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Internal war breaks out among Vision candidates

September 8th, 2008 · 10 Comments

The situation is ugly and tense, according to just about everyone I’m talking to, as Vision Vancouver members and candidates head towards the Sept. 20 vote for their slates. People are threatening to quit; Vision women are demanding a meeting with Vision leader Gregor Robertson; and there’s just a lot of unhappiness. What’s going on?

1. Robertson started calling candidates this weekend to tell them about the likely numbers negotiated for slate splits with COPE and Green Party. The multitudes of Vision candidates are supremely unhappy because it appears that COPE will get the majority of spots on the nine-spot school board slate, while Vision will only get a bare majority on the park board. That means even rougher competition than is already going on for the fewer spots now available. The numbers being put out: 8 Vision/2 COPE for council; 5 COPE/4 Vision for school board; and 4 Vision/2 COPE/1 Green for park board.

2. A coalition of Kerry Jang, Andrea Reimer, and Kash Dhaliwal is sending out a mailer that urges their supporters to vote for themselves, the four incumbents and, I’ve heard, Geoff Meggs. According to several sources, that same group — which has access to several valuable lists of members — is bargaining hard with two other smaller coalitions at school and parks to get them to include candidates in exchange for the big coalition’s support.

So the Vision education group, who would like to have their long-time core activists go forward as the four for the slate — Mike Lombardi, Helesia Luke, Patti Bacchus, and Stepan Vdovine — is being pressured to drop one person (Patti’s is the name I heard) for Narinder Chhina. That’s in exchange for being endorsed in a mailer going out from this group to their extensive list of members. At park board, the pressure has been put on the small coalition of Sarah Blyth, Aaron Jasper and Constance Barnes to accept Raj Hundal and Tony Kosovic. Since that’s one too many, again, the pressure is on to drop Constance.

Both of those situations have been going white-hot all weekend and there are emails and cellphone calls jamming the lines in every direction. I should add that neither Andrea Reimer nor Geoff Meggs seems to know anything about this and that, according to both, Meggs’ name is not on the mailer. (But he is cross-endorsed with Jang and Dhaliwal, which may be why is name is being circulated as part of this increasingly byzantine story.)

Heather Harrison, who was on Raymond Louie’s endorsement list along with almost all of the other Big Bloc candidates, didn’t get included in the Dhaliwal/Jang/Reimer mailer-endorser. [For those who missed the previous post, Louie said he is endorsing his fellow councillor George Chow, Dhaliwal, Meggs, and Harrison, with a possibility of Rey Umlas if there are enough spots on the slate. He is also endorsing Chhina for school board and Kosovic and Hundal for park board.]

As well (and now I understand all the mutterings about the need to elect women on the board), people have figured out that if the Big Bloc candidates get the votes, it will mean that there are only two women of eight candidates nominated for council, only one of four for school board, and only one of four for park board, for a total of four women for the 16 positions. If Harrison and/or Catherine Evans were nominated, and Patti Bacchus and Constance Barnes were added to the list, that would bring it up to half of the candidates — a gender balance that the Non-Partisan Association seems to have managed. But the NPA helped solve some of its problems by having a couple of women from ethnic minorities running (Sophia Woo at school board, Wai Sin at parks), which helps avoid the ethnic male/white female split that seems to be happening at Vision.

To add to this confusing tangle, apparently Joel Solomon — the social-enterprise venture capitalist who has been hyper-present in the Robertson camp — has asked for David Eby to be put on the Big Bloc slate in place of Geoff Meggs. (Although if Meggs isn’t on the slate, is this a possibility? Who knows at this point?) Solomon, who helped launch Happy Planet with start-up funds, was notable by his presence, with camera to record the event, at Eby’s announcement of his candidacy. And, even though some in the business community might see Eby as a radical from the Downtown Eastside, those who know him appreciate the fact that he’s a moderate and constructive broker in that community. He’s also signed up a solid little list of members.

This whole process has been made structurally difficult by a couple of things. First off, candidates say they were led to believe that Vision would negotiate for a “significant majority” on each slate with COPE. That hasn’t happened, likely because Vision leaders are trying to give COPE and Green enough to placate them so they don’t run mayoral candidates. So now everyone has to deal with lowered expectations.

Second, because no candidates have access to the master list of the 16,000 members except through a mass mailer handled by the party, candidates who have (or claim to have) access to lists of some members have enormous clout. The trick, as in poker, is to calculate how many people those potential allies can really bring in and/or influence.

It’s a lesson to everyone in politics about the pitfalls of creating a big-tent, popular party without a lot of rules in place. This kind of internal politics says a lot to potential voters, members and volunteers about what kind of party they’re joining.

But it’s also a lesson in how people can get their shirts in a knot over some very marginal stuff. For all the kicking, clawing and scratching to get on the council slate, Vision is likely to get only one new councillor elected besides the four current councillors. COPE’s David Cadman will probably be re-elected; so will the NPA’s Suzanne Anton. Kim Capri could get knocked off but maybe not. And Elizabeth Ball, who’s been relatively low-key at council meetings, is vulnerable, but voters looking for a change might prefer an NPA replacement for her, like Michael Geller or Leanore Copeland, over a Vision candidate.

So maybe we could all just go have a big cup of herbal tea everyone, have a good sleep, and wake up tomorrow morning with a global perspective.

Categories: 2008 Vancouver Civic Election