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Municipal Politics

Newsman Now Newsmaker, but Can He Be Mayor?

Former media exec Kirk LaPointe explains (over coffee) why he's become a politician.

Bob Mackin 15 Jul

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

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Kirk LaPointe: 'You don't need to go to candidate school,' says NPA's choice to run for mayor. Source: LaPointe's Twitter page.

The man who wants to be the 40th Mayor of Vancouver is a self-described outsider and underdog, who said he grew up in poverty but is ready to leave his 35-year media career to become a politician.

Kirk LaPointe pledged July 14 to campaign on ideas, not insults, and is hoping ultimately to transform a city hall bogged down in secrecy into the most open in Canada. To win, he will have to remake City of Vancouver's centre/right Non-Partisan Association into a moderate and viable alternative to Vision Vancouver, the powerful ruling party at city hall, park board and school board.

Over the next four months, he has to make Vancouverites aware of who he is, introduce his slate of candidates and win the Nov. 15 election. The stakes are high this time, as local governments in British Columbia will be elected for four-year terms, instead of three.

"I've spent a career asking questions that the public wants answers to, now I'm at an age and stage where I can find solutions," LaPointe told reporters over coffee at Kafka's on Main Street. "It's not really as dramatic a step as you might think."

LaPointe's candidacy was the worst-kept secret in Vancouver politics since word leaked in late May that the NPA board was considering him behind closed doors. LaPointe said he was originally approached in March. He was shortlisted along with ex-Park Board chair Ian Robertson and tech entrepreneur Leonard Brody, who withdrew in June. The 56-year-old acknowledged the nomination process was unorthodox and called it "the equivalent of an executive recruitment process."

His first big hurdle will be to overcome the perception that the NPA is a two-man show under deep-pocketed president Peter Armstrong and vice-president Rob Macdonald. The latter set a record for a $900,000 campaign donation in 2011. The former owns Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, the luxury tourist train company that locked out its workers in a bitter 2011 and 2012 labour dispute.

LaPointe, a self-described social liberal and fiscal conservative, boldly said he is now "in charge" of the NPA, proclaiming he is beholden to no one. He said the NPA will also stand for "naturally progressive" and "no preferred advantage." It won't be the party of "angry, old white men" that Robertson dubbed it during Vision Vancouver's annual general meeting.

"I'm sorry if it will ruin your depiction and stereotype, but it will," LaPointe said.

The former Vancouver Sun managing editor also held posts as CTV senior vice-president, CBC Newsworld host and CBC ombudsman. He said the hard times he faced as a child in Etobicoke, Ont., shaped his politics. He didn't know who his father was. His mother was a factory worker at Christie Biscuits, who was paid on Thursday but by Monday, their cupboard was bare and he sometimes went to school hungry.

LaPointe used a news conference at Jack Poole Plaza to challenge Robertson to release the line-by-line version of the city budget and pledge jointly to ensure the campaign remains about "issues, not insults."

LaPointe said all NPA candidates, executives and staffers will sign a code of conduct for ethical behaviour, to "steer clear of personal attacks, the gutter politics people are fed up with." He promised to quit if anyone on his team violates the code. He wants Robertson to make the same commitment on behalf of his party.

LaPointe previewed his nice guy strategy on July 6 when he wrote on Facebook that he wouldn't comment on the breakup of Robertson and his wife Amy. "I long ago concluded that, unless there is an impact on duties, those matters are irrelevant," wrote LaPointe.

If anyone was looking for something to use against LaPointe on day one of his campaign, there were two things. He resides not in Vancouver proper, but at the University of B.C. The Self-Counsel Press publisher teaches a course at the Graduate School of Journalism and wife Mary Lynn Young is associate dean in the Faculty of Arts.

"We've been looking for housing in the city, we don't find it very affordable," he said.

"I feel I live in the city, I do all my business in the city and people who live out there feel like they're in the City of Vancouver."

LaPointe's other weakness is his lack of political experience. Even Robertson had three years under his belt as an NDP MLA before winning the 2008 election.

"Being an outsider is a good thing at this time, I've had a front row seat, much greater experience than the person who is now the incumbent," LaPointe said. "I've studied government over a nearly 35 year career. I believe that it is perfectly acceptable to enter public life, you don't need to go to candidate school in order to do it."

The bedrock issues for LaPointe are access to information and public consultation.

Vision Vancouver promised to return transparency and accountability to city hall in the 2008 campaign platform. In his swearing-in speech, Robertson vowed "I will not let you down on making city hall more open and accountable."

A recent survey about Freedom of Information for Newspapers Canada gave City of Vancouver a C overall, but an F for slow responses to requests. Senior bureaucrats were prohibited from routine interviews with reporters after city hall adopted a corporate communications strategy similar to those under federal Conservatives and BC Liberals. Citizens across the city, from posh Kitsilano to working class Grandview-Woodlands, have marched on city hall, upset with zoning and land use decisions that they say favoured developers who donate to the ruling party.

"Our public service is highly professional, expert, it has a lot of important things to say... it needs to be accessible, it needs to be able to speak freely," LaPointe said. "I think that's been a mistake for a city as great as this to have this kind of cloak on information. I also believe that we can do a lot about FOI to make sure it actually works. The bigger problem is if you have to resort to FOI, something is wrong with the system."

He said he would put the onus on elected and unelected officials to disclose information.

"People need to know how money is being spent, where it's being spent, why it's being spent, they need to know the views and the perspectives of those who are in positions of some authority and I think that a lot of ways they need to be able to anticipate the direction of policy so that they can then participate in it," he said. "Without full, free disclosure, that isn't going to happen."  [Tyee]

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