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COPE largely loses labour's blessing

Vancouver's historic leftwing party has largely lost the blessing of the very labour body that helped launch it nearly five decades ago.

Two months ahead of Nov. 15 civic elections, the 110-member Vancouver and District Labour Council announced its endorsements for mayor, city council, park board and school board.

Of 26 choices, only two are candidates with the Coalition of Progressive Electors, or COPE, a party which has counted on the council's endorsement since 1968, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from its member unions.

The entire Vision Vancouver slate and incumbent mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson received the council's full support.

"We had a vote that had a lot of consultation with the labour movement, who supported what they view as a very strong slate, given a wide variety of choices," said labour council president Joey Hartman.

"There's obviously some people who didn't make it on the list… it's important for us to feel we can put forward a list of people who are representative of what the labour movement supports."

Requests for comment from COPE's mayoral candidate Meena Wong were not immediately returned.

In the 2011 civic election, the council backed COPE's entire slate running in an alliance with Vision. The only two candidates it backed this time are Gayle Gavin for city council and Anita Romaniuk for the park board.

COPE won a landslide victory in 2002 but internal divisions soon split the party in two, leading to the formation of Vision Vancouver which first ran in the 2005 Vancouver election but lost to the Non-Partisan Association.

Several of the council's latest endorsements are for ex-COPE members who defected since the previous election, either to join Vision Vancouver -- in the case of COPE's only 2011 winner, school trustee Allan Wong -- or to form new parties OneCity Vancouver and the Public Education Project.

Hartman explained that the labour-backed slate is the result of a careful, 10-month process. Candidates who wanted the council's blessing were sent a questionnaire and asked for their views on union agreements, public-private partnerships and living wages, she added.

"We were looking for people hoping to become or retain themselves as politicians in the municipal sector who understand and value the role of the public sector and strong public services," she said. "That's the nutshell."

Asked if endorsing only two COPE candidates is linked to a year of high-profile resignations and tensions in the party, Hartman said it did play a role. "I would have to say that it's been a difficult few years in COPE. There are consequences to that."

The Vancouver and District Labour Council was founded in 1889 and its member unions represent 60,000 workers. The council's endorsements are:

Mayor: Gregor Robertson (incumbent)

City council
Incumbents: Geoff Meggs (Vision), Andrea Reimer (Vision), Kerry Jang (Vision), Heather Deal (Vision), Tim Stevenson (Vision), Raymond Louie (Vision)
Others: Niki Sharma (Vision), RJ Aquino (OneCity), Gayle Gavin (COPE)

School board
Incumbents: Patti Bacchus (Vision), Allan Wong (Vision), Ken Clement (Vision), Rob Wynen (Vision), Mike Lombardi (Vision), Cherie Payne (Vision)
Others: Jane Bouey (Public Education Project), Gwen Giesbrecht (PEP), Joy Alexander (Vision)

Park board
Incumbents: Trevor Loke (Vision)
Others: Anita Romaniuk (COPE), Catherine Evans (Vision), Brent Granby (Vision), Coree Tull (Vision), Sammie Jo Rumbaua (Vision), Naveen Girn (Vision)

David P. Ball is a staff reporter with The Tyee. Send him tips or comments by email, find him on Twitter @davidpball, or read his previous Tyee reporting here.

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