Sole NPA survivor needs to learn lessons from the past

Ostracized
All alone. Flickr photo by iluvcocacola

It’s been almost three months since the civic election was held in Vancouver last November. For the NPA, the results were disastrous. On Council, they elected only one representative, Suzanne Anton

As the only elected official not in the Vision/COPE caucus, Anton has to play a very unique role. She has become the de facto voice for every single voter who didn’t cast a ballot for Vision or COPE. That’s not an insignificant number of people. However, it would appear her transition from government to opposition is not going as well as it should be.

Firstly, being is opposition is always difficult. People complain that you’re either too ‘negative’ or that you should stop your ‘whining.’ Unfortunately, those complaints simply come with the territory. Holding a government’s feet to the fire can sometimes be an unpleasant job. Anton will have to develop very thick skin, and keep hammering away if she is going to have any chance of affecting real change in the City.

She need only look at some of her predecessors for guidance regarding how you can be an effective voice on council when you’re outnumbered. Two great examples are former city councillor Jenny Kwan and Libby Davies. They were very powerful, strong-willed women who were able to have their voice heard despite terrible odds.

In the case of Jenny Kwan, she even played this role twice as she and then MLA Joy MacPhail were the two sole survivors of the massive defeat of the provincial NDP in 2001.

These women knew how to ask the right questions. They were media savvy. They pulled people around them that could support them in doing research and outreach. I dare say it is universally agreed that they were two of the most effective opposition politicians Vancouver has ever seen.

Unlike Kwan or Davies, Anton simply doesn’t appear comfortable in her new role as an opposition councillor. It’s a role she would argue doesn’t even exist in municipal governments given the Vancouver Charter provides equal power to all 11 elected officials on Council. In theory she would be right. In practical terms, it just doesn’t work that way.

I’m confident that over time, she will learn that her status as the sole ‘opposition’ councillor affords her bucket loads of opportunities to raise her profile. After all, she doesn’t have to share the limelight with another NPA elected official. It doesn’t get better than that.

Unfortunately for Anton, there are other circumstances at play that make her new role even more challenging. That is, she is part of a political party that has all but folded its cards.

Since the new NPA Board was elected on New Year’s Eve, it has gone silent. There has been no email correspondence to members updating them on what they can do next to support Anton, or Ian Robertson on the Park Board, or Ken Denike and Carol Gibson over at the School Board. There appears to have been no website update since last year.

There is not a single member-based workshop or discussion planned in the near future. Rather, I’m told there is more internecine warfare in the back rooms. 

So with Anton making the slow transition from government to opposition councillor, and the NPA making fewer appearances than groundhog Wiarton Willie this winter, the COPE/Vision majority have had almost free reign to run City Hall as they so wish over the last 60 days.

As a consequence, Mayor Robertson is now interpreting the Chamber rules to limit Anton to only 5 minutes of debate on any given issue! Had these type of draconian rules been imposed during the last term of Council, the COPE/Vision caucus would have decried them at every opportunity. It also goes without saying that if Gregor Robertson had tried to do that to former City Councillor Harry Rankin, he wouldn’t have tolerated it for a nanosecond.

As I wrote previously, unless something big happens soon, I really do believe the time may have come to send the NPA out to pasture. Anton could then work with a new group of energetic and community-oriented individuals committed to forming a credible alternative to the labour-backed, left leaning coalition in power today. She could work with a Board more concerned about the future of the City, than one entrapped in a never-ending exercise of navel-gazing.

After governing the city for most of the last several decades, no one will argue the NPA didn’t have a good run at it. Nor that it didn’t do some amazing things to help shape Vancouver into the wonderful city it is today. However, with the civic election campaign starting in about 30 months from now, time will be of the essence.

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  • Denis

    The NPa sure had some strage folks working under that banner. who could forget bernice gerard and her trop along Wreck Beach? or Naten Divinski who would raise a motion, ramble on for awhile and then vote against his own motion. There were lots more, bust space is limited. Take a long break NPA.

  • jamie

    Exactly, they ran the city for 10 years! and look at the downtown eastside, the “drug money” businesses along Kingsway, the Lost money for firehall #15 that was voted “yes” in 3 elections, the 2 huge garbage / civic strikes, the labour unrest in the firedept. with near 3 yrs of no contract, the Athletes Village and Judy Rogers legacy, (dont get me wrong I think the village may actually work out but its the unprotected and backroom exposure to the taxpayers $$ thats unnacceptable) and this is just a quick list off the top of my head…Theres more for sure…Why can these “obvious” issues not have been “fixed” …I am on neither side of the political fence – but they should be out to pasture if Gregor fixes some of the above in the next 30 months….

  • TVAN

    I hate to agree with this post, but…
    From the look of it, the NPA has already been put out to pasture. Dead silence since the board election in December. Perhaps they all got together and decided it wasn’t worth saving, and they are allowing the ship to slowly sink to the bottom. Who knows! We may never know until the next election.
    The other bad sign for the NPA is that many of the more Liberal members are shifting their allegiance over to Vision, even helping them to raise money. I think a lot of NPA members are fed up with the way the organization has been run over the past few elections. The Board doesn’t seem to listen. So, their membership is shrinking fast while Vision’s membership continues to grow. That’s going to make it harder for the NPA to raise the significant amount of money it will need to have any chance of winning any seats in the next election.
    So, with the terrible NPA turnout in the last election, the sweeping defeat of all but 4 of their candidates, the disappearance of the NPA Board, inability to communicate with members, and the fact the NPA is losing members in droves will make it 99% certain that Vision will sweep the next election in 2011 as well, unless Vision makes some Olympic-sized blunder. But, as Vision still has a full-time party operation going with PR firms and everything, they’ll simply do what they’ve been doing all along: Blame the NPA and put another nail in that coffin.
    It seems to be working because Vancouverites appear to be opposed to any opposition in City Hall. The NPA has become a convenient blame-all for everything that ails Vancouver. Suzanne Anton will be mostly a seat-warmer for the next 3 years. After that, with a weak and under-funded NPA organization behind her, it’s unlikely she’ll be re-elected in 2011 because by then Vision will have an even stronger organization than they did in 2008.
    Maybe the NPA is planning their comeback in 2014. After six years of Vision-only rule, the romance may have worn off by then.