Wilson-Raybould’s bid for re-election could be hit by unpredictable socio-demographic chaos

Chaos theory tells us that it’s impossible to predict the exact future based on past performance and even more difficult when there are many “wild cards” or moving parts in the equation. Hence the difficulty in predicting precise weather patterns, as any meteorologist will tell you.

The political weather in the federal riding of Vancouver-Granville certainly brings a state of chaotic unpredictability to Independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould. An analysis of the riding’s six postal code prefixes shows a patchwork of income levels, ethnicity, age groups, education, immigration status and home ownership. These wild cards make political prognostication difficult.

raybouldIn announcing her Independent political status, Wilson-Raybould said in part, “We cannot use the same ideas and attitudes and practices that brought us to this point to deliver the solutions we need.” This sounds a bit like Albert Einstein’s supposed comment that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” And yet there is hope in the Wilson-Raybould camp that voter “attitudes and practices” will indeed repeat themselves to re-elect her.

This hope that voters will repeat the pattern of 2015 can benefit from Edward Lorenz, who defined chaos theory in the early 1960s as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” This basically means that what happened before won’t likely happen exactly again because too many unpredictable variables are in play.

Unfortunately for Wilson-Raybould, the initial conditions of 2015 are not the conditions today. Consider the new variables: The waning strength of the Liberal Party; the antipathy for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; candidate funding levels; local issues of housing costs; transportation; the peek-a-boo presence of the Green Party, and demographics.

There’s plenty of evidence for the unpredictable shape-shifting socio-economic variables in Vancouver-Granville. Statistics Canada 2016 census data, postal code identifiers, and socio-geographic profiling software reveals the following about the riding:

Population and aging

The overall population increased by 3.6 per cent between 2011 and 2016. The biggest growth was for those aged 65 to 79 — a 29 per cent jump to 11,580 residents from 8,975. Where do most voters over the age of 65 live? Statistics Canada shows that they live within postal codes starting with V6P (23 per cent), V5Z (20) and V6M (17).

V6M includes about 3,725 seniors in the tony Kerrisdale and Oakridge areas; V5Z holds 1,275 seniors in a long strip squeezed between Oak and Cambie streets and Sixth Avenue and 49th; and V6P has 4,980 seniors in South Granville below 49th Avenue, between Cambie Street and West Boulevard.

What does an older generation of voters generally want from a federal government? They want security of savings and income, continued health care, and personal security, including affordable housing. That’s why the recent federal budget targeted Baby Boomers as well as Millennials. The latest census shows that there are 2,715 more Baby Boomers, aged 55 to 73 in Vancouver-Granville than Millennials, aged 19 to 39.

Wilson-Raybould’s campaign highlights pipeline politics, addressing First Nations issues and protection of the environment. It is debatable if those issues resonate with silver-haired voters in her riding.

Ethnically diverse riding

Vancouver-Granville is also a very diverse, multicultural riding. The latest census shows that about 23 per cent of the riding’s population — 23,890 people — speak a language other than English or French at home. Which political party is ready to speak Cantonese to the 7,220 who speak that at home or the 9,245 who speak Mandarin? How about the 825 who speak Tagalog or the 765 who speak Japanese? And what will be the message?

The number of people speaking other than one of Canada’s official languages every day at home ranges from a high of 39 per cent in the V6P postal code in the southernmost part of the riding to a low of 14 per cent in V6J, which takes in Kitsilano from Fourth Avenue to 33rd, between Granville and Arbutus streets.

The majority of at-home languages are Chinese, a culture that in general has a more conservative and careful view of politics. The question that may be asked from this group is, “How can a non-party politician actually help me?”

Cash in hand to grease the political wheel

The other mercurial factor in the chaotic condition of Vancouver-Granville is money. Cash greases the wheels of campaigning. In the 2015 federal campaign, Wilson-Raybould enjoyed the bounty of the Liberal Party which, according to Elections Canada, poured $246,201.17 into her winning campaign. She personally contributed $759.79 which, as journalist Bob Mackin pointed out, was the only individual donation. With no organizational largesse available, Wilson-Raybould will need to rely on individual donations not tied to a political machine.

Where are the deep pockets in Vancouver-Granville? Extrapolating Statistics Canada data onto the six postal code prefixes reveals a colourful quilt of household income disparity, with neighbourhood extremes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per household.

The census data for 2016 shows the median income of households in the riding was $68,659. Going by postal code prefixes we see that the highest median incomes are in V5Y ($85,330) followed by V5Z ($75,705.) V6J, V6H and V6M are close together in the $67,000 range. Then we come to below 49th Avenue and into V6P, where the median household income is $58,472.

But the dramatic disparity comes when we poke into individual neighbourhoods of 400 to 700 people called “dissemination areas” by Statistics Canada. In V6M, the household median income is $792,356 within the borders of Cyprus and Granville and 37th and 41st avenues. In the bordering neighbourhoods and streets, we also find household median incomes ranging from $400,000 to $500,000.

While the numbers of uber-wealthy in Vancouver-Granville is less than 1,500 households compared to the many thousands of average and below-average incomes, people of means do vote and they do write cheques for candidates. The wild-card here is will they fund a candidate with no political-party power?

Chaos theory and complexity science has something called “strange attractors,” a name given to a phenomena where, to quote the late Brenda Zimmerman at York University, “the exact behaviour in a system never repeats.” She continues the description by saying: “A strange attractor can serve as a metaphor for creative activities in an organization in which innovation is possible.”

But Zimmerman also warned that they are boundaries to such creativity and innovation. They include “the core competencies of the organization as well as its resources and the environmental factors affecting the organization.”

It remains to be seen if the Independent  Wilson-Raybould can emulate the famous “butterfly effect” metaphor in chaos theory, where a simple flap of a tiny butterfly’s wings is enough to create a reverberation that builds into a major storm.

(I first had this published in June 2019 in the Vancouver Sun but it’s updated for the upcoming federal election call).

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