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Vancouver’s civic scene undergoing upheaval as COPE morphs, NPA spends money aggressively, and little parties bloom

December 10th, 2013 · 70 Comments

Okay, blogsters, here’s the kind of story that’s made for a niche audience — the kind that most of the voting public isn’t paying attention to right now, but which you, dear political junkies, are intensely interested in.

So, to recap the story I wrote today

– COPE is undergoing major transformations as many long-time supporters leave the executive, some saying they can’t work with the new leadership, many elected last April.(Apparently one other executive member quit today, on top of previous resignations, and another is expected to quit shortly.)

– A whole group of those leaving, including people like David Chudnovsky, are trying to decide what to do in advance of the next election, including possibly starting a new party.

– The NPA’s Peter Armstrong (about whom I wrote a fair bit in my recent Vancouver magazine story) is determinedly financing a very energetic effort to get the party on a solid footing.

– A bunch of smaller parties are sprouting up all over the map, some of them disaffected NPAers, others who have had nothing to do with politics.

The story is here and pasted below as usual, but I couldn’t stuff in everything that I accumulated in my notebook while reporting the story. So here are some additional details on what the unions, which have been trying to back both Vision and COPE, are thinking about all this, the new resignations, and other bits and pieces.

1. Where labour is at. Joey Hartman, president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, says the VDLC, in a break from the past in Vancouver, will no longer endorse parties, but individual candidates. That’s how they handle it in every other municipality and that’s the plan from here on in Vancouver. “Previously, we’ve seen agreements between COPE and Vision and we’ve endorsed that. This time, we don’t anticipate that sort of agreement.”

The VCLC, however, doesn’t give money. Individual unions do. In the past, the biggest funders have been the CUPE unions (inside workers, outside workers, library, general B.C. union). So ….

2. CUPE B.C. secretary-treasurer Paul Faoro says CUPE endorsed and gave money to the joint Vision/COPE slate last time. He said each local will decide what to do, but “I can’t believe they would fund parties running against each other. If COPE follows through and runs a mayoralty candidate, it would be foolish for COPE to do that and you’d have to thin about the motive behind that. I suspect that supporting incumbents would be an automatic.”

3. David Chudnovsky, besides outlining the problems he sees with the current COPE leadership, also spelled out why he and the many COPE refugees won’t be switching to Vision (even though the Vision school board has done a very impressive job, he says).

a) “Vision’s affordable housing strategy hasn’t worked, isn’t working. It’s based on the assumption that the market can solve the problem when the market created the problem.

b) “It’s been very disrespectful and cavalier in their attitude to public engagement and democracy.”

4. Stuart Parker, the former B.C. Green Party leader, has also left the executive because, as the Georgia Straight reported, he didn’t agree with Tim Louis’ move to discuss a coalition with the Neighbours for a Sustainable Vancouver.  But he is staying in the party and still dedicating time and energy to organizing, hoping that he can help the party transcend its current preoccupation with fighting with itself.

He describes COPE as having a bad culture, where it fights with itself out of habit. “No matter which of the two sides is in charge, it’s going to look for enemies and dissent within the party and make that the problem to solve.”

Parker says he hopes the party will take advantage of the energy and enthusiasm of new members coming in, but added “I think what the party is evolving into is totally up for grabs.”

5. Tim Louis had many more pithy comments to make than I was able to include. Among them

“Our membership has spoken very clearly, in April this year, when it elected an executive by a 10-to-1 ratio that was committed to bring the failed experiment to an end of COPE as a prop to Vision.”

“Vision is just a gluten-free version of the NPA; the NPA with bicycle lanes. The new executive has set COPE on a new course. It will be a party that will offer the electorate a clear alternative to Vision.”

“I have a lot of respect for Allan [Wong, who left COPE for Vision on Sunday], but his decision to cross the floor is nothing more than a reflection that his values more closely align with Vision. Allan is now free to be who he always was.”

Louis says COPE now has almost 1,000 members and it is drawing more people to its quarterly general meetings than other parties can get to the annual general meetings. Those new people are signing up in greater numbers every day and volunteering at outdoor tables all the time.

6. The official line from Vision ED Stepan Vdovine: “We’ve had agreements with COPE in the last two elections. We’re going to be positive about things and we’re open to working with anyone. We’re going to be aggressively reaching out to progressive voices. We will have some new, strong candidates.”

7. Donalda Greenwell-Baker quit the COPE executive today. I’m told Kim Hearty may be next.

Okay, that’s all folks. (Again, for more on the NPA, I posted my Vancouver magazine article, largely focused on them, last month.)

And … the Globe story

Vancouver’s political scene is undergoing profound upheaval less than a year away from the next civic election, with Vancouver’s two traditional parties splintering into many factions with no clarity on what choices voters will have beyond the status quo.

School trustee Allan Wong, the last elected representative of COPE, the city’s long-time left-wing party, announced on Sunday he is joining the ruling Vision Vancouver.

More Related to this Story

Now a large contingent of former key COPE organizers say they no longer feel they can support the party. But they will not rush to embrace Vision, with which they previously conducted collaborative campaigns.

The once-dominant centre-right Non-Partisan Association, reduced to two city councillors, is fighting to regain power, throwing money around energetically. In spite of entrepreneur Peter Armstrong’s best efforts, and a substantial chunk of his cash, the party does not have a mayoral candidate yet.

And a host of small, new parties on various parts of the political spectrum are all hoping to capitalize on public opposition to the second-term Vision Vancouver council over bike lanes, development, community centres and more.

That is likely to mean voters who have been steady supporters of one party or another are bound to feel the ground – and possibly their loyalties – shifting over the next 11 months.

“The political landscape is in flux and there’s inevitably some confusion,” one-time COPE stalwart David Chudnovsky said. “There’s no doubt there’s a deepening crisis in COPE. Every week, there’s a new political party that seems to be announced on the right. And there’s no doubt in my mind, there’s increasing frustration with the governing party.”

Mr. Chudnovsky, who was a New Democrat MLA for a term, is one of several COPE executive members who have quit recently over disagreements with the leaders, along with Mr. Wong, former council candidate RJ Aquino, and Stuart Parker.

Mr. Chudnovsky said he became increasingly uncomfortable with COPE because new executive members elected in April appear to have no respect for people who don’t agree with them 100 per cent and engage in what he called a kind of politics that is “bitter, confrontational and often disrespectful to people throughout the city.”

He said he and a large contingent of people, young and older, who have been COPE supporters for all their lives now feel they cannot stay with the party.

That group has been talking for the past six months about what to do in the coming election. Some of the options Mr. Chuknovsky outlined include: abstain from the political fighting and “watch what I believe will be an electoral disaster next year for COPE,” organize to change the leadership, endorse individual candidates from various parties, or “create a new political home” – in other words, one more party.

Current COPE chair Tim Louis callled Mr. Wong’s departure the welcome last chapter in COPE’s failed experiment at collaborating with Vision, which it did for the previous two elections, losing votes and seats each time.

“We are now free of the very last anchor that held us back from offering to the electors a real alternative.”

And he said the departure of Mr. Chudnovsky and others is predictable because they are among the people in COPE who made the mistake of backing the partnership with Vision and don’t know where to go since it backfired.

Internal dissent on the right is nowhere near as loud. But the NPA, where Mr. Armstrong is spending his own money to pay two prominent former provincial organizers, is dealing with small breakaway groups.

Two former NPA candidates have formed new parties, TEAM and Vancouver First, saying an alternative is needed to the NPA’s reliance on developer money and dictatorial organization. A third small group has formed the Cedar Party, primarily to oppose Vision’s development policies.

It looks like an unusually combative election season ahead.

“Definitely there’s people saying all sorts of things about how they’ll vote,” says NPA Councillor George Affleck. “The next year is daunting. It’s going to be exhausting.”

In the end, he believes his party, which has kicked off a series of community discussions on city issues, will emerge as the clear choice for the opposition and, eventually, leadership.

“I feel confident about the team we’re putting together, that voters will think they’re the ones who need to take charge of the city.”




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  • teririch

    ‘That is why with the NPA in power for so long, their west side constituency had more parks and amenities.’

    And now, under Vision, they have private roads and their own bike lanes.

  • Kenji

    Agustin said: “I think there is a certain size at which municipal jurisdictions become too large and too disparate, and the policies that benefit one part end up being detrimental to another. If Metro Vancouver were to amalgamate to a single entity, I think that would be too large.”

    I wonder. (As opposed to disagree; this is based on speculation, not fact.)

    How can a policy be good for one area and not another?

    For example, if there is a policy that “there will be x hectares of park for every y number of residents” or “transit shall be arranged so as to serve x number of residents within y distance of their homes” or “affordable housing is defined for the purposes of this zoning bylaw as being not more than 35% of the income of people on the 50% percentile of Metro Van income per the most recent Statscan finding, adjusted for inflation” wouldn’t those things be inherently fair?

    The key to me is to operationalize your policies.

    Where things become wonky it seems to me is when the government is too vague on its promises.

    For example, if you say vague things like “we will have the greenest city” that allows quite a bit of weaseltry.

    Although I like the idea of being a “green” city, what that means to me might not be what that means to you.

    To elaborate, if the promise had been to be the city that generates the least amount of environmental pollution per resident in Canada, you could measure that, test that, and everyone more or less knows whether that target is being met.

    The size of the civic government, and the presence of a ward rep, would not be relevant to obtaining that measure.

    (It might be relevant to the speed and effectiveness of improving those metrics.)

    Now, about the amalgamation/too big idea, I emotionally agree. Once we no longer know our neighbours, they cease to be neighbours and become strangers.

    On the other hand, I have no problem calling up the police or fire department or any other stranger if they happen to be at the end of the line when I need them. They have to respond whether they know me or not. So maybe (in certain services) the “local-ness” is not so important.

    What is important is that we get our very important municipal services, at a reasonable balance of speed, price and quality.

    Probably going way OT now, but because you mention it, I don’t mind the idea of an amalgamatic Metro Van.

    We all kind of know the cities here. After working in Surrey, I might want to go shopping in Burnaby, see movies in Richmond, swim in Maple Ridge, visit friends in Langley, take a course in Vancouver, or just go home to Coquitlam.

    It’s all one contiguous city, arguably, from the user point of view.

  • waltyss

    Well, teririch, you are at least consistent in the inanity of your remarks.
    One may disagree about closing off Point Grey Road and limiting it to residents only and bike lanes. Many reasonable people do disagree about the wisdom of that. I would have preferred that Pt. Grey be one lane rather than closed off, but the decision made is hardly the end fo the world and fulfills something that has been under consideration for a long time: that you can go from Canada Place to Spanish Banks safely by bicycle. In my view, that is a laudable goal and notwithstanding my disagreement about totally shutting off the road, VoC should be congratulated for pulling it off.
    And like the bike lanes on the Burrard Street Bridge, very soon people will wonder what the fuss is about.;
    That this activity is on the West Side is a function of where the remaining stretch of bike lanes was necessary, not a function of a political party serving its west side constituency, although it is a function of a political party serving its wider constituency.
    But I know teri, Vision bad, NPA good. Isn’t it time for you to do your snoop patrol around the neighbourhood to tell us who has parked in the same block as the Mayor, even if he doesn’t live there at the time.

  • Agustin

    Kenji, “How can a policy be good for one area and not another?”

    Well, if the areas are different enough, they require different approaches in policy. For instance, low-income areas need different policies than high-income areas. Areas with different age distributions will need different policies.

    As a simplistic example, do we put money towards libraries or skating rinks? The better answer will depend on the demographics of the area you are considering.

    As well, different cities have different “maturities” (by which I mean the age of the city, not the mentality of its residents). For instance, Vancouver is more established than some of the suburban municipalities, which are undergoing growth at a much faster pace. Policies designed towards managing fast growth may not be appropriate for an established municipality.

  • Evidently Toronto rues the day it amalgamated: Rob Ford being a symptom.

    IMHO the issue is jurisdiction: i.e. what authority is responsible for what.

    Health is Provincial. Ergo why should not DTES issues, i.e. drug use, mental incapacity, be handled provincially?

    Housing was federal, i.e. SFC 1970’s, accordingly why should not affordability be handled federally?

    Such was the case in the seventies until slight of hand senior governments shed financial responsibilities due to bad management, i.e. Mulroney Federally and Campbell Provincially . . . and we let them.

    Vancouver is not a big city at 650,000+/-. The at large system pits wealth, West, against poor, East, resulting in Westerners, with time on their hands, pulling all the weight: this has been evident for the decades I lived in Vancouver with Harry Rankin, East, being a good sense lone voice with virtually no clout.

    In practice the East/West dichotomy has been replaced by off shore speculators shoving the authentic civic population East into Metro.

    An at-large system will have to be reinstated but that may be a long way off. Vancouver is no longer a player in the world markets: views of the sea and mountains didn’t work!

    When it comes to coal, LNG and what is left of lumber we await the mercy of world markets. We have nothing unique to offer!

    NAFTA did us in: TPP will deliver the coup de grace!

    I hope there is not too much damage in the intervening delay.

  • Kenji


    Thanks for the reply. I’m going to stop monopolizing this thread eventually but I wanted to answer this point:

    “As a simplistic example, do we put money towards libraries or skating rinks? The better answer will depend on the demographics of the area you are considering.”

    That makes sense, but I think that part of having a livable city is having reasonable access to all of the amenities.

    It may be more reasonable to have libraries over skating rinks in an area that is known to covet reading and despise skating.

    But it seems for me that to have that as a local policy that is fair, then

    (a) you’d have to be sure, not make assumptions based on demographics – I am both an avid skater and a bookworm myself;

    (b) you’d be assuming that demographics don’t change significantly, and they do – I lived through rapid gentrification in James Bay in Victoria and later Mt Pleasant in Vancouver;

    (c) you’d be assuming that the city can’t/oughtn’t actively drive demographic change, e.g. distribute supportive housing throughout the city rather than create a new ghetto of projects.

    So to your question, I would try to operationalize it:

    The city policy re libraries is that libraries are awesome and facilitate the integration of cultures, the advancement of all, therefore we set a goal of x square meters of library space per y of resident within a radius of 5km within 20 years.

    Or…because Canadian culture includes skating for health and sport, and because it is horrible to make children get up at 4 am to drive to hockey practice, our policy re skating rinks is that there will be 1 sheet of NHL size ice per x number of residents within a radius of 20 km in 20 years.

    Or whatever.

    My point is that the city should make a case for having an amenity or service, then formulate this very transparent policy based on measurables.

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaand…that’s all I got.

  • Errata: “A ward system will have to be reinstated but that may be a long way off.

  • Agustin

    Kenji, yes. My example was too simplistic! But I think you get my point.

  • Terry M

    Waltyss @50 wrote:
    ‘That is why with the NPA in power for so long, their west side constituency had more parks and amenities.’
    Teririch @51 responded:
    And now, under Vision, they have private roads and their own bike lanes.”
    Correct on both counts.
    Question is… Where do we go from here?
    BTW, just found out that His Laughing-ship announced New Yearcelebration at Jack Poole plaza starting in 2015… With parking in the area approaching .25c/per 3 min. Is anyone’s guess what kind of Millionares this party is for…

  • brilliant

    Given the discussion, its no surprise to read that developers’ stooge Robertson sees no problem with the likes of Bob Rennie paying for the city delegation to Sochi:

  • jenables

    I heard Robertson say the radio on wednesday that Stevenson was the first gay elected official in Canada. He should really do his homework on that.

    Waltyss, I’ve got the sads that you provided no explanation to the questions I asked in#21

    Catch22, you sound just like a marketing brochure, except with an abundance of verbiage. Also, Public Good?

    You, my friend need to watch the cbc documentary “the condo game” and perhaps devote some serious thought as to whether elected officials should be working in the interest of their constituents or whoring out their city as a money laundering haven and to hell with those who live in it.

  • Frank Ducote

    @61 – I heard the CBC interview as well. I believe what he said was the first openly gay elected MLA, not elected official.

  • Re: Frank Doucette If Mayor Robertson claimed that Mr Stevenson was the first openly gay elected MLA that would not be exactly true as Mr Stevenson shared that honour with Mr Ted Nebbeling the Liberal MLA who was also elected MLA in 1996 at the same time Mr Stevenson was elected although Mr Stevenson was the first openly gay cabinet minister followed soon after by Mr Nebbeling. Prior to Mr Nebbeling becoming MLA he was the Mayor of Whistler and was out at the time he was elected Mayor.

  • Dr. Frankentower

    “NIMBYism… implies being concerned more about self-interest than the Public Good.”

    Yes, jenables, when I read catch22’s comments, I have to admit, they made me blush like a teeny bopper swooning over the Beib.

    I think I am madly in love with this person.

    More to the point, I think he/she perfectly encapsulates why Vision is so successful.

    Whether they support a massive build-out policy or not, all the other parties and their bases, including the NPA, are under no illusions as to whose interest tower mega-projects serve.

    But Vision followers believe – with a devoutness normally reserved for religious fundamentalists – that developers are donating thousands of dollars and pushing city officials to build these projects FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD, rather than their own financial gain. They truly believe developers’ primary motive is to save the environment and house the homeless!

    Not only does Vision occupy the moral high ground, they also take this lucky strike one step further. As catch22 goes on to tell us, the real bad guys are those pesky little peeps from the hood, putting in long hours at hearings and consultations, pouring over planning docs and city reports, who question the leaps of logic, lack of facts, and general arrogance of City officials and councilors that swoon whenever one of the real estate oligarchs strolls into a back room.

    As an aficionado of double-speak, rhetorical tricks, and good old-fashioned hoodwinking, I have to admit that Vision would normally get my vote hands down. They are the uncontested masters of this message box, backed by a social network that is unparalleled in these parts.

    It is all so deliciously evil and dastardly, that sometimes I question whether or not I’ve gone soft at a young age in comparison. These guys are truly diabolical, in the very best sense of the word.

    The problem for me is that, while I greatly admire their greed and over-developed sense of righteousness and the political machine that fuels it, NOT supporting Vision clearly means that you’re a selfish asshole bent on destroying the environment and trampling the needy – which are goals I have devoted every day of my life to.

    So for me, who to vote for next November truly is a catch 22.

  • jenables

    Fd -I thought he said first gay elected official in Canada. The part I remember clearest is the in Canada part though I could be wrong. Pardon my ignorance as I thought elected official applied to all levels of government, but again perhaps I heard wrong.

    Frankentower, I like the cut of your jib.

  • Everyman

    There is an interesting article on about how Vision is really just the developers’ panicked reaction to the success of COPE in the early 2000’s. In their thesis Larry Campbell was the trojan horse to take over and break COPE:

  • waltyss

    In a party heavily influenced by Louis, the Lenin wannabe, and now largely controlled by him, it is not just developers who should be afraid; it is anyone who owns a home or has a job in in the CoV.

  • Terry M

    Shut up! No shit, Waltyss, I’m already in my “duck and cover” mode thanks to you…
    Usually the commies make it their mandate so everyone has a job and a decent place to live. Unless they are sabotaged by people like yourself.
    So, what else do you have on That “Vision” agenda?

  • Bojan R.

    “For example, if there is a policy that “there will be x hectares of park for every y number of residents” or “transit shall be arranged so as to serve x number of residents within y distance of their homes” or “affordable housing is defined for the purposes of this zoning bylaw as being not more than 35% of the income of people on the 50% percentile of Metro Van income per the most recent Statscan finding, adjusted for inflation” wouldn’t those things be inherently fair? ”

    Answer is resounding no.

    If residents in one part of the town live in high-rise apartments then getting transit to within 200 meters from few thousand citizens’ homes there is trivial and relatively cheap.
    If residents in another part of the city choose to live on five acre lots per family then getting transit to within 200 meters from *their* houses becomes prohibitively expensive.
    Insisting on same (or even similar) level of service for the two is not only not fair but is outright ridiculous.

    Likewise, if you want to set the boundary of “affordability” (in some sense) based on regional income then most sensible policy becomes to build all the “affordable housing” on cheapest land possible – i.e. far from central (and desirable) locations. Amalgamated “Greater Vancouver” can get some serious “affordable housing” built simply by shunting it all to outer suburbs.

  • Mary

    The criticisms of the planning and other departments here are largely misplaced. Absolutely nothing is said, written or done thT is not cleared by Penny Ballem and her sole purpose in life is to protec Vision and get them re-elected. Examine what they have accomplished not whT they Say they done.