Bickerton is hopeful there will be a lot more red on this map by 2011
After a bitter, divisive leadership battle and what can only be described as an electoral rout last November, some are questioning the relevance of a political party forged in the heated ideological battles of the 1930s.
Our new Mayor and his Vision team seem to be tackling our tough economic challenges and demonstrating competence in managing the major projects underway. They have shaken up a city hall that frankly needed it, and have brought renewed energy to the table, building on the extensive environmental and housing accomplishments of the previous NPA administration.
By contrast, a once-powerful NPA has been soundly rejected by the electorate and reduced to rump status at all three levels of civic government.
How did the longest-standing political party in Canada fall so far?
Stated simply, we lost touch with the voters of the city. To some, we appeared arrogant, believing we were the natural ruling party of the city and entitled to hold the keys to City Hall. The voters didn't take kindly to that assumption.
Second, we failed to exercise good governance when the Athlete's Village was allowed to morph into a city-backed development, turning the city into a de facto developer and greatly expanding the outsized role the city already plays as the largest land-owner in Vancouver. True, this was partly due to lame-headed decisions taken by previous councils, some run by those now pointing their fingers, but we should have done better, ensuring transparency of decision-making in the process.
So, why should anyone care about the NPA today?
First, because we are not your father's NPA. The new NPA Board is a young group of diverse community leaders committed to acknowledging past errors and completely rebuilding our party as a progressive force in city politics. We are diverse ethnically, by gender, by sexual orientation, by socioeconomic background, by philosophy and by occupation. In short, the new NPA is representative of the city we seek to help govern and we are actively working to reach out and renew our ties to every community in the city.
Second, because our dedication to keeping big-party politics out of City Hall trumps ideology. We are committed to taking the best ideas from all perspectives and finding pragmatic solutions that help bring the city together. It was the NPA that created more social housing than any previous administration - more than 2,000 units. And it was an NPA council that made Vancouver's environmental building standards the highest in North America.
Third, because we are committed to finding and backing the best strong, independent candidates, expert in crucial areas of the city's responsibilities. Strong, independent candidates don't have to vote in lock-step with their party, which has become a disappointing pattern under Vision. The voters and the city are cheated when policy is decided in secret. A diverse council of strong candidates will provide a thorough airing of ideas and projects that will produce better policy and permit much greater transparency of decision-making.
Unfortunately, instead of learning from the NPA's mistakes, Vision was in such a rush to get their hands on the levers of power that they immediately started making the same errors.
The in-camera meetings they lambasted during the campaign? They have held as many secret, in-camera meetings since taking office as the NPA ever did.
Vision now controls the Mayor's seat and nine of ten votes on council. Yet regular order is ignored and long-standing rules and council traditions are regularly broken to silence Councillor Anton's lone voice of opposition. Isn't council supposed to debate the issues?
Vision appointed politically-connected backers to every seat on the Board of Variance, which hears appeals from developers and has the authority to bypass zoning regulations. Yet when one of their own appointees complained that rules were being broken and secret meetings condoned, he was immediately fired, raising a cloud over the integrity of the city's planning process.
While our opponents seem to be offering the city a future Vision of never-ending partisanship, the new NPA offers a completely non-partisan vision for the city's future. It will fall to the voters of 2011 to decide which holds the most promise.
Sean Bickerton is a member of the NPA Board and was also a council candidate in the 2008 civic election in Vancouver.