COPE trustee Allan Wong won his fifth consecutive term on Vancouver School Board Saturday night, but his party was otherwise wiped off the political map.
The left-leaning party was eliminated at both city hall and at the park board despite running a joint slate with the popular Vision Vancouver.
Longtime councillor Ellen Woodsworth lost her seat, while COPE council hopefuls Tim Louis and R.J. Aquino faired poorly at the polls. Brent Granby and Donalda Greenwell-Baker performed equally badly in the park board race.
Jane Bouey and Al Blakey, who've been trustees for years and were endorsed by the elementary and secondary teachers' unions, were turfed from their seats. Even first-time COPE candidate Gwen Giesbrecht and the NPA's Stacy Robertson, collected more votes, although they didn't secure seats either.
COPE's future appears uncertain, but Wong remains committed to the party. He earned a respectable 57,902 votes for sixth place in the battle for nine school board seats. The 47-year-old has three children in Grades 5, 9 and 12, who attend MacCorkindale elementary and Killarney secondary schools. His fourth child goes to Langara College and is studying journalism. Wong answered a few questions Sunday, a day after his re-election and COPE's disastrous performance at the ballot box.
Courier: How long have you been a member of COPE and why did you join?
Wong: [I've been an] official member of COPE since 1998. I was a substitute teacher in the early '90s and a teacher friend of mine told me that if I ever run into a principal named Noel Herron [a former COPE trustee] that I should say hi. He told me that Noel was a very dedicated educator who really cared for the public education system. I spoke to Noel and we discussed public education. I then attended the COPE education committee. I have always focused on the education side of COPE.
Courier: Has Vision Vancouver ever tried to recruit you?
Wong: I know many of the people in Vision and respect them tremendously, particularly the Vision school board trustees, [councillors] Andrea Reimer and Raymond Louie and [Mayor] Gregor Robertson. Individual members of Vision have asked me to join Vision but there was never a formal recruitment. I believe they understand I am a very loyal individual and if I'm elected as a COPE trustee I will stay a COPE trustee.
Courier: What was your reaction election night when you saw the results? How do you feel about your win and your enduring popularity as a trustee?
Courier: You got elected while Al Blakey and Jane Bouey lost their seats. How unexpected was that from your perspective?
Wong: Unexpected but not completely surprising. I had an uncomfortable feeling on the day of the election. The outcome was difficult for me to predict. I felt a slight upswing by the NPA and that Vision was looking at a sweep. I think COPE was squeezed by the two large machines. I felt we ran the best campaign we could and I'm still proud of all the COPE candidates. Al Blakey and I always got along. Al was my mentor in my first term. I personally count him as a close friend and part of my family. The district lost well-respected and knowledgeable trustees in Al Blakey and Jane Bouey.
Courier: How do you explain the results for Bouey and Blakey? They have name recognition due to long histories as trustees and the teachers' unions endorsed them, yet they placed lower than the NPA's Stacy Robertson and COPE's Gwen Giesbrecht.
Wong: I can't. In my view, they should have won. I'm looking for some opinion on this.
Courier: You are the face of COPE now. How much pressure is it to be the only elected COPE representative in the entire city?
Wong: On election night, Jane and Al quickly told me I won't be alone and they'll be there to support me. We are very close and I'm sure we will meet regularly to discuss issues. I am the face of COPE for the school board. I will not put the pressure on myself to say I represent COPE in the council or park board arena. My passion is in public education and that is where my focus will be.
Courier: What exactly differentiates COPE and Vision? At the school board level, both parties tend to vote the same way, so what's COPE's role?
Wong: It is more important to state what COPE has always stood for: Support for vulnerable students, particularly ESL, special needs and low income students; to ensure smaller class sizes and class composition that allows attention for all students; a program office for seismic/maintenance upgrades of our school facilities; greener schools and to respect our employees' rights to free collective bargaining.
I agree Vision trustees share many of these values. Priorities during budget time (especially with the continued cuts from the province) is most likely the main difference.
Courier: Can COPE rebuild? Should COPE rebuild or is there even a point given Vision Vancouver's tight grip on power?
Wong: COPE rebuilt after the devastating loss in the 1996 election. The COPE executive will meet soon and we will discuss our next steps.
Courier: Do you think it's been a mistake for COPE to run joint slates with Vision? Did it serve to weaken COPE over the years. Should COPE run full slates in elections?
Wong: Personally, I encouraged the running of joint slates. I have always been supportive of a strong cohesive centre-left coalition. Any split on the left is not good for our education system.
I believe if COPE ran a mayoral candidate (or even a COPE candidate with a mayoral presence like David Cadman) we would have faired much better. Having said that, I look at the reality of the political landscape. I definitely support Mayor Robertson and the joint slate.
From a political point of view, no parties should ever run full slates. It does not serve any board or the public if any party sweeps and win all seats and then governs with no opposition. For example, NPA trustee Carol Gibson was very knowledgeable and was very helpful in bringing a different point of view to the board. The district benefited by her role and involvement.
Courier: What went wrong for COPE and what should have done differently in its campaign?
Wong: The campaign was the best I've ever seen. I think COPE was just squeezed by the two big machines. We were outspent by both the NPA and Vision. COPE is a grassroots organization and we got the volunteers out. Our volunteers did it all for us and it is unfortunate we could not reward them with a few more candidate wins.
Courier: What are your personal goals as a trustee over the next three years.
-to restore funding to the public education system. I know programs that used to benefit our students that are no longer available that need to be restored.
-to ensure the morale of our employees (from teachers, support workers to administrators) are not ignored.
-a seismic program office and to have a plan to have all our schools get seismic and maintenance upgrades by 2020. I think [we need to] do this with the Ministry of Education advocating together [with us] to the Treasury Board.
-to establish the aboriginal mini-school.