Throughout its entire history, a full 132 years, Vancouver voters have never selected a woman for mayor.
I hope this election changes that.
It's hard for me as a man to talk about what women face in the political realm. But as an observer of social behaviour, I can tell you they have a much harder time than men. I have seen pretty nasty attacks on Sylvester, especially this week.
Canada's other major cities have had some fine female mayors. Marion Dewar in Ottawa. Barbara Hall in Toronto. Montréal recently elected Valerie Plante as their mayor - a surprise come from behind candidate.
This week Vancouver voters can elect a progressive woman who also happens to be, by far, the most qualified person in the race. Her name is Shauna Sylvester.
I’ve volunteered in every municipal, provincial and federal election for 40 years. Like many people, I was always campaigning against someone, or their policies. This week I met two women. One was a 30-year-old professional the other a 60 year old service worker. Both told me they finally felt they can support a candidate that they are for. They are for Shauna. I feel the same way.
Shauna has three decades of leadership as a board member of MEC, Vancity and many initiatives. She has started 5 national organizations from scratch. And importantly for Vancouver, she has a depth of experience in housing, transportation and green issues all of which are critical to Vancouver's future.
But as any woman ever running for office will tell you, politics is not a level playing field. Women are held to a different standard. Their values of listening and consultation are not valued by many men who think winning is everything. Power is absolute. And bullying is okay.
Sadly, in my experience the attacks on women are not simply coming from the right wing. It's coming from so-called progressives as well.
Shauna Sylvester was the first candidate to announce for mayor. Before she decided to run for office, she talked to virtually every other potential female candidate and a number of progressive males who might run. She didn't want to get in their way if they decided to enter the race for mayor of Vancouver.
I believe she showed a deep consideration for their history of service and for their ability. It was only after consultation with potential candidates whom she respected that she decided to step up, once they declined.
I don't believe she saw this as a career move. Her entire history is one of service.
Most importantly, she chose to run as an independent. That’s a brave decision because she didn’t have a political party behind her, like the other top candidates.
You know that the times we live in are defined by polarization and fear. Many people are living scared and isolated. They feel their voices are unheard and unrepresented.
Like Shauna I believe democracy is under threat. That's why it's so important to have independent political leaders like her who listen deeply, create space for the disenfranchised and build bridges across political divides. That's what she's done, successfully, for over 3 decades. Polarization is dangerous for democracy.
When Shauna announced, the more conservative forces in the city were busy stabbing each other in the back. And sometimes the front. As it turns out, there are four conservative-leaning candidates that will split the right wing vote.
Shauna should have had an easy job sailing to victory – as the first woman mayor ever elected in Vancouver.
But Kennedy Stewart announced he was running about a month after Shauna did.
His people are campaigning on the false-narrative that a vote for Shauna is splitting the progressive side. It is an effective argument but it's unfair and wrong. She can win.
There is a lot of research around social change and promoting progressive values. It shows that when you give women a voice, when you open space for them, and when they take political office, the arc of change bends deeper and faster toward social justice.
Sylvester is a person who can work with a wide variety of interests to solve difficult problems, as she's demonstrated nationally and internationally. She's not an “old-school” politician.
She's not taking money from corporations or unions. That's important because it means she's a true independent.
What women face
It's hard for me as a man to talk about what women face in the political realm. But as an observer of social behaviour, I can tell you they have a much harder time than men. I have seen pretty nasty attacks on Sylvester, especially this week. That means to me that she has momentum, and her competitors are nervous.
I'm supporting Shauna because of her experience and integrity. I've been to a number of the debates. She consistently gets the most applause, is the most articulate, and is the most detailed in her solutions to our problems. Countless people have told me that she's clearly the most qualified candidate. But they are concerned she could to split the progressive vote. With four right-wing parties, and weak candidates, however, I don't believe the NPA has a chance.
Early voting is open now in Vancouver for the municipal election. The final vote is this Saturday.
Editor's note: this piece was updated at 5:18 PM with minor corrections.