Who is Kirk LaPointe? Hardly any Vancouver voters know the answer to that, but 41 per cent of them are willing to vote for him anyway as the city's next mayor, according to a new poll.
That surprisingly strong showing – a week after Mr. Lapointe announced he was running as the mayoral candidate for the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) – seems to be a sign that a core group of voters is looking for any choice besides Mayor Gregor Robertson, said pollster Barb Justason.
Among decided voters, 59 per cent still said they would support Mr. Robertson. But, the proportion of people saying they would back the NPA's political rookie – a former media executive who did not spend a lot of time in the public eye since his arrival in Vancouver in 2003 – is surprising to Ms. Justason. Mr. Lapointe's support is almost as high as what the NPA's Suzanne Anton received in the 2011 election.
Ms. Anton, now a B.C. cabinet minister, had been in politics for six years and ran an energetic campaign for the 2011 election. She got about 40 per cent of the roughly 143,000 votes cast.
"At this early stage, the NPA is starting from where they left off in 2011," said Ms. Justason, who has been conducting civic polls in Vancouver for several years. "I was caught off guard. I expected the gap to be a little wider, considering [Mr. LaPointe] is a relative unknown."
But, she said, it's a sign of the noticeable signs of public dissatisfaction with a party that has dominated Vancouver council since 2008. It has brought in a long list of controversial initiatives in its six years in power – from bike lanes to new city development plans to aggressive efforts to end street homelessness – often amid complaints that it is unwilling to listen to residents or businesses as it pushes things through.
The poll's results have "a great deal more to do with disenchantment than anything to do with Mr. LaPointe," said Ms. Justason.
The poll, done using an online panel of 350 Vancouver adults between July 22 and 27, gave some indicators of where the problems might be for Mr. Robertson.
Almost half of the people polled said they were less supportive of Vision Vancouver than they had been a few years previously.
Almost 70 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that "developers have too much control over government" and 62 per cent said city government "doesn't consider residents' opinions."
A little more than half said the city has gone too far in trying to improve cycling and only a third said the Point Grey bike line was "the right thing to do."
Ms. Justason's July poll didn't ask about residents' support for making Vancouver a greener city, which has typically produced the highest approval ratings for the mayor and his party.
Local voters' concerns about city problems are about the same as they have been for many years: affordable housing, homelessness, public transportation and wasteful spending.
NPA campaign manager Doug Leung said the results are consistent with what his party's polls have been showing.
"We do see there is a decided interest in considering a change, and there's a feeling among people they haven't been listened to."
He believes that as people get to know Mr. LaPointe, those support numbers will rise.
One other encouraging sign for the NPA is that some Green support seems to have shifted their way. In an April poll by Ms. Justason, 24 per cent of those surveyed said they would vote for the Green Party, which is running three candidates for the 10-member council that is elected at large.
But the new poll indicated the Greens had slipped back to 15 per cent, while the NPA – which will be fielding eight other candidates for council along with Mr. LaPointe – moved up from 18 per cent to 24. Almost 40 per cent of those polled were still supporting Vision, the same as in May.
Vision Vancouver party representatives declined to comment on the poll.