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Vision Vancouver critic Sean Antrim appointed COPE executive director

The left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) unveiled its new executive director today -- raising some eyebrows for their choice of Vancouver Renters Union co-founder Sean Antrim, an outspoken critic of the party's past electoral alliances with Vision Vancouver.

Antrim -- who is also an editor of The Mainlander civic affairs blog -- replaces the outgoing Alvin Singh, who held the job for two years. The hiring comes after a period of soul-searching in the party in the months following COPE's disastrous showing in last November's civic elections. The party lost all but a single seat on the school board, and in March elected a number of critics of Vision Vancouver to its executive.

The activist and writer told The Tyee he is "ecstatic" about the appointment.

"An organization like COPE is a rarity in the political world, in that all of its major decisions and policy are decided by the membership," Antrim said. "I'm honoured to have been chosen to work for its members.

"COPE is an organization where all voices are heard equally, and my goal is to get as many perspectives as possible involved and facilitate discussion."

The party's external chair, RJ Aquino, told The Tyee that, despite Antrim's past opposition to electoral alliances, the new hiring is not reflective of any particular political direction for the party, and was purely based on his skills and abilities.

"I think [Antrim] is going to be a very, very capable executive director in helping COPE accomplish our goals -- building our membership, helping us communicate the things we want to do for the city, and being very effective in preparing for the next election,” said Aquino, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2011. "We also looked for somebody who can help broaden our base of support. We weren't thinking about any shifts in the party."

Antrim co-authored a Feb. 18 article on The Mainlander criticizing what he described as COPE's "back-room, top-down approach of striking deals" with other parties, as it has with the governing Vision Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson in recent elections.

"It is essential that COPE withdraw support from developer-funded parties, and present an independent alternative," Antrim wrote, with co-authors Kim Hearty and Tristan Markle -- who was elected to the party's executive in March. "Before regaining the trust of the Downtown Eastside community, COPE has to stop colluding with the developer party that is actively undermining low-income housing in the neighbourhood."

The COPE-Vision alliances arose from a desire among some Vancouver progressives -- particularly in the labour movement -- to avoid splitting the vote in the decade since Vision Vancouver split away from COPE following the landslide 2002 election of COPE Mayor Larry Campbell.

The Vancouver District Labour Council (VDLC) would not comment specifically on Antrim's hiring, but reiterated its support for COPE cooperating with Vision Vancouver.

"The VDLC has consistently supported the alliances (with Vision Vancouver), but we also think it's important (both) voices are heard at the table of council," the VDLC's president, Joey Hartman, told The Tyee. "The labour movement has, from its foundation, had an interest in a viable party that represents workers' interests.

"COPE has aways represented that to us. Of course, we're interested in seeing it as a viable organization and political party."

Councillors for Vision Vancouver could not be reached by press time.

David P. Ball is a Vancouver-area reporter and photographer.

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