Can a new NPA website attract disaffected voters back into the fold?
A reader emailed CityCaucus.com to remind me that I promised to provide some kind of post-mortem on the organization's AGM last Wednesday. I wish I had something scintillating to share, but I don't. As I said the morning after to Rick Cluff on CBC Radio's Early Edition, there is a long road ahead for Vancouver's grand old association.
It didn't have to be that way of course, but in the case of the NPA some kind of Texas stand-off has occurred that prevents real, and tangible action to move them from virtual obscurity into the role as political opposition. There is a new NPA website promised (their fourth re-design in just over a year) but unless it can do your laundry and improve your World of Warcraft score, another stop on the interweb is not going to turn the tide for this moribund group.
Today's Courier has some good writing on the NPA's dilemma. Mark Hasiuk has written a good opinion piece that lays it all out in black and white:
At last Wednesday's AGM, the NPA reduced its membership fees to $10, down from $20. In theory, the reduced rate will attract more people to a party traditionally associated with old, white West Side money...
Failing a major Vision scandal, the 2011 election seems already lost.
Mike Howell interviews outgoing president Michael Davis (who is remaining on the board in a communications role), who puts the best face possible on the situation:
"I was actually quite pleased to see 50 people there. It's just not a big deal. But looking forward at future party events, are people going to come back? That's the question."
There are already those who think that the NPA is merely on life support, and that something new will rise from the ashes. Is Vancouver, as Allen Garr opined after the last election results were in, no longer an NPA town?
I'd hold off on any plans for a funeral for at least a few more months. Yes, the organization has become caught up in too much navel gazing and not enough outreach to supporters, but politics is a volatile thing in our city. As former NPA city councillor Jonathon Baker said to me before we went on air last week, one spark could set the whole thing alight.
Do you think that Vision Vancouver don't know this? Don't bet on it. They're stockpiling as many resources as they can to wage war on the NPA in 2011. Yes, the NPA is still a threat if one of two important ingredients are added:
- An issue
- A highly electable leader
Vancouver politics revolves around the cult of personality. Gordon Campbell, Mike Harcourt, Larry Campbell, Gregor Robertson and even Sam Sullivan were mayors who were able to excite a constituency. Larry rode the Dominic DaVinci anti-hero persona right into office. Sam drew upon big backing in Vancouver's ethnic communities. Gregor bonded NDPers, Greens and left-leaning Liberals to defeat Peter Ladner.
What leader could connect with Vancouver voters enough to drive them to the polls? People suggest that Gregor is a shoo-in for 2011, but running on your record is sometimes harder. If people are not happy with the results, the door is open for a contender.
As for an issue, sometimes it only takes one to put you over the top. Last year, it was arguably the Athlete's Village issue. If not for that, it might have been an unpaid Skytrain ticket. In 2002, the "Lady MacBeth" issue and the apparent split within the NPA ranks provided the bump that swept COPE into office.
Of course, this might all be wishful thinking. There may be no issue, nor any candidate to deny Vision another term, or more, in government.
The NPA still has several assets. It still is the one place where independents, Conservatives & Liberals can group around a common slate. It's an organization that has shown the ability to quickly respond to the political mood, and the resilience to reform itself over and over again. In the end, Vancouver wants what the NPA most often delivers – competent & compassionate government, good candidates, and sound fiscal management. To suggest that Vancouver is no longer looking to buy what the NPA is selling, would probably not be correct.
But if the Non-Partisan Association thinks it can just go underground, and not reach out to voters, it's kidding itself. My candid advice to their board is this – stop hiding and get your butt in gear.