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Occupy Vancouver camper wins Last Candidate Standing election debate

Last Candidate Standing winner Lauren Gill (centre) with two finalists, Chris Shaw (left) and Aaron Spires -- all are vying for city council positions. Photos by David P. Ball

Light sabres. Pineapples. Saxophones. Bribery with Canadian Tire money.

Vancouver municipal election 2011: Not your usual election props, but at the idiosyncratic Last Candidate Standing election debate last night, it was no holds barred. With 30 candidates – mixing would-be mayors and councillors – advancing through tournament-like rounds and vying for audience and judge approval – the large election slates were quickly pushed out by independents.

After two hours of sweaty, irreverent and frequently oddball parries and ripostes, the surprise winner: Occupy Vancouver's Lauren Gill, 23.

“I don't really want to get in,” Gill admitted in her victory speech. “You can vote for me, sure, and if I get elected, I will work my ass off for you.”

“My power and your power lies in the streets, and it lies in holding the politicians accountable and attending City Council hearings. We are the people who hold the power in this city. You see that at Occupy Vancouver – they haven't moved in yet. Why? Because we hold more power than they do.”

The event, organized by the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) and UBC’s School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture, featured live indie music between rounds, and an unusual round-robin-meets-applause-meter debate style. Hosted by journalist Steve Burgess, the panel of judges included CBC's Theresa Lalonde, VPSN chair Alissa Sadler, UBC professor Matthew Soules, and The Tyee's David Beers.

The three major parties – the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) and Vision Vancouver – faced off against smaller slates and independents.

With candidate names randomly selected from a golden lottery barrel, candidates of all statures fielded questions on everything from the conventional – how to deal with the Stanley Cup riots and Occupy Vancouver – to the wacky. The latter category included asking candidates which video game they would use as a model for increasing voter turnout.

Angry birds (flinging people into polls, suggested COPE's RJ Aquino)."). Pac Man (“Gregor Robertson chasing me around for a while, and then me chasing him, depending on the issue,” suggested the Non-Partisan Association's Ken Charko). 

Laughter was abundant – a needed reprieve from an intense weekend on the campaign trail, a number of candidates told the Vancouver Observer – but it was the candidates who used humour to press their campaign issues who advanced past the first rounds.

In one question, candidates were asked if they woke up the next day as any Vancouver building, which one would they be?

Gill's response brought her signature affordable housing and anti-gentrification platform to the fore: she would be reincarnated as the demolished Little Mountain housing project, from which 224 families were displaced in 2009.

Burgess, the master of ceremonies, was not surprised the big slates didn't make it to the final round, which brought anti-development, pro-housing candidates Gill to the stage with fellow Rent Is Crazy High (R.I.C.H.) slate member Aaron Spires and De-Growth party's Chris Shaw.

But the three opted to share the microphone instead of facing off, saying they agree on the basic policies of ending City Hall corruption, reducing the influence of developers, and supporting people's movements such as Occupy Vancouver.

“You're seeing a much more grassroots-level phenomenon,” Burgess told the Vancouver Observer. “To be honest, I didn't think this would be a place where incumbents would make it past the first two rounds.”

“It gets in touch with issues that mass media outlets are less likely to pick up on.”

Based on audience cheers, candidates who brought props rated popular in early rounds but were defeated before the finals. 

COPE's Ellen Woodsworth successfully bribed Burgess with Canadian Tire money, beating out another candidate who attempting to grease his palm with a poker chip. Fellow party member RJ Aquino appeared brandishing a Star Wars-esque light sabre in another round, causing an uproar when Burgess jokingly struck Vision Vancouver's Geoff Meggs. The mock battle caused Vision's normally restrained Andrea Reimer to burst into laughter on-stage, covering her face.

“I'm surprised that 'The Force' wasn't part of RJ's answer,” Burgess quipped.
Meggs admitted later that, as a self-described “policy wonk,” the light-hearted nature of the debate is not his usual election trail terrain. “Maybe I'm too serious,” he mused.

The event was aimed at engaging citizens – particularly youth – in the face of declining election turnouts. 

“We’re pushing the boundaries of the debate format to have some fun while creating a more inclusive public forum that represents the full spectrum of viewpoints in this election,” said VPSN's Anthony Hamilton.

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