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Sole elected COPE representative switches to Vision Vancouver

The departure of Allan Wong, the sole Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) trustee on the Vancouver School Board, for the Vision Vancouver party means bad news for those who want a "very vocal and very outspoken advocate on behalf of the children of Vancouver," says COPE internal chair Tim Louis.

"COPE has a long history of doing just that, all the way back to 1986 when it was so vocal that the then-minister of education fired the COPE school board," he told The Tyee, adding the Vision-led board "go through the motions" of being outspoken.

Wong, the only member of COPE to be elected during the 2011 Vancouver municipal election, made news last night when it was revealed he had crossed over to Vision Vancouver. Vision already had a majority on the board, with five seats, compared to COPE's one seat and the Non-Partisan Association's (NPA) three seats.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Wong talked about an already close relationship with Vision Vancouver:

"Every direction I've taken on the board, there has been support by the Vision trustees, so it was a natural progression," said Mr. Wong, who was first elected to COPE in 1999.

"Everyone is in the same direction with regards to support for public education and ensuring proper funding. … We're at a point where it's individuals and groups and I think the current Vision trustees are moving forward quite well with many of these issues."

Wong had been with COPE for a long time, joining in 1999 and serving five terms as a Vancouver trustee. But in October he showed signs of restlessness when he stepped down from the party's executive, preceded by former MLA David Chudnovsky and one-time council candidate Rafael "RJ" Aquino, who quit the executive earlier that month. Another executive member, Stuart Parker, left the board in late November.

Louis blames Wong's departure on his desire to work with Vision Vancouver, which he says is no different than the NPA. COPE remains divided between those who want to work with Vision, and those who want to offer voters a true third party alternative, one that proudly claims to not take money from condo developers.

Louis, who represents the latter, says his side clearly won out in COPE's April annual general meeting that elected him internal chair.

"Allan's departure creates a very clear alternative: it ensures that COPE will no longer return to the failed experiment… where COPE had entered into an electoral alliance with Vision Vancouver, and in the result had gradually became smaller and smaller," he said.

"We're going to get elected (in 2014) on a platform as opposed to getting elected on the basis of which party is the most successful at purchasing the election outcome."

Two-time COPE city councillor and current COPE member Ellen Woodsworth isn't certain of a COPE victory, however. Because Vancouver doesn't have a ward system, it's hard for a party to get candidates elected if they don't have a broad base, a strong party, or a lot of money, she told The Tyee.

"It seems like the executive at this point doesn't want to build that broad-based coalition, so I think that it's going to be very difficult for them to move ahead and to elect anyone without having that space," she said, adding while COPE has been actively criticizing Vision Vancouver, it hasn't been as vocal about how COPE would be any different.

When she was on council from 2002 to 2005, and again from 2008 to 2011, Woodsworth says there were plenty of times she disagreed with Vision Vancouver -- particularly regarding the protection of civil liberties during the Olympics. But the two parties were able to get a lot done by working together, too, including opening temporary homeless shelters and creating the Greenest City Task Force.

"I think it's unfortunate that COPE can't find a broad enough base in the left that they can work on without alienating people or people feeling like they don't feel COPE is the best place for them to work. I think that's a big loss for COPE," she said.

Louis expects the four vacant executive positions to be refilled after the party's general membership meeting in February.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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