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Vancouver’s two main political parties plan the future

My assignment: Compare and contrast the annual general meetings of Vancouver’s two major political parties, the Non-Partisan Association, once all-powerful, now hunting for its way forward, and Vision Vancouver, the new ecocapitalist party, still riding high on its 2008 win.

(Someone once said being a journalist is like having homework the rest of your life. How true.)

Vision Vancouver

West End protesters outside the downtown BCIT building, handing out pamphlets claiming darkly that “huge subsidies are being offered to private developers” as they continue their battle against two towers proposed under Vision’s ambitious STIR program. For those who don’t recall, that’s the program Vision brought in quickly after being elected, aimed at boosting the stalled construction industry while creating some permanent (as opposed to investor condo rentals) rental apartments in the city.

Inside, about 150 people all feeling the love. As Jeremy Osborne said, when he made his pitch to be elected to the executive, “I’ve been getting more excited about the city since Gregor’s elected. When I see all the stuff that’s going around on Facebook and Twitter, that makes me proud.” Someone posed a gentle question to the mayor about the STIR program, which has generated significant opposition in the West End, and he said there were going to be community consultations set up. End of dealing with difficult issues.

Vision gender breakdown: Hard to get an exact count, but I’d say women represented slightly more than half.


Over at the Museum of Vancouver, it was nothing but painful issues, as the 80 people at the NPA meeting struggled with whether to initiate a search for a new name and whether to go out into the community and talk to them about possible NPA policies that should be developed.

The room was split on both issues, both of which prompted heartfelt speeches about whether the NPA is a dead brand that needs to be changed if the party is going to have any hope of winning an election again or whether it’s an honourable brand that has a long history and, yes, maybe needs some refreshing, but shouldn’t be abandoned.

In the end, the group voted to strike a committee to look at possible new names, some with the same NPA initials and some without.

But voters rejected the idea of going out to talk about policy with communities, because, they said, that would violate the spirit of the NPA founded in 1937. The party has never really been a party, said the faithful. It’s a group aimed at nominating the best possible candidates, fundraising for them, and running an election campaign.

Sample quotes from the NPA meeting:

“I question whether the brand is something we should move forward on.” Cindy Burton

“This party has elected 11 of the last 17 mayors. We’ve been up and we’ve been down. I don’t think we should be so quick to throw out that legacy. It is the most successful, longest-lasting civic party in Canadian history.” Sean Bickerton, NPA council candidate 2008

“We’ve got more media attention for this name change than we did for anything else we did in the in the last 18 months. My marketing mind says this is good.” Mike Klassen, political organizer, one part of the two-man team at

“I have to tell you, I have some trouble figuring out what we are selling as the NPA.” Mike Davis, NPA president, public-relations specialist

“If we pass this, we’re essentially saying the NPA is going to change as an organization. We’re going to be a policy-debating organization and then there will be all kinds of arguments about whether we’re in line with the NDP or the Liberals.” Manjot Hallen, NPA vice-president

“I’ve got a news flash. We got trounced in 2002, squeaked through in 2005, and got trouned in 2008. We’ve got to change and we are a party. We vote as a bloc. Let’s admit that and stop trying to kid ourselves.” Peter Ladner, former councillor, defeated mayoral candidate 2008

“We need to be looking forward to young people. They can’t subscribe to an ideology. We can communicate ourselves as a multi-partisan party.” Simon Jackson, environmental activist

“One of the things I have valued most is my ability to say in a highly politicized environment is to say I am non-partisan. But how do we reach out to the public with that principle in mind.” Carol Gibson, NPA school trustee

“A surprisingly large number of people think we are a party. Worse still, they think we are the Republican party.” Michael Geller, development consultant, NPA council candidate 2008 (For his analysis of the meeting, go to his blog.)

And, the capper from former city councillor B.C. Lee, who made the best political speech of his life that I’ve heard.

“The next election is coming within months. We should be focusing on what is the new substance for the next election. Our energy should be going into what should we present to the citizens. If every time we were defeated, we changed names, I would have changed my name two dozen times already. We should be be going out saying ‘I am not who I am but I am who I am.’”

NPA gender breakdown: Out of the 75 people I counted in the room, 13 were women.

Frances Bula reports for Vancouver Magazine and The Globe and Mail. To read more about what she thought of the two events, check out her blog post.

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