Division is a recipe for failure in Vancouver politics

NPA would be wise to bone up on their Game of Thrones

It has been a Vancouver summer for the ages with lots vying for our attention, including glorious sunsets, new Game of Thrones episodes, a new government formed in Victoria and, of course, the announcement of an Oct. 14 municipal by-election.

Hardly a week goes by when I am asked about the chances of the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association ever ending Vision Vancouver’s stranglehold at city hall. This is in spite of me no longer being an NPA member or having attended any of their functions in years.

My sense, however, is that after 10 years in power some Game of Thrones-esque coalition building needs to take place soon. That is because “winter is coming” in the form of a general election next year.

Instead of the Night King and the White Walkers of the TV series, the NPA will face the formidable Vision election machine.

Over the past 80 years, the NPA has governed the city more often than not. Its detractors are quick to point out the times the organization has imploded, typically as a result of splits within the caucus.

Notwithstanding those challenges, NPA governments have put in place some of the most forward-looking policies that have shaped our city, and made it among the most livable places on the planet.

While many of its leaders have faded from memory, it is fair to say the NPA’s stamp on the city remains.

NPA governments brought about the dense West End neighbourhood. They’ve also spurred environmental action through the Clouds of Change report, connected communities with Vancouver’s Greenways initiative, ensured public access to the waterfront around its perimetre, initiated the Four Pillars health program and partnered with the B.C. government on social housing.

Unbound by ideology, as a political force it is said the NPA has always been a vessel. It is really whatever those involved with the association make of it. When strong candidates who bring their own constituency and a passion for our city come forward, the NPA has served the city well.

That is the NPA in principle. But, in reality, just like all political organizations it can be like the Targaryens versus the Lannisters.

Instead of coalescing around a leader and platform, it seems that several individuals within and outside the organization are attempting to define what the future of Vancouver’s free enterprise politics looks like.

History will show that this is a recipe for failure.

As former mayor Sam Sullivan recently stated in a public forum, “The reality in Vancouver politics is — split and you die. Maintain your cohesion and you win.”

There is always some individual or group who talks about forming a new political organization. They point to Vision Vancouver’s success in overtaking COPE’s dominance of the left without understanding the context of how that happened. New parties have been established before recent elections, but none have elected a candidate.

There are also those who cite the fact Carol Taylor won a council seat as an independent as proof you do not need the support of an elector organization. Taylor’s win as an independent was anomalous, aided by her federal Liberal connections and her high profile in media and politics.

Elector organizations such as Vision Vancouver, the Vancouver Greens or the NPA serve a useful purpose in that they give their membership a chance to screen the candidates before they wind up on a ballot. It is shown that getting voted onto a candidate slate is a process that every candidate with a credible chance of winning should put themselves through.

On Sept. 6, the NPA is holding a meeting with its membership to choose its council and school board candidates for the October byelection. The candidate names coming forward indicate that the NPA brand remains intact.

After the byelection the real test will be the contest for mayor. The NPA would be wise to welcome the best candidates the city has to offer, and let its members pick from the field.

To use yet another Game of Thrones analogy, remember the words of Jon Snow: “There’s only one war that matters.” And it is the one for city hall in 2018.


Originally published in Vancouver Courier newspaper