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Larry Campbell's Big Gamble

Vancouver's mayor is all but certain to split from the party he led into power. As his strategy comes into focus, so do the risks.

Scott Deveau 9 Dec 2004TheTyee.ca
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Larry Campbell is expected to announce next week that he will be running as an independent mayoral candidate in the Vancouver's 2005 municipal election.

Although that would signal a clear and sharp break with the COPE party he led into power two years ago, Campbell's gamble is that voters will elect a combination of COPE candidates and a slate personally endorsed by Campbell, insuring a progressive majority on council that would keep the more conservative NPA party on the margins. 

COPE's executive met last night to reaffirm their support for Campbell should he decide to run for their party.  In the meantime, COPE's executive is going to request a meeting with Campbell to discuss his plans.

Donna Morgan, internal co-chair of COPE, said the party will rely on Campbell's past affiliation with the party should he decide to leave.

"I could not foresee a situation where we would run a candidate against Campbell," Morgan said in an interview with The Tyee last night.

The mayor hopes to use his charisma and high approval ratings -- what those close to him refer to as "the Campbell touch" -- to attract candidates and voters to his team. Campbell is expected to reach out to the increasingly powerful Indo-Canadian, Chinese, and Filipino communities by endorsing candidates from each community.

The question is whether the Campbell touch will be enough to get his candidates elected.

NPA city councilor Sam Sullivan doubts it.

Sullivan said if Campbell announces his independence, he will be under attack by both NPA and the remaining COPE classic councilors for the next year.

"Larry is strong willed, but he's not invincible," said Sullivan, who takes the wards referendum as evidence of this. "That defeat was proof he isn't."

NPA divided as well

Sullivan said a Campbell endorsement would not translate in the election results. However, he also admitted the NPA is waiting for Campbell's announcement before embarking on its own election strategy. 

Sullivan said there are two factions in the NPA debating whether to run a mayoral candidate against Campbell or to simply put together a multi-cultural seven-person slate of their own without a mayoral candidate.

As it stands, the mayor's approval ratings would make it "suicide" for either he or fellow NPA councilor Peter Ladner to run against Campbell in the next election, Sullivan said.

In what may prove to be Campbell's last speech at a COPE fundraiser last month, he set off a flurry of speculation that he was leaving the party.

This weekend, there will be a fundraiser for Raymond Louie in Chinatown, the funds for which will not necessarily be going into COPE's war chest.

Campbell needs all the help he can get in the Chinese community, where Sullivan said Campbell's approval ratings are down.

Not a party, a 'team'

Contrary to most speculation, insiders have told The Tyee that Campbell will not form a new party, but will put together a "team" of likeminded individuals to run on a progressive slate for the next election.

The distinction may seem fine, but it is important. There is no point in running for office if you can't put a majority in place, because without a majority, it is impossible to pass anything.

But a political party has permanent structure, a membership, an election platform, and democratic nomination convention. Getting all this together by 2005, would be a daunting, perhaps an impossible task.

The best example of what Campbell intends is the council Michael Harcourt ran in the 1980's as an independent.

However, Campbell's 'team' will consist of a group of candidates that share his vision for the city and who he thinks he will be able work with. 

COPE councillors Raymond Louie, Jim Green, and Tim Stevenson (if he fails to secure a seat in the legislature) have apparently already been selected as part of this team.

Campbell's agenda

In his COPE fundraiser speech two weeks ago, Campbell outlined a framework for what he would like to accomplish in a second term.

Campbell said he would like to work on the city's safety, through housing and employment strategies and an increased police presence.

He also wants to build a city that supports its neighbourhoods, by creating more events and festivals, and by working with residents' and business improvement associations.

Campbell said he also wants faster approval times for developers. "Development has to make this a better city, not just a bigger one," Campbell said in his speech. And he wants to ensure the development that comes with the Olympics creates a sense of Vancouver being a world leader socially, economically, and environmentally.

The current division in COPE, however, places these plans in jeopardy. Campbell is at his end with the more leftist faction of COPE comprising Tim Louis, Anne Roberts, and Fred Bass, insiders say.

With the near defeat of the RAV line, a nullified stance on Translink's ten-year plan, and the voting down of a by-law amendment for the Hastings Park slot machines, it calls into question not what can be done with the current council, but if anything can be done at all.

Division 'beyond repair'

With eight elected officials, COPE has become a victim of its own success, because there are too many people with fundamentally different views on how politics are run.

For Wayne Peppard, executive director of B.C. and Yukon Building Trades, that uncertainty is too much and with $16 billion worth of work coming to Vancouver before the 2010 Olympics, he said he would support Campbell's team.

"We would prefer a united COPE, but on tough issues like RAV, Campbell and Louie made some tough decisions, which drew my great admiration and demonstrated their fortitude," Peppard said.

He added that the division in COPE appears to be beyond repair.

Coun. Tim Louis refused to speculate on how COPE will proceed without Campbell. He did say, however, his decisions to vote against the RAV line and Translink's ten-year plan were in line with COPE's election platform against fare increases, private-public partnerships, and mega-Skytrain-like projects.

At the time, Louis said his decision to vote against the Hastings Park slot machine by-law amendment was to prevent the proliferation of gambling in the city, a stance he said he ran his election campaign on.

'World has complexities'

For long-time COPE supporter Leonard Schein, founder of the Vancouver International Film Festival and Alliance and Atlantis cinemas, COPE classic's inflexibility is the reason why he would support an independent move by Campbell. 

"What I like about Campbell's approach is that he doesn't see everything as black and white.  He realizes the world has complexities and he's able to make a decision on an issue unburdened by a political philosophy, but on what makes sense and what is realistic," Schein said. "You can't have a platform that foresees all future possibilities and I think at times, certain members of COPE get too wedded to political philosophy rather than being realistic to certain needs."

But the problems in COPE run deeper than ideology. Some COPE council members don't show up for meetings and there are very opportunistic initiatives taken based on who is there – like the Hastings Park vote. 

Former COPE mayoral candidate and labour activist Carmela Allevato said Louis may have thought he was representing COPE in those votes, but that may not have been the case.

Allevato said she, along with several others, would support Campbell as an independent candidate.

"It's quite obvious that there is a division and my own perspective on it is that it is very important that Larry be supported with a centre-left government in the city that can be really innovative because there are so many things that have been done and still can be done," Allevato said. "(Campbell's) vision is shared by a lot of other people. I think a lot of people will form around him and that vision."

Allevato said Campbell's strength is that he brought issues to the front that other COPE members have been trying to for years – like addressing the problems in the Downtown Eastside. And because he is slightly more centre, he has brought people to the negotiation table that were never there before.

New ethnic vote block

Allevato also didn't rule out running as a candidate on Campbell's slate.

"I would be interested in making sure we have a really great, really livable city and I think if there is a role for me to play in that, I would be happy to consider it."

Likewise, Am Johal, a former COPE executive, provincial NDP candidate and leader in the Indo-Canadian community, said he would consider running beside Campbell, if he were asked.

Johal said the Indo-Canadian community is increasingly interested in becoming involved in civic politics. 

In the wards referendum, the wealthier southwest side of the city was cited as a powerful force in voting down the wards. But the other portion of the city predominantly opposed to the ward system was the southeast corner, which has a high Indo-Canadian and Chinese population.

Many took this as evidence of a new vote block in the Indo-Canadian, Chinese and Filipino communities that would have to be addressed in the next election.

Campbell capped his speech off at the COPE fundraiser, with what might be read by some as a subtle goodbye to the party.

 "I've been proud to be part of what we've started, and I will be proud to be part of that work in the future. And I will be just as proud to be sharing that work, that future, and that great city with you. My friends, my neighbours," he said.

Scott Deveau is a staff writer for The Tyee.   [Tyee]

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