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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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