Are Vision and the NPA really identical twins separated at birth?
I attended an event recently and an acquaintance of mine started talking to me about the future of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) in Vancouver. Yes, the conversation actually lasted more than a nanosecond. He made an interesting statement to me when he said "who needs the NPA when you've got Vision." Huh, what was he talking about? Aren't these two political parties arch-enemies?
As the evening wore on, he went on to make a pretty credible case as to why the future of the NPA looks so grim and more than a few folks are talking quietly about reviving TEAM as a possible alternative to the Vision juggernaut. Heck, if COPE can implode and win as Vision, surely the NPA can implode and win as TEAM.
Before all my NPA and Vision friends begin sending me more hate mail, I thought you might be interested in what led my friend to make his statement. After a bit of an email exchange, I can provide you with a summary of his analysis. Here is how it goes:
BC Liberal influence: Previous NPA administrations were accused of having a cozy relationship with the BC Liberal government and various cabinet ministers. Yet Mayor Robertson basically endorsed Gordon Campbell in the last provincial election campaign. Robertson also muzzled his caucus members during the election and kept the anti-BC Liberal rhetoric to a minimum. Robertson only endorsed the NDP candidate in the dying days of the campaign when it would make no difference at all. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Donors: The NPA are funded mainly by the development community. Vision is funded mainly by the development industry. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Lobbyists: Vision screamed like stuck pigs when NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan hired former BC Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant to work on supporting the city's efforts to get more funding from Victoria. Vision recently hired former BC Liberal candidate Robin Adair as their new government relations go to guy in Victoria. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Tax Shift: In order to provide tax equity, the NPA adopted of policy of annually shifting one percent of taxes paid by businesses onto the tax rolls of homeowners. Despite howls of criticism, Vision's first budget included a large tax break for businesses when they continued on with the NPA's previous tax shift policy. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
EcoDensity: The previous NPA administration developed an innovative initiative called EcoDensity. When in opposition, Vision railed against it. But now that they're in government, EcoDensity is passing with flying colours. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Project Civil City: The previous NPA administration brought in Project Civil City to help the homeless and restore order on Vancouver's streets. Although Vision has dropped the brand name, the Vancouver Police Department recently handed out over 1000 tickets (mainly to poor and homeless people) as part of a crackdown in the Downtown Eastside. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Campaign Finance Reform: The NPA was accused of hiding donor contributions and refusing to continuously disclose who was bankrolling the party. Now Vision is being accused of hiding donor contributions and refusing to continuously disclose who's bankrolling their party. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Fiscal Responsibility: The NPA have always been known as the party of fiscal responsibility. Yet in modern history they never implemented a single restraint program that led to major layoffs at city hall. As a cost cutting measure, Vision is now conducting a Core Services Review which could result in up to 200 job losses. The unions will have to live with the plan as they have no one else they can vote for. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Housing: The previous NPA administration was focused on securing funding from the provincial government and private sector sources to build over 3800 units of long-term housing. Vision has focused on building more temporary shelters to sweep homeless people off the street and into residential neighbourhoods throughout the city. Mayor Robertson has attended numerous ribbon cutting ceremonies with Minister Rich Coleman as a result of the work done by the previous NPA council. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Olympic Village: The previous NPA administration was accused of fiscal mismanagement by Vision for its ballooning costs at the Olympic Village project. The current Vision administration refuses to sell off the $800K+ social housing units and build or buy them at less of a cost elsewhere in the city. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Olympic Legacy Fund: The NPA set up a $20 million dollar legacy fund to help communities celebrate the Games. Vision denounced it. Since taking power, Vision has spent every last penny of the fund. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
311: The NPA initiated a $10 million dollar 311 citizen service line to better connect citizens with Vancouver city hall. Vision denounced it, but since taking over government has quietly been implementing the program and plan to officially launch it this fall. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Consultation: The NPA was accused (mainly by Robertson) of not properly consulting with merchants along the Cambie Street corridor when it came to the Canada Line construction. Mayor Robertson is now being accused of not consulting with merchants along Hornby Street impacted by the Burrard Bridge lane reallocation trial. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
Police: The NPA hired 96 cops in their last year in office. Vision endorsed that plan and moved forward with the hiring despite budget pressures facing other departments. Who needs the NPA when you have Vision.
There have been a few insignifcant areas where the two parties differ such as backyard chickens, Burrard Bridge and funding the Ambassador program. In addition, the makeup of the various caucuses is quite different with the NPA traditionally being dominated heavily with centre right politicians (and a sprinkling from the left on occasion). While Vision is union-based and leans heavy to the left with a couple in the centre. There is not a fiscal conservative within the Vision ranks.
However, as my friend so aptly points out, on the major stuff "you can hardly tell the difference between the NPA and Vision on any given day. Their policies are almost identical."
Therein lies the problem for the re-building of the NPA. Vision publicly claims to be a softer more gentle party than the NPA, but when push comes to shove, it is the NPA. In fact, on some issues, it has gone further to the right than the NPA could have ever dreamed.
These are dark days indeed for the once mighty NPA. I'm told donations have fizzled, volunteer interest is non-existent, and despite having a number of bright, well-intentioned citizens who sit on the board, the NPA is dying a slow death. All it will take now is for the board to realize the patient is on life-support and the intravenous drip is about to run dry.