'Attack dog' politics backfiring for Vision Vancouver
One of the pleasures for me since City Caucus devoted itself to covering municipal politics is getting to know community leaders like John Coupar. Many will remember John for his successful campaign to save the Bloedel Conservatory from oblivion after the Vancouver Park Board proposed they would close it. John rallied several members of the community, getting the Park Board to reconsider and push forward with a plan to keep the Conservatory as a vital Vancouver attraction.
Fast forward to 2011 when John threw his hat into the ring for a park commissioner's job. With two term NPA councillor Ian Robertson and COPE's Loretta Woodcock exiting politics, Coupar and fellow Commissioner Melissa De Genova would have some very big shoes to fill once elected. During our many weeks together on the NPA campaign I was particularly impressed by John's friendly demeanour, his teamwork and his passion for parks. Once he was elected I had high hopes for the political neophyte, and judging by the last week I see him living up to expectations.
Last weekend John was all over the media regarding a proposal to change the naming rules for parks. Our readers will recall the commentary by former park commissioner Stuart Mackinnon here on City Caucus. Coupar garnered considerable coverage for his concerns in several newspaper, radio and TV reports. The result was the Park Board pulled the proposal down off their website on Monday morning. Park Board staff have not explained the 11th hour decision to kill the motion. There is a broad concern that the policy changes were being driven by the Mayor's office.
Coupar was not finished with the park renaming file, however. At the end of a meeting which ran until past midnight last Monday evening (described as "bizarre" by several observers), Commissioner Coupar read out a notice of motion that asked Vision Commissioner Aaron Jasper to apologize for remarks he had made to the Georgia Straight, or otherwise face censure and resign his position. Jasper had said:
“We don’t want to return to the days where park commissioners are naming parks after themselves, which is really what we saw with George Wainborn Park and Andy Livingstone [Park]—a bunch of commissioners sitting around deciding which park they were going to name after themselves.”
Coupar explains that he took time to visit the Vancouver Archives to research the accomplishments of Wainborn and Livingstone, while getting the background on how the parks were actually named. Not only were Jasper's remarks inaccurate, they denigrated some of Vancouver's most exemplary citizens. Wainborn, for example, was a Park Board commissioner for thirty-three years who became a member of the Order of Canada, and received Vancouver's Freedom of the City medal. Using Wainborn and Livingstone as examples of political self-interest is a slap against their legacy and to the honour of their ancestors. Commissioners are being asked to vote on Coupar's motion at their April 16th meeting.
This is not Jasper's first misstep. He is someone who's known for blasting opponents with both barrels when challenged. Stuart Mackinnon learned that during his term of office. What makes recent events different is now Vision are being forced to apologize for their attack dog politics. On Thursday Jasper made a qualified apology for this statements in an interview with the Vancouver Courier's Sandra Thomas.
“I’m not making any excuses,” said Jasper. “My comments were not well thought out, and I apologize for that.”
However, there is a "but" in Jasper's statement:
“If the role had been reversed I would have called John up and told him how wrong I thought he was,” said Jasper. “I wish he’d given me the benefit of the doubt and gave me a call.”
In other words, Jasper is saying he holds himself to a higher standard than Coupar. It's the kind of remark Park Board observers tell me has marred the ambitious commissioner's record in office.
Jasper's "sort of" mea culpa comes only a few weeks after Stepan Vdovine, Co-Chair of Vision Vancouver's executive, submitted a letter of apology for remarks he made about NPA School Board Trustee Ken Denike.
“In light of these circumstances, and now having the benefit of additional information about the two referenced videos, I do not think that my characterization of Dr. Denike’s actions as being ‘homophobic mongering’ and as ‘attacks on individuals fighting discrimination and seeking a more tolerant society’ were appropriate. Nor do I think it was appropriate to state that ‘[i]t is clear that trustee Denike does not share values of inclusion and tolerance.’ I wish to withdraw those statements, and apologize to Dr. Denike.”
Politics can be a rough and tumble game, but it's the lack of decorum that turns off many voters. Hopefully this will be the last apologies we'll hear from Vancouver politicos for a while.
- post by Mike