What's Next for Jim Green and Vancouver's Civic Left

Vision will go it alone, say key players.

By Sam Cooper 5 Dec 2005 |

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How's this for pain? Jim Green loses the biggest fight of his life, barely, and about 40 hours later, he's in the hospital passing a kidney stone.

But now he's on his feet and considering his next step.

Despite rumours good friend and federal NDP leader Jack Layton is interested in recruiting him, Green says he won't be running against Svend Robinson to try to take Hedy Fry's Vancouver Centre federal seat.

"I can serve Vancouver better in Vancouver than as an opposition person in Ottawa," Green says in a phone interview. "Being a critic isn't my goal in life. I really want to do things. There are some developers I find extremely ethical and creative and architects I'd like to work with."

But, of course, he'd much rather be in the mayor's seat guiding the Woodward's project to completion.

If Green had beat Sam Sullivan, unity on Vancouver's left wouldn't be an issue now. But some of the primary engineers of COPE's 2002 electoral success say division is the reason Green lost.

And when it comes to identifying who drove the wedge first and deepest, the fingers start pointing in all directions.

'Take responsibility'

"A crucial point of any campaign is inoculating against the other team's message," says former COPE board member and communications director Nathan Allen.

"The NPA ran on the slogan, 'A unified team, a unified plan for Vancouver'. And when COPE and Vision could not run a unified campaign, people could see some truth in it."

Neil Monckton is the former COPE board member and campaign planner credited for re-branding the party and directing its rise to power in 2002. He says both sides must share responsibility for the division.

"No one is claiming the victory on November 19. When you lost majorities on all three boards, it's a loss."

"Leadership of both COPE and Vision have to take responsibility," said Monckton, who came to civic politics in 1999 from an NDP background. "They have to get together. They don't have a choice. It will be up to the members to make sure the leaders don't take part in a fratricidal affair."

Vision aims to go solo

But the Vision Vancouver camp seems intent to stake their claim on the left and put COPE out of its misery. Vision's executive team say the split is done and gone; now they're tilling Vancouver's political soil for grassroots strength and longevity.

Vision's original quarterback, outgoing Mayor Larry Campbell, dismisses critics who say his party can't make it alone and guarantees Vision councillor Raymond Louie will be mayor sooner or later.

"I'd remind these people that we won four out of the five seats we ran for," Campbell said in a phone interview before flying to China. "COPE elected one out of five. The NPA only elected five out of ten. There is a resonance with people with Vision and there is no resonance with COPE."

Green argues that while Vision is accused of weakening the COPE brand in the split, in fact, opposing ideologies in the party simply made unity untenable.

"We didn't stay and fight to the death, we divided assets when we saw it wasn't working," Green said.

"Neither Anne (Roberts), Fred (Bass) or Tim (Louis) would support me for mayor. Tim said he was glad Sam won; he called me a businessman with no morals. We know he was telling people to vote for Sam, so that is his version of unity."

Campbell's executive aide Geoff Meggs, a strategist with communications and polling expertise who worked for former NDP Leader Glen Clark and B.C. Federation of Labour head Jim Sinclair before helping Monckton build the new COPE, says the COPE Classic councillors doomed themselves by ignoring the fact Labour played a key role in creating them.

Pictures from the honeymoon

There was a brief time, not long ago, when everyone in the COPE coalition got along.

The story of COPE's stunning sweep to power and swift crumble has all the elements of a romance-tragedy, and all the niggling, petty details of a real-life divorce.

There's the thrilling courtship of a star candidate, consummation on election night and a brief honeymoon. Then comes a collision of cultures, financial squabbles, irreconcilable differences and the inevitable blame game.

Meggs says Monckton was "absolutely pivotal" to COPE's new success, bringing brilliant organizational talents, lining up Labour backing and formulating plans to build a "mass-based party" able to elect majorities on all three boards in Vancouver.

Monckton and the COPE board, including Meggs, former mayoral candidate Carmela Alevato, union employee Anita Zaenker, Vision Vancouver's campaign planner Michael Magee, polling expert Bob Penner, David Cadman, Tim Louis and others, built COPE membership up from a few hundred to a few thousand members in 2003.

Da Vinci for mayor

In 2001, spurred by polls showing COPE was increasingly competitive, the board made a decision to promote candidates with maximum name recognition for council.

Larry Campbell had retired as chief coroner in 2001 and applied to be police chief, but didn't win that job. Still, he was a big player in town with a ton of name recognition from his input on the script of Da Vinci's Inquest, the CBC crime drama inspired by Campbell's gritty work.

Campbell's introduction to COPE came when Green invited him to speak at a party brainstorming conference called Think City.

"I've been friends with Larry Campbell since about '87 or '88," Green said. "I always had a lot of admiration for his creativity. And I promoted him heavily in provincial government to be chief coroner and he won that."

"As coroner he had a very good insight on things like economic development and issues in the DTES. So I invited him to Think City."

Green says Campbell's innovative ideas, humour and compassion made a huge impact at the conference.

"COPE's core of people at Think City were very impressed with him. He really showed he was in line with the thinking," Green says, adding the ferment of compassionate problem solving ideas and ideals hooked Campbell too. "So we talked about finding a role for him in COPE."

Cadman pushed aside

"They impressed me as a group of people with an understanding of issues and desire to solve problems," Campbell says. "And they weren't nutty. It was the first time I was involved with any particular party."

But with Campbell on the scene, COPE's board now had a bottleneck of strong candidates interested in running for mayor, and had to urge Green and Cadman, who made a decent run for mayor in 1999, to step aside.

After coming to an agreement, Green and Meggs met Campbell for a late breakfast one Sunday afternoon, at a Bread Garden restaurant on Granville.

"I suggested to Larry if he ran for mayor I could go for council, and he accepted after ten minutes of talking," says Green.

After the handshake, they called Cadman from the restaurant. Green says his initial reaction to the news was silence.

"He argued with us for a while, and then called back a few days later and okayed it," Green recalls. "He realized he couldn't have beaten Larry if I was backing him."

This version of events seems to run counter to what Cadman told The Tyee in a previous article. "I basically brought Larry Campbell on for mayor" in 2002, Cadman claimed

Instead, as Green and Meggs tell it, Cadman acquiesced to a fait accompli only reluctantly.

"For Cadman, there was a seniority question involved," adds Meggs. "And he had loaned COPE money in 1999. He has often said he stepped back when he could have won. He honestly believes it was a COPE win, not a Larry Campbell win."

Campbell also believes Cadman never accepted it was best for him to step down.

"Jim was comfortable; David was never comfortable. He sees himself as the person who should be leading COPE. I don't think he ever accepted that he didn't run for mayor."


According to Meggs and Allen, Campbell catalyzed the perfect storm necessary for COPE's decimation of the traditionally powerful NPA.

"The city was ready to tackle the drug problem, and Larry was not a left mayor," Meggs says. "We already had four solid council candidates. The slate was strong, but Larry brought a whole new face. He straddled the line and I think the city was comforted that he was a cop and brought that background on drug issues."

"It was really interesting," Meggs adds. "The public filled in their perception of Larry from what they saw on the show, with the values of (actor) Nic Campbell. They (Larry Campbell and Dominic Da Vinci) are not the same person, but similar. My hunch is people assumed Larry reflected those values."

For his part, Campbell says he was so impressed with Meggs' ability to organize people and consolidate understanding that he hired him as executive aide on the spot in an elevator, the night of the election landslide.

Lites and Classics

But according to Green, the majority COPE council began to come apart almost immediately, with a fissure between COPE Classic ideologues and COPE Light pragmatics.

"Anne Roberts demanded I vote against Wal-Mart having a public meeting before the first caucus," Green says. "I voted against Wal-Mart eventually, but (I thought) they ought to have their due."

"They refused to have caucus solidarity or confidentiality. And Tim Louis made it very clear he felt he should be the leader."

Cadman also told The Tyee fractures between the COPE pioneers and the Campbell contingent arose quickly.

"You had Tim Louis and Fred Bass, who had already been councillors and had finished very high in the polls. And along came Jim Green and Larry Campbell," Cadman said. "Geoff Meggs, having come from the provincial side, was basically operating on the leader is the commander and we do what the leader says. That's not the way civic politics works."

'Labour's worst enemy'

But Campbell says the Classics didn't understand the business of governing.

"As soon as I got on there I realized they (Classics) were not Labour, and I believe Labour is a vital force," Campbell said. "They are Labour's worst enemy as far as I'm concerned. They were against the RAV, Hastings Park, the Olympics. These are all things that bring prosperity and things Labour wanted."

While Cadman eventually came onside with RAV, the breaking point occurred when Bass, Louis and Roberts voted against TransLink's ten-year transportation plan, which was backed by the Vancouver Board of Trade and most of the unions, with the exception of CUPE.

"At that point the unions said, 'That's it, we wanted this. Why are we supporting you?'" Meggs said.

"One of the problems that COPE had to deal with, was the thinking that it knew best how people should live their lives," Meggs added. "Sullivan would talk about Fatwas issued by COPE on Wal-Mart, the Olympics and the Indy. It was like we know how you will be happy. After you do it, you will agree."

Campbell vs. Louis

But it was more than ideological differences that killed the COPE council. Personal respect, most notably between Campbell and Louis, went out the window.

"There were a lot of strong personalities, and there are no angels in there," Meggs said.

"Tim saw himself as the link to the proud-left COPE heritage and was used to having caucus meetings at his house. Then along comes Campbell and people aren't meeting at Tim's on Sunday nights anymore."

But asked whether he could have accommodated Louis to alleviate friction, Campbell says it wasn't an option.

"Tim Louis is an ideological person who is, at best, an anarchist. This is a person who says Che Guevara was a good guy. There was no way I was going to have a caucus meeting at someone's house. This is not a communist cell, this is a major city we are running."

By 2005, acrimony between the Classics and Lights in council chambers was normal, but an October debate about slots at Hastings Park truly highlighted the personal and ideological factors that destroyed the majority council.

Before the final vote for the gambling project at Hastings Park, an angry gallery of area residents heckled Campbell, Green and the Lights every time they spoke in favour of the development plan. Campbell, by now clearly fed up with the dysfunction surrounding him, threatened to throw them out for disrespectful outbursts.

But Louis challenged him immediately and forcefully, saying, "I'd like to see you try it."

It underlined COPE's problem. The Lights were for Hastings Park because it would create 800 jobs, mostly for recently immigrated women, Green says.

And the Classics stood for grassroots neighborhood groups like the Hastings Park resident contingent, despite the wishes of COPE's labour backers.

Unity gambit

Meggs says contrary to Cadman's claims that Vision ignored a unity deal when Campbell was appointed to the Senate; a joint slate deal negotiated in July by the COPE executive was rejected by COPE's membership because Louis spoke against it and Cadman said nothing.

But Meggs says he doubts getting the sides together in July would have benefited Vision at all.

"I don't know if that would have helped us," Meggs said. "Look, we elected four and they elected one. COPE was not an undamaged brand. We've done a study. If they hadn't been damaged, then COPE and Vision would have been closer to each other in votes."

However, Monckton and Allen are still hoping for reunification.

"It's mainly just personalities on council that can't unite, not at the school and parks board level," Allen said. "If the same situation happens again next time, the NPA will win again. There cannot be two parties on the left side of the ballot."

What next?

Monckton says it's still too early to tell whether COPE and Vision will both appear on the ballot in three years, but finding common ground among moderate candidates will be key to any unity deal.

"I look for leadership of the two organizations to show some leadership," Monckton said. "They have to take responsibility to make sure it doesn't happen again."

But Campbell disagrees with those who say reunification is a must.

"Those people simply do not understand the concept of having a group of people trying to take us back to another age. I really believe they (COPE Classics) are still living in the '30s and '40s."

"As far as bringing COPE and Vision back together; it may be possible, but you have to get rid of those far left elements."

Sam Cooper reports for The Tyee on politics and other issues.  [Tyee]

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