All alone. Flickr photo by iluvcocacola
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.