12 Interesting Lessons From The 2022 Langley Election

For the first time since Mayor John Sholtens’ Langley Leadership Team took office in 1996, an electoral organization (civic party) has once again taken a majority in the Township of Langley. I’ve been an invested council watcher since moving back to Langley in 2010 and every local election I’ve seen (2011, 2014, 2018) has offered it’s own unique lessons. Over the past few days since the results were released, I’ve re-analyzed the campaigns, the results and come up with 12 lessons learned – so far. In no particular order:

1. The Electorate is Disinterested

Original source unknown, screenshot from Township of Langley Informed Election Forum Facebook group

I list this one as number one since this is one that is most apparent and perhaps of greatest concern. It’s the reason I wrote my last article. But seriously, after witnessing increasing voter participation over the last decade, growing from a devastatingly low of 21% in 2008 to a modern “high” of 30.4% in 2018, only 26.5% of eligible Township voters came out to vote in 2022. This means only 11.1% of eligible voters elected our new Mayor. With four well known Mayoral candidates and record breaking advance voter turnout, I expected that at least 30,000 (30.6%), if not something closer to 34,000 (34.7%) voters might turn out. We had just shy of 26,000. Langley City was even worse with only 17% of their eligible voters turning out. Why this is, I don’t know. If I ask the 73.55% of eligible voters why they didn’t voter they would probably say it either didn’t matter, they didn’t care, or they didn’t know who to vote for. As a fan of Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone“, I see deeper social issues at play here. This obviously isn’t just a Langley issue – as the image above shows, this is a regional problem.

2. Tepid Thirst for Change.

Source: Langley Advance times

Not “no thirst” for change – just a tepid one. While Woodward campaigned on “progress”, the turnout was low and he and his running mate Steve Ferguson represented a fair amount of status quo in the way Langley has built over the past decades. Yet this obviously was not the message promoted by the winning campaign. I would imagine that soundness of Woodward’s victory was enough of a turn away from those perceived to be more “old guard” candidates – Blair Whitmarsh was endorsed by the outgoing 3-term Mayor Froese and Rich Coleman, a longtime BC Liberal MLA with a long history of involvement in municipal politics and some substantial controversy.

It is obvious that Mayor-Elect Eric Woodward represented a significant enough element of change and was the choice of over 42% of those who came out to vote – yet this still means that 88.9% of eligible voters did NOT vote for Woodward. If Langley was REALLY hungry for change, I believe we would have either elected a complete underdog who was quite radically different than those in power in a number of ways OR the electorate would have really showed up at the polls with a much higher turnout. Take it for what it is, more people voted for allegedly “old guard” candidates than they did for Woodward (Whitmarsh/Coleman combined = 45.2%).

Despite the substantial increase in population, Woodward was elected with just shy of 4,000 less votes than Froese in 2018 – granted, Froese only had 2 competitors and Woodward had 3, including 2 very well funded competitors. Overall, my interpretation though is that the lack of voter participation and the re-election of four current councillors (when there were 5 new “spots” open) showed that the desire for change is there, its just wasn’t overwhelming (the only incumbents that lost a seat were Blair Whitmarsh, who ran for Mayor, and Petrina Arnason).

3. Social Media Lies…

Source: Better Langley: by Brad Richert Facebook page, screenshots of fraudulent “Better Langley” profile

I’ve often mentioned that the proportion of really involved citizens on the local political level is around 1%. That’s about 800-1,300 people. That’s a pretty small portion of the people who actually vote. Worse yet, a fraction of these people, myself included, are responsible for probably something like 90% of the airtime online. So if you’re looking for some semblance of “reality”, don’t expect to see it on online political forums. That doesn’t mean I discourage involvement on them. However, it does mean that you shouldn’t trust them as a source for what’s going on “out there” or who will be elected. I even mentioned that when I did my early online poll. Online engagement involves a lot of fringe opinions, confirmation bias, and candidates with limited money and reach to appear louder than they are.

On top of this sort of “silo effect”, there are also the fake profiles and purposeful misdirection. Some are relatively innocuous, but generally speaking, these fake profiles (people who don’t use their real name) tend to be the more obnoxious trouble makers or, worse, outright identity thieves. If you report one, Facebook admits that they don’t really care about fraudulent profiles, despite their own legal terms of use. There simply are too many of them to investigate and ban. The people (apparently “adults”, but age certainly hasn’t led to maturity) who create multiple online profiles to harass voters and misrepresent others know this and take advantage of Facebook’s apathy. However, these profiles undermine democracy, make people feel unsafe, misrepresent credible sources of information and can hide true motivations of the people behind them, especially if they are candidates, elected officials, or the people behind them. These fraudulent profiles were more active in this local election than I’ve personally ever seen, and were responsible for a significant amount of “engagement” during the campaign. It is apparent to me that “American-style” campaign tactics that have been the subject of legal investigations in the past have fully infused themselves into Canadian politics, even on the local level.

4. Online Campaigns Win Elections

Source: Contract with Langley website

Even though online engagement easily can skew the reality of the bigger picture, this doesn’t mean campaigns that have a heavy online component don’t win. Obama knew it. Trump knew it. Woodward knew it. Coleman didn’t. Allegedly fraudulent profile “Susie Summers” (who many believe to be a local politician) posted an interesting spreadsheet with fairly accurate research into Facebook ad spending (“she”, of course, has since deleted all of “her” posts so I don’t have a link to it – if anyone has a screenshot, please let me know). It was interesting to see that Contract with Langley had spent, I believe, upwards of 4x more on Facebook ads than the nearest competitor, Elevate Langley (I can’t remember the exact figures – I believe is was something like $64,000). Meanwhile, only 2 independent candidates (and one third party sponsor) had spent over $1,000. In fact, my own third party sponsorship had spent more than the majority of candidates on Facebook ads. It was at that moment that I realized the true direction of the election. Still, in 2022, most candidates were still spending exponentially more money on signs than they were online ads.

We don’t have the final totals. We know that Elevate Langley will have spent significant amounts of money on signage, as would Contract of Langley, but the ratio comparison to online ads will likely show that Elevate Langley was much more traditional in their campaign.

5. All Candidates Meetings Don’t Matter

Source: Brad Richert @ Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce ACM

I already knew this. So did Rob Rindt, apparently, who showed up at the first ACM and then blew the rest off. I’ve often noticed (ie. in 2011, 2014, and 2018) that those candidates who perform very well at all candidates meetings and use door knocking as their primary campaign strategy don’t often do well at the polls. I’ve seen candidates who do very poorly at “debates” end up winning in landslides. Prior to streaming, this made sense because there would often be only two large all candidate events (usually the Chamber of Commerce and the Firefighters Union) that would generate 200-300 attendees… out of 25,000 voters. Politics is a numbers game – a popularity contest – and when the electorate is disengaged, these events just aren’t going to do the trick when we reach a population of 100,000 or more.

Even now, many events were not streamed or recorded – those that were, were barely advertised. As I watched, I noticed that there might be only 12-25 people even watching the event online. This obviously now makes sense, considering what was discussed in Lesson #1. However, it’s a sad state to see that a candidate can literally blow off almost every single public opportunity and still receive more votes than the majority of candidates. The jaded reality is that these all candidates meetings really don’t matter, and they probably never really have.

6. Signless Campaigns Don’t Work

Source: Brad Richert

This should be obvious, but I need to say it for future candidates with little money. Every election we seem to get a half dozen or more candidates who won’t put up any signs or put up very few. Sometimes it’s about money and other times its virtue signalling, and other times it is both. How many people voted for candidates with no signs though? Even those who complain about the signs? The reality is that until there is some sort of significant restrictions on election signage, this is the only way many voters even know there is an election going on. Furthermore, people vote with who they see. It’s a combination of all media that brings voters to the polls and creates interest. A voter is unlikely to base their vote on a sign, but they will vote only for names that they know. If they don’t know your name, they definitely won’t vote for you.

We can probably get into a more detailed analysis of this when the financial disclosures are released, but it’s a pretty obvious anecdote: 4 of the 6 candidates at the bottom of the vote count (Rubio, Respondek, Joehl, and Moraes) had either no signs or very very few. Sure, they probably didn’t have much for other campaign material either, but as a real estate agent, I know that signs are there to sell the person on the sign, not the house. This doesn’t mean that the most signs wins, but I have yet to see anyone even come close to winning without significant signs.

7. Money Matters. A Lot of Money Matters More.

Source: Langley Advance Times

I remember back in 2012 reading about how the 2011 election was the most expensive mayoral race ever, with a combined expenditure amount of $240,000 between 3 mayoral candidates (Jack Froese, Mel Kositsky, and Rick Green). You can already start laughing. Or crying. I wouldn’t be surprised if Contract with Langley spent that just by themselves, with Elevate Langley not too far behind. In 2014, Jack Froese spent approximate $95,000 in his first successful re-election bid and $64,000 in his second in 2018. Both of these were considered a lot of money. Both of these will pale in comparison to what you’ll likely see in the financial disclosures for 2022, especially considering the amount of online ads alone, as per Lesson #4.

What is certain is that the independents simply didn’t stand a chance in fundraising. Whitmarsh likely would have had some backing from the former Mayor Froese endorsement, but many of his financial contributors probably did jump ship to Coleman, who had also been a strong Froese supporter. A full analysis will be seen in Spring of 2023, but we will likely see that the dollar per vote will show that it takes a lot of money to get the votes required to win.

8. Slates Are Back. Probably To Stay

Source: Contract with Langley Facebook Page

Unless the rules change, Langley is too small to have a majority of independents on council. I hate that I’m saying that. But it’s true and here is why: see Lesson #7.

I predict that it may be possible to see a strong independent Mayor in the future, there will still at a disadvantage to the fundraising and expenditure ability of a slate. As independent candidate Rebecca Darnell pointed out in her article (which I’m not sure how long it will be available post-election), the differences in spending power, set by LAW, between independents and slates is significant. I took some screenshots, just in case they take down their website, so you can look for yourself:

So even if independents COULD raise as much as a slate, they wouldn’t even be allowed to spend nearly as much. As our community has grown to one of the largest in the province, we need to face the reality of the cost of reach. Money buys newspaper ads (each one can be thousands of dollars), Facebook ads, large events, social media managers, night markets, large signs. To win in the future, you’re going to need money. Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Surrey, New Westminster, Maple Ridge have all basically stuck permanently with slates in recent elections. Abbotsford seems to be in a similar position as Langley, perhaps in transition as our communities cross certain population thresholds.

*Update: after publishing this, Twitter user @BlairKing_ca brought up the element of strong community involvement by Barb Martens, who won big in Walnut Grove. While I’ll discuss more about this in the differences between Contract with Langley and Elevate Langley (and other slates) in an upcoming article, I think that it’s important to recognize the advantage of having individuals with strong built in support as additional credibility to a team. An independent with a strong local base often ends up winning in one area (ie. Anna Remenik or Sunny Hundal in 2018), but suffers outside of their area of influence. With a team, Martens’ strength can become Rindt’s strength, and vice versa. Of course, the wrong team members can tear down a team.

9. Langley is No Longer “Coleman Country”

Source: Elevate Langley Facebook Page

Coleman has been infamous for his influence on the municipal races and many in local politics saw him as bit of kingmaker in recent elections, especially with his endorsement of former Mayor Jack Froese. Demographics have changed. We saw this with the rejection of BC Liberal candidates in the most recent provincial election, despite being a historically overwhelmingly conservative riding (provincially and federally). We also had the federal Liberals win, lose, then win their Langley-Cloverdale seat. While Conservative Take Van Popta easily held onto his seat, there is definitely a lot of change happening in Langley’s political landscape – especially in the fast growing Willoughby area. As well, Langley City and Cloverdale usually has influence in these ridings, they are often a politically similar to west Langley.

It’s possible that Rich Coleman and his campaign must have thought that these elections were blips and maybe a poor showing from Margaret Kunst and Kim Richter in the provincial and federal races, respectively, were just that. However, Coleman’s mayoral bid failed to even receive half of Kunst’s councillor votes (Richter also received 3,700 more voters than Coleman). Yes, that’s a different race, but it goes to show the misguided assumption: this is no longer “Coleman Country”. This may be the final admission that his sway on Langley politics has passed after a series of controversies regarding the BC Liberals, the casinos, and his “Blind Trust”.

10. Advance Voting More Important Than Ever

Source: Better Langley: by Brad Richert Facebook Page

This is an interesting one. There were 7,433 advance votes and/or mail in votes. This is out of 25,827. This means 29% of voters voted BEFORE the October 15 general Election Day. That is significant, especially when you consider that some of the largest voting days were early on (I myself voted on October 5). So if you’re a late campaigner or waiting until the final couple weeks of the campaign to hit hard, you’re missing a LOT of votes.

As anyone can tell you, Contract with Langley has been campaigning for… well I might say for 4 years, considering that Woodward has had his name all over his privately owned temporary park in Fort Langley, his Night Markets, and, in general, just knows how to make sure his name is constantly in the press (even if its bad press). Michael Pratt, the only independent non-incumbent to win, also had previous name recognition from his fairly well done 2018 campaign AND again, started campaigning very early in the year. The majority of other candidates, especially those on Elevate Langley’s slate, I hadn’t even heard of until nomination day! Similar to Woodward’s team, they were all banking on the star power of their mayoral candidate – Coleman just didn’t have enough for them.

Breaking this down further, you see some other curious assessments. Brit Gardner, who I nominated, didn’t even plan to run until the last few final nomination days. She did extremely well, but a high proportion of her votes came on general Election Day, and therefore a lower percentage in advance polls (24% advance votes). This suggests that as voters grew to know her, they liked her, and voted for her: but she lost out on early name recognition. In affect, she “caught up” to candidates who were more successful at the polls before October 15, such as AJ Cheema (33% voted before October 15) or top vote counter Barb Martens (31% advance votes). Woodward himself (31%) saw a proportional decrease between advance polls and general voting day, whereas Blair Whitmarsh (26%) saw his vote count increase proportionally in the final two weeks.

My interpretation of this is that with such a larger proportion of voters taking advantage of advance polling, the winning candidates will more likely be those who grab a good portion of those voting before general Election Day. This means that the long, early and expensive campaign (ie. January to October) will increasingly pay off compared to those who wait for the last big push or don’t have the name recognition prior to the general Election Day.

11. “Anti-X” Campaigns Don’t Work

Source: Unknown

This is something we should really know by now, but opposing someone doesn’t give people a reason to vote, nor is it really convincing. Anecdotally, it might keep voters from voting, but it rarely has a significant affect on the outcome of the election. Similar to “Anti-Trudeau” movements or previous “Anti-Harper” messages on the federal level, the “Anti-Woodward” campaign, which rightly assumed he was the frontrunner, failed to make any significant impact. During the election, even as a critic of the Woodward campaign, even I suggested that the ad hominem personal attacks were more likely to create sympathy for him than demonize him.

Both Woodward and I have read and studied Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power“. For those who continue the tactics seen should consider the following words:

Law 6 – Court Attention at All Cost… Draw attention to yourself by creating an unforgettable, even controversial image. Court scandal. Do anything to make yourself seem larger than life and shine more brightly than those around you. Make no distinction between kinds of attention – notoriety of any sort will bring you power. Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored.

P.T. Barnum… started his career as an assistant to the owner of a circus, Aaron Turner. In 1836 the circus stopped in Annapolis, Maryland, for a series of performances. On the morning of opening day, Barnum took a stroll through town, wearing a new black suit… Some in the gathering crowd shouted out that he was the Reverend Ephraim K. Avery, infamous as a man acquitted of the charge of murder but still believed guilty by most Americans. The angry mob tore off Barnum’s suit and was ready to Lynch him. After desperate appeals, Barnum finally convinced them to follow him to the circus, where he could verify his identity.

Once there, old Turner confirmed that this was a all a practical joke. – he himself had spread the rumor that Barnum was Avery. The crowd dispersed, but Barnum, who had nearly been killed, was not amused… “My dear, Mr. Barnum… it was all for our good. Remember, all we need to ensure success is notoriety.” And indeed everyone in town was talking about the joke, and the circus was packed that night and every night it stayed in Annapolis. Barnum had learned a lesson he would never forget.

-Robert Greene, “The 48 Laws of Power”

Regardless of the range of opinions on the influence of “Anybody But…” campaigns, I continue to maintain that a negative campaign will only have any effect if there is a strong alternative. I admit I felt I had to resort to my own more “negative campaign” as a result of my social media profile, identity and intellectual property being fraudulently misused. This fake profile caused many of my readers to assume I was promoting Woodward events when I was not. Personally, I would have preferred to focus on promoting the positive messages of my endorsement list than trying to counteract an imposter. As a non-candidate, I was not expecting this strategy, so kudos to the imposter.

Woodward “gives up fight”, then wins seat on council, and then mayorship, while application is still active

12. Langley (Still) Really Struggles With Diversity

Source: Elevate Langley website

This is probably the most complicated lesson. I thought about this a lot in the months leading up to the election. I’ve watched the demographics of Langley shift, yet took notice of the recently released 2021 census that showed that Langley is still considerably English-speaking: 98,820 residents speak English as their mother tongue. The next largest language in Langley is Korean, with 5,360 speakers. Mardarin and Punjabi both showed 3,895 speakers apiece in the census. Despite this overwhelming lack of general diversity, I wondered if this would finally be the election that we might see a greater diversity of candidates and perhaps sitting councillors.

Well. No. This was something that I even was extremely cognizant of when I made my list of endorsements – and this was even before I was called out by someone who didn’t like my picks. I get it. Although I endorsed one Metis candidate, even I showed a lack of diversity on my own list. The reality is, only one visible minority candidate came close to my own paradigm. I own that, and I am still reflecting on if some implicit bias was involved with my own vote or not.

However, beyond my own personal reflection, the results of the election suggest that the general Langley electorate struggles with diversity – with definitely no accusation towards the campaigns. Carefully consider the following:

  • There were no visible minority Mayoral candidates. There was one female candidate who was even at times “forgotten” by media sources in the comparison of the 4 way race, despite having been a sitting councillor for the same amount of terms as the most experienced candidate.
  • A Contract with Langley candidate, Rob Rindt, only showed up to one all candidate meeting and didn’t perform particularly well, generally going negative or even making obviously misleading or false comments about his status as the only candidate who was a farmer. Yet, he was easily elected with 9,418 votes. There didn’t seem to be anything that overtly set him apart from others on his slate. Yet, his Contract with Langley slate mate, AJ Cheema, showed up to every all candidate meetings, preformed very well, showed intelligence, was well spoken and made almost exclusively positive remarks during these events. He was the only Contract with Langley candidate NOT elected, receiving only 7,631 votes. I struggle with this analysis. What was the reason that 1,787 people voted for Councillor-Elect Rindt, but not Cheema, who is of Indo-Canadian descent, despite being on the same team? I didn’t vote or support the slate so I can’t answer this. It was even a full slate, so it’s odd that he received so few less votes.
  • Among the 14 independent candidates, the visible minority with the most amount of votes was Michael Chang, who has run in two previous elections (federal and provincial), who had the 8th most amount of votes among candidates, with only 5,322 votes, and came in 14th out of 28 candidates (he is of Korean descent, speaking the second most populous mother tongue language in Langley).
  • Rich Coleman’s Elevate Langley civic party had 4 (of their 8) council candidates who were a visible minority – yet Langley’s top 3 picks of their slate (Scott Cameron, Cathy Mcdonald, and Stephen Dinesen) were all Caucasian.
  • 6 of the bottom 9 candidates were visible minorities.
  • Although elected, Contract with Langley’s Sarb Rai received 2,011 LESS votes than slate mate Holly Dickinson and 1,903 LESS than slate mate Joel Neufeld.

I am not making the accusation that Langley is racist, or even racially insensitive. My own admittance of a lack of diversity on my own endorsement list (with the exception of having an overwhelming amount of women on my Council and Board Trustee lists) is something I’ve already mentioned and still reflect on. I note the positive outcome that 4 women were once again elected to council, which is something that Langley has done well with in modern history.

While understanding that some of the visible minority candidates ran with very little money, almost no signage, some without any online presence or advertising, it is hard to blame voters for not voting for what they don’t know or haven’t met. Similarly, Sarb Rai had less exposure than her two trustee running mates, who had both run in the by-election in the previous year.

By themselves, none of the considerations above would draw much attention. However, with each compounding on each other, how do we avoid at least asking if there are any possible underlying systemic racial issues here. Why do the visible minority independent candidates struggle so much more universally than others? Why do the Caucasian candidates on BOTH slates end up with so many more votes than the visible minorities, DESPITE potentially no real objective reason for it?

I leave Langley’s voters with those considerations and reflections. Do you agree or disagree with any? Are there any lessons or observations you would add?

One comment

  1. This is a good piece of writing and good analysis. Question, was Rich Coleman and his team brought in to prevent people for voting for independents, meaning, people might have voted for Woodward and team to make sure Coleman didn’t get in, where perhaps they might have voted for independents? On diversity. The minority candidates, imo, didn’t seize the opportunity with the gusto at hand. For example, Sukhman Gill pretty much only appealed to his own community. I found this really insulting to all the other recent immigrant groups in Langley, like the mainland Chinese, Iranians, Ukrainians, and Koreans. Mr. Gill and Mr. Chang also were among the slowest to get back to people. I had to push Mr. Chang MANY times and we even have the family name of Chang ourselves. Silly. Mr. Gill stubbornly refused to answer any questions on trees, chemicals, monoculture, and the misuse of the ALR. REFUSED. Again. Silly. Michelle Sparrow could have run a stronger campaign. Her name “sparrow” made me think of a weak little bird, and her image and use of a bird I think wasn’t strategic. She had potential but not the greatest campaign strategy. So, it could be that the diverse candidates just weren’t that great or that strategic. Personally I felt sad that Mr. Gill didn’t want to have dialogue on the ALR. He really could have gained a lot more support if he had been willing to talk about tough issues, especially in the midst of a drought and concerns about the aquifer. It’s still very “Canadian” to see politics as distasteful; how many times have I been told as an insult, “Oh, well you’re so POLITICAL.” We need to really change that and help people see they have a duty to democracy even if it means spicy conversations. I think it’s also very Canadian to just assume our leaders are doing a good job, pay our taxes, and then complain. So, blogs likes yours are fantastic. Thank you for putting yourself out there so we can all engage.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s