I realize this editorial won't make me popular with some folks within the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA), but I think the time may have come for them to retire their brand. After a disastrous showing in the recent civic election, and a very divisive leadership battle in 2002 and earlier this spring, the NPA brand is severely tarnished -- perhaps beyond repair.
Over the last three years, while the opposition Vision party was busy building grassroots support throughout the city, the NPA failed to realize that it needed to grow its base. In plain English, they've lost their way and appear more focused on managing the repercussions of internal warfare than putting forward a reputable slate of candidates.
It's 2008 and the NPA still refuses to hold any real policy forums or roundtable discussions to engage Vancouverites. They also seem oblivious to the importance of undertaking social media or communications campaigns that could help to attract voters under the age of 50.
Someone has to tell them this is not 1968. Pierre Trudeau is dead, we've invented the internet and the President of the United States is now a black man from Illinois.
The NPA simply can't rely on the tired and worn-out mantra that the socialist hoards are at the city gates and vote for us to prevent them from taking power. As you can see, enough voters thought the socialists were well suited to govern and they gave them an overwhelming majority on council.
It was clear to me in the last election the NPA seemed focused on retrenching back to their cozy West Side roots. Yes, it's their "core" vote, but the new political reality is they can't solely rely on these voters if they want to get elected in a rapidly growing culturally diverse city. That's especially true when you consider exit polls indicated voters of Chinese and South Asian descent, both strong supporters of the NPA in 2005, abandoned them in droves. The power of the city it seems is shifting east, with West Side real estate out of reach for today's middle class.
If the NPA party is truly interested in rebuilding and reaching out, I don't see any sign of it.
Take for example their first decision after the election. They announced that their AGM will take place on December 29th. That's a great outreach strategy if you want to sell egg nog, not rebuild a political group. Hold your first important meeting when most of your membership are out of town celebrating the holidays.
It appears there will be a number of new NPA Board directors elected that night. This new board will be there to guide the future of the NPA leading up to the next civic election. I predict that less than 200 voting delegates will be on-hand to determine the future of the NPA. This is a poor showing when you consider the membership of the party sits at around 5000 people.
The real question remains whether popular NPA councillor Suzanne Anton will have the stomach to stick around with whomever gets the crown on the 29th. I think she should observe from a distance and assess what rises from the ashes. If it looks like the new board is unwilling to do what it takes to renew the party, I wouldn't blame Anton a bit if she looked at all her options.
One of those options would be to pack up her bags (and the 55,000 votes she received) and start up a new truly centrist civic party in Vancouver, not beholden to labour groups or outside interests. A party that is socially progressive and fiscally conservative while remaining committed to putting Vancouver's interests above partisan politics. It would be a lot of work, but she only need look at how successful Mayor Dianne Watts has been in Surrey to understand what is possible.
If the NPA were truly interested in rebuilding and getting re-elected in 2011, here are a few things they would have already put on their to do list:
- Immediately appoint a Renewal and Outreach Committee made up of some of Vancouver's community leaders from every neighbourhood in the city. Have this committee hold a series of townhall style forums throughout Vancouver. Be prepared to listen.
- Reach out to the moderate left in Vancouver and begin recruiting a truly non-partisan slate of candidates and directors.
- Re-build frayed relations with both Tory and Liberal aparatchiks.
- Commit to working cooperatively with Anton & other caucus members, and offer them all the support and resources they can muster.
- Announce a special members forum to determine if the NPA membership actually sees a future for the association. If the answer is yes, listen to their ideas and get moving on implementing them well before the election.
- Hire a full-time Executive Director with expertise in change management, marketing and communications.
- Design and implement strategies that are focused on the long-term, not simply winning the next election.
- Begin calling themselves a political party and start acting like one.
If they look back at the last three years, the NPA could learn a lot from their Vision Vancouver colleagues regarding what it takes to win an election. I'm just not convinced they're ready to do that.
For that reason, I think the immediate future of Vancouver's NPA remains bleak.