Opinion: Kirk LaPointe swimming against tide of history

NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe says it all started this way: “A friend invited me for a casual lunch in March, asked what I thought of the municipal scene, and then asked if I’d be willing to let my name stand for the office.”

The reaction to the invitation of this man who has no first-hand experience in electoral politics: “The opportunity arose and I believe in going through open doors.”

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The rest, as they say, is history.

And when it comes to history, LaPointe is swimming against the tide. In recent times no Vancouver mayor seeking a third term in office has been defeated, from Mike Harcourt through Gordon Campbell to Philip Owen.

When majorities have been lost, the governing party has been in disarray and therefore author of its own demise.

NPA Mayor Philip Owen ended up being denied his party’s nomination because of Jennifer Clarke’s ambition. NPA members either stayed at home or switched allegiance.

That put Larry Campbell and COPE into power. But it was short-lived because of another internal spat that had Campbell and his followers abandon COPE and form a new party: Vision Vancouver.

The split on the centre-left and Campbell’s decision not to run for a second term led to NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan’s equally brief time in office thanks to yet another eruption. Near the end of his first term, he was successfully challenged for his party’s nomination by Coun. Peter Ladner.  

With the NPA in that internal battle six years ago, Vision finally swept to power led by a former provincial NDP MLA Gregor Robertson.

And unlike the previous three administrations, the team behind Robertson is rock solid. There’s not a scintilla of detectable dissent.

And, by the way, if Robertson wins and completes his third term, given that this next term will be for four years, he will be the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history to hold office for consecutive years.

LaPointe admits his major weakness is that he is “still relatively unknown.” It has been years since he had any profile at all in Vancouver.

He has four months to establish a brand for himself around the issues he and his party hope to promote. And for that, he will need a generous media contingent and a whole whack of self-promotion.

He sees Robertson and Vision’s strength firstly as the undeniable benefits of incumbency.

He also says, “I believe they are better resourced.” That is not just about money. The NPA has managed to out-spend its opposition for decades.

But the Vision machine is in existence year-round and has been kicked into re-election mode for months now — polling, running telephone town halls, distributing re-election material.

The NPA is far less a permanent fixture and tends to come together in any coherence or strength at election time.

There is also the blurry line between administration and politics for an incumbent party.

The recent program announcements on affordable housing and homelessness as well as the Capital Plan for the next four years all reflect Vision political priorities. LaPointe has done little to roll out any policy except for a few bromides about a more transparent government that will freeze taxes temporarily and reduce crime due to break-ins.

The “code of conduct” he’s promoting was largely to publicly shut down NPA vice-president Rob Macdonald’s rumour mongering about Robertson.
Macdonald did not turn up at LaPointe’s kickoff.

But even though these are early days, LaPointe is taking aim at his opponent’s soft underbelly.

After six years in office you have said “no” to a lot of people.

Vision, which is still at odds with one neighborhood and particularly hard of hearing around public consultation, is still battling community centre leaders after 17 months and 50 meetings to get a deal.

Yet in spite of all the downside, LaPointe says: “I believe this is a very winnable race.” Judging by the smiles of the small NPA crowd there for his kickoff, they believe that too.

LaPointe has proven himself to be a quick study, articulate and personable. He will not embarrass his side.

Which is why, even though he has an almost impossible slog ahead, one should never say never in Vancouver politics.


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