, but as we saw, this didn’t translate into votes for everyone. Wherever and however Long was campaigning obviously worked.
Blair Whitmarsh was another safe seat, gaining from his multi-pronged campaign and strong endorsements & networks. Next to Woodward, Whitmarsh probably offered the 2nd most modern campaign style, with a heavy focus on social media video campaigns & contemporary print media. Whitmarsh shares a similar campaign style, probably due to some (allegedly) shared resources with newbie Margaret Kunst, who barely beat out (ally?) Angie Quaale. Whitmarsh, Kunst, and Froese have a great graphic design, large network and their personalities are non-threatening. Whitmarsh & Kunst both stuck to a standard script. Whitmarsh played to the issues and ignored controversies, whereas Kunst relied on her networks and endorsements, not saying much of anything. I highly doubt this will be good enough in 2022 once she has a voting record.
Steve Ferguson may have surprised a lot of people, but his triumphant return to council doesn’t surprise me at all. His campaign was old-school in a lot of ways, but this still works in the Township of Langley. I have to say that he is probably the hardest working campaigner in Langley. Ferguson had been campaigning since the day he loss in 2014, he was the first to get his signage out and you can tell that he wasn’t ready to be outdone by anyone (even under half his age) – the guy has a crazy amount of energy. Ferguson probably pushed himself harder than before because he wasn’t endorsed by some old allies. He targeted Willoughby hard with a focus on 208th street and probably picked up the majority of his 1800 votes since 2014 with the younger generations (I would imagine this vote aligned closely with Woodward’s votes in the area).
Petrina Arnason was another one that isn’t a surprise return winner. She didn’t run an aggressive campaign, but Arnason also isn’t an aggressive person. She does have some serious name recognition due to her legacy, but she also comes out to every event over the past… 8 years, meets with every group out there and networks with the best of them. She just flies under the radar in a way that is pretty much the opposite of the Ferguson’s flamboyant style. Arnason is known to be more of an intellectual type, which in this day and age isn’t exactly a popular trait. Arnason did lose -2% of her vote count, so this might be a wake up call if she plans to run again in 2022 that she’ll have to campaign harder if she wants to stay in the top 8.
Angie Quaale, who ended the term in controversy and debate with Richter, which in hindsight probably didn’t help either of them, actually gained over 900 votes. But since she just barely made it in 2014, the +12% increase just wasn’t enough against tougher competition in 2018, pushing her from 8th on the election count to 9th, losing to newcomer Kunst by only 103 votes. I was extremely surprised by this loss, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see her back running in 2022. She doesn’t know how to sit back and relax so I’m sure she’ll be networking hard in Langley’s business groups in the meantime. It wouldn’t take her much to get back on Council with some tweaks to her campaign. She has well designed and memorable signage that no one can forget and a strong network. However, I wouldn’t doubt that the feud between her and Richter turned off some voters.
The other incumbent to get knocked out, Michelle Sparrow, lost over 600 votes between 2014 and 2018, which put her in a disappointing 11th place. While I endorsed her, I can’t say I’m surprised at the loss. I felt Sparrow campaigned hard and smart back in 2011 but took a back seat in 2014 and even moreso this time. I’m sure she might disagree, but I saw no social media campaign, no new media of any sort, and the famous Sparrow signs were sparse… it appeared she just wasn’t organized or responsive in the same way her main competitors were and just doesn’t have the drive for the campaign she use to. I hope she comes back in 4 years, lessons learned and pulls a Fergie (can I call it that?).
Beating out Sparrow for 10th place was the youngest candidate, Michael V. Pratt. Pratt’s advantages are also his disadvantages and its hard to say which won out. Pratt had strong connections to the political establishment and the Mayor’s blessings. However, he also made public challenges to Froese’s group, so while he may have picked some votes up there, he may have lost more. Good on him for maintaining his integrity though. The other double edge sword is his age. He focused way too much on being the young guy. But sometimes that can come across as idealistic inexperience – I know more than a few 40+ year olds who admitted to me that they were concerned about his lack of life experience. If he had stuck to the issues and solutions instead of his youthfulness, he may have succeeded. Like Sparrow, I hope to see Pratt in 4 years, with new signs (white on green, not black on green!) and downplay the age “advantage”.
Harold Whittell rounds out the top 12, who ran a pretty solid campaign – I’m pretty sure he decided to run on the day of the deadline. Whittell’s campaign was heavy on traditional social media tactics, but his strong results were focused in Fort Langley & Brookswood – the two hotbeds of controversy where he probably had a lot of connections. They are also, however, low population bases. If Whittell wants to come back to make a shot for the top 8 in 2022, he needs to go for the larger voting populations of Walnut Grove & Willoughby and not be so tied to the anti-development crowd. Whittell could easily win the business sector and the moderates the next time around (hint… ).
My final comments for an individual candidate are saved for 13th place, Bev Dornan. Dornan was one of the two candidates looking for vengeance after losing in 2014. Dornan lost to Ferguson (they were 9th and 10th) by only 67 votes in 2014. This time she lost to him by 1,968 votes. So how did Ferguson pick up 1800 votes in 4 years and Dornan lost 100 votes? Dornan had the endorsement of the Firefighters union, had the backing of the Mayor, had a bazillion signs out, yet failed to increase her popular vote. The style of their respective campaigns couldn’t have been more different. Ferguson probably knew he didn’t have my vote, but he was relentless – he was persistent, he went after everyone, whether or not they were a vote or not. Maybe this could have been seen as inefficient for him to try to win my vote, but what I saw was a persistent campaign, always smiling, always ready to win the vote no matter who you were. If I had based my vote on relationships instead of policy, I would have supported Steve. Dornan, on the other hand, had a rude, short-sited campaign manager who wouldn’t give you the time of day unless he felt you would support them. Efficient? Maybe. But how many other votes did Dornan’s campaign manager lose for her based on his assumptions of partisanship? Steve’s question was always “where can I win NEW votes?”. Bev’s campaign (I am careful not to say Bev herself) seemed desperate to maintain her old support and make no new friends. The results show it.
There are a group of candidates that finished 14th-20th that I would like to address without naming names. This group changes quite often, but they are always there in one way or another and they keep missing the top 10 (save their fearless “leaders”, Kim Richter & David Davis). Their opposition calls them the NIMBY’s, but I prefer the “anti-establishment”. I agree with a fair bit of their ideas, but they come across so strong in their anti-housing ideas that they are missing the moderate vote that gets people like Woodward & Arnason voted in or Whittell close (or Clint Lee in the past). This vote is almost always based in Brookswood. Even the candidates who live in Willoughby still do better in Brookswood than they do in Willoughby. But Walnut Grove and Willoughby are responsible for the greatest portion of the Township’s votes & if you keep saying “Say No to Willoughby South” or “Willoughby Sucks” and almost completely ignore Walnut Grove, you’re never going to come close to winning unless we have wards (which I doubt will ever happen). Richter and Davis both lost votes over the last 4 years. They had built their base from an older generation that is now being overshadowed by a new generation in North Langley by sheer population numbers which means it’ll be much harder to go that route for new candidates. Being against development doesn’t stir the Gen X & Y generations to come out to vote. While there are always passionate vocal people, the silent majority who live in this area doesn’t want to stop the home building that brought them here, but they do want to fix the problems.
Woodward’s “Let’s Fix It” slogan resonated with people in North Langley people we all know complaining is easy, but it just needs to be fixed. Whether or not he can actually deliver his solutions with the council is another issue, but he was given the mandate by voters. So to my friends in this anti-establishment group, please learn from this. The ALR could continue to suffer at the hands of this council. Environmental stewardship could again take a back seat without a shift in mindset. We need the environmental stewards to also understand development, zoning, planning, and offer more than just complaints. And as Woodward (and Arnason to a lesser extent) proved, this sort of solution-based campaign can beat the establishment. The top 3 elected Councillors won without any endorsement of the Mayor or political establishment. Keep this in mind for 2022.