It's make or break time for the NPA

An unusual year in Vancouver politics keeps getting a little more "cray-cray"

This week marks three years since the Vancouver Courier welcomed me aboard as a regular columnist. It is also the tenth year since I began writing on civic affairs, and during this entire period I have never seen as much political tumult in Vancouver as we have witnessed in recent weeks.

To say it has been an unusual year for municipal politics would be an understatement. Activists of all stripes have declared their intention to pounce on city hall if elected.

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Seeking the mayoralty on the left we have Shauna Sylvester, a member of the Hollyhock industrial complex that has permeated Vancouver politics since the mid-2000s.

Then we have Ian Campbell, a North Vancouver resident seeking Vision Vancouver’s nomination and whose candidacy announcement was attended by Tzeporah Berman, Andrea Reimer and Mike Magee – a holy trinity of anti-pipeline activism as well as being the people behind the scenes during Gregor Robertson’s time in office.

We cannot forget Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart, who was recently charged with criminal contempt for defying a B.C. Supreme Court ordered injunction related to the Kinder Morgan facility in Burnaby.

Then there is the NPA, who injected a little “cray-cray” of their own into the mayoralty race by dumping Hector Bremner — who they helped elect to council less than a year ago — on a spurious conflict of interest claim.

Bremner organized a formidable campaign around his candidacy that was laser-focused on addressing the need for more affordable housing in our city. He was a genuine threat to become the NPA’s next leader until the board put a stop to it at the eleventh hour.

Multiple NPA board members have resigned since.

That leaves businessperson Ken Sim, former park board chair John Coupar, and the litigious Glen Chernen, formerly of the fringe Cedar Party.

I have only had one encounter with Chernen, back in November 2012 when he made his first foray into civic politics. It was a year after Vision Vancouver had won its second term in office when Chernen invited several of his Dunbar neighbours over to discuss concerns over how the city was being governed. I was invited to tag along as a plus-one.

Chernen billed the living room gathering as a chance to hear from several speakers, including a “former city alderman.” After serving pizza, the evening’s presenters arrived. They were Randy Helten of the City Hall Watch blog, op-ed writer Elizabeth Murphy, and one-time city councillor and lawyer Jonathan Baker. Baker is father to current NPA board president Gregory Baker.

The group was a veritable anti-density power trio, whose message fell flat for me. I left feeling under impressed.

Fast forward to the present. It would appear that Chernen’s anti-developer, anti-bike lane viewpoint has been given life by the NPA board’s approval of his candidacy. It is a setback for the organization, which can take pride in its past efforts to promote active transportation and well-planned neighbourhoods that include tall buildings.

It is unclear why the NPA would want a mayor ready to go to war with developers, as they represent a significant stakeholder group that is needed for the city to succeed. But in mere days it looks as though that is where they are headed.

As for the other two candidates — Coupar and Sim — we will see whether either will prevail after the June 3 nomination meeting. How either will lead is not clear.

Other than he started a couple of businesses and went to high school with both Chernen and Gregory Baker, I know nothing about the political newbie Ken Sim. Some in my circle have asked why he did not consider a council run before taking the leap for the top job. It’s a good question.

As for Coupar, his more conciliatory approach to politics might allow some of the disaffected Bremner circle back into the organization. In that scenario, Bremner himself would have to resign himself to running for council, which would give him four more years of experience to boost his chances for another mayoral run.

Whatever happens in the next two weeks could either make or break the NPA. After blowing it in 2011 and 2014, the organization can ill afford to strike out a third time if it expects voters to take them seriously. 

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