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Fundraiser shows NPA gathering steam but searching for issues

October 21st, 2010 · 15 Comments

First, before any analysis whatsoever of the Non-Partisan Association dinner last night — the gathering of the faithful who support Vancouver’s venerable centre-right party — I have to ask this. Look at this picture below and tell me who you think this person — currently involved in Canadian civic politics — is.

No, not the new mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi. Nenshi looks like this.

But the similarity caused great hilarity at the NPA dinner last where where Nenshi’s apparent stunt double, Manjot Hallen, is a board member. Blogger Jonathan Ross promoted the idea of Hallen as a mayoral candidate in this city that has never managed to elect an Indo-Canadian candidate to council. Might have seemed laughable a few years ago, but after Nenshi’s win in Calgary? Hmmm.

Anyway, on to the dinner, which wasn’t quite as exciting as the Calgary election.

The basics, for those who care about the patient’s current health levels. They managed to sell 350ish tickets @ $185 to their dinner at the Italian Cultural Centre (very nice dinner, btw, better than the dreck I’ve had at some). Maybe 300 showed up, but there definitely was a feeling of relief that it was a respectable crowd. Concord Pacific had a table, as did Aquilini. A healthy sprinkling of other architect/developer/development consultant types also.

Not quite the 600 that Mayor Gregor Robertson drew to Floata last month, where he drew wild applause for his speech in Chinese, but you never draw as much when you’re not the ones in power.

There also seemed to be a preponderance of federal Conservatives, though maybe that’s just who I ended up talking to (Marko Dekovic and friends; Cheryl Chang, one-time NPA candidate, currently constituency president for Vancouver South Conservatives; Rachel Greenfield, Conservative candidate for Vancouver Centre.) I did also see Bill Yuen, former Liberal candidate and school-board trustee , and Doug Leung off in the distance and I likely missed others.

The odd couple of the night was former Vision mayoral candidate Jim Green, who loathes the NPA, with developer Rob MacDonald. The two decamped halfway through the dinner, btw, along with bar owner John Teti, to Vision Vancouver’s pub night at the Charles in the new Woodward’s building.

And? And? you’re saying to yourselves, get to the point, anyone say anything interesting?

Well, Peter Ladner and Sam Sullivan (who fought each other for the mayoral nomination in 2008, which resulted in Sam losing his chance to lead the party into the election and in the NPA almost getting wiped out) kissed and made up to each other and the party.

Ladner: Made a point of mentioning Sam Sullivan’s recent award from the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons for his work with vulnerable groups and says “I learned in 2008 that leadership means working with a united party.”

Sullivan said that he learned to answer one important question in his last term: “What do we do when things don’t go out way? We do everything to prevent our disappointment from harming the NPA and the city.”

 But more importantly, I think everyone was listening for what would be the rallying cry for the next election. And I’m not sure they got an answer.

Clearly, people who came out are hoping the NPA gains strength. As someone who has appeared at both Vision and NPA fundraisers said to me, “we need a little balance.”

But what did we hear?

Jonathan Baker, given time to make a speech as a past mayoral candidate, talked about the importance of preserving single-family housing.

Park-board commissioner Ian Robertson, in what was a surprisingly fiery and negative speech, talked about $25-million cycling boondoggles. (Along with: “This is an extremist, heavily partisan mayor .. leading a council with a radical agenda.” “Vancouver’s trademark was consensus, but what we have seen is no consensus, hurt, division, strife and failure” and “”I do not believe the homeless and downtrodden are punch lines to be used every three years.”)

But Peter Ladner defended bike lanes, as did current councillor Suzanne Anton. And Anton has long been a champion for EcoDensity, which translates to encouraging densification everywhere including, yes, single-family neighbourhoods.

Anton’s speech, cheerier to listen to than Robertson’s, argued that “there is a real appetite in the city for change” and that “we will be an NPA that listens. Yes, we will probably build more bike lanes but we will do it right.” But she pooh-poohed the current council’s Greenest City Ever ambitions saying, “we can check that off, it’s done.”

So what among that is going to motivate voters to go to the polls?

As election after election shows (last time in Vancouver, this year in Calgary), people go out to vote when they feel as though someone is offering a message of change. They want something to vote for, even if it means they’re then bitterly disappointed when their candidate doesn’t transform the world.

Is that message — we’ll operate more on consensus, we’ll consult before we do things, we’ll be more centrist — enough to motivate people? And will those voters be able to figure out what the NPA actually stands for, when some people in the party say bike lanes or density are a terrible mistake and others say they’re good but have to be done the right way?

There was a time when everyone understood the party differences in civic politics. The NPA supported less government intervention in everything, as a general principle; their only opponents back then, COPE, believed in the power of government programs to solve everything.

It’s not so clear now. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure that campaigning on the theme of “We’re better managers” is enough to get people to the polls. (Unless there’s a massive spending scandal, and I mean massive, not a few thousand for a cycling conference.) The current provincial NDP has the same problem. I don’t hear them offering much more than “We won’t be so terrible” to potential voters.

That doesn’t inspire all the non-voters out there, the ones who are making the differences in elections when they do show up. They want to hear about how your core values are different, about the real choice you’ll offer them. But the NPA is searching hard to figure out what that is. They could surprise everyone yet in the next year. 







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