Whither the NPA? Discussing the future of Vancouver's longstanding civic party

Post by Mike Klassen in

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NPA Mayors: should past electoral success count when it comes to Vancouver's future?

The silence is almost deafening in NPA Land. Does Canada's oldest civic electoral organization, the Civic Non-Partisan Association, have any life left in it? We've posed this question several times over the past year, and have yet to get a definitive response. There are murmurs of behind-the-scenes activity but little evidence to show for it. There are rumblings that something new will arise out like a Phoenix from the NPA's remains, but it's little more than talk. Either way, there clearly is a vacuum on the centre-right of Vancouver's political spectrum, and the folks running City Hall today are just fine with that.

CityCaucus.com will have a few posts about the NPA over the next couple of days, in advance of the organization's Wednesday evening AGM taking place at the Vancouver Museum (aka Planetarium). First, we'll feature commentary from Sean Bickerton, former City Council candidate and current serving member of the NPA Board. We'll follow up Sean's views with a critical counterpoint by CityCaucus.com's Daniel Fontaine.

NPA governments have had a long history helping to shape the city we know today. It has not been without controversy and setbacks, but thankfully politics allows for imperfections. For example, we can thank former NPA Mayor Gerry McGeer for his efforts to locate Vancouver's City Hall at 12th & Cambie (formerly known as Strathcona Park), making it the first city hall in Canada to be located in a suburb and not downtown. McGeer was attacked endlessly by critics for the decision, but was stlll re-elected with a large majority.

NPA Mayor Fred Hume, who governed most of the 1950s, was a wealthy fellow who lived in West Vancouver and donated his mayor's salary to charity. Hume was responsible for his dedication to creating huge amounts of rental housing in Vancouver, to meet the needs of the rapidlly growing city.

Mayor Tom Campbell - a big law and order booster - was considered a dinosaur by critics, and his brass knuckle style was at odds with Vancouver's growing counter-culture movement of the late 1960s. However, Campbell, and Mayor Bill Rathie before him, governed the city as the West End neigbourhood was zoned for dozens of new high-rise rental apartment buildings. Today, the West End is the envy of other cities on the continent who've fled their cores for the suburbs, and the rental stock in this community provides some of Vancouver's most affordable housing.

Gordon Campbell, the young city councillor who worked for a developer, became mayor after stitching together the remains of the TEAM-dominated governments before him, and turning the NPA into a more diverse organization. Mayor Gordon Campbell also led the way on CityPlan, the citywide neighbourhood consultation program which has given local communities the ability to plan and shape the streets where they live.

Mayor Philip Owen governed during a time of huge change and large developments. The north side of False Creek, with its podium/tower high-density configuration, aka Vancouverism, is now being emulated in communities around the globe. Mayor Owen also created the political breathing room for the Four Pillars program to take shape.

While it's fine for CityCaucus.com to recount some leadership shown by past NPA governments, it should be the job of that organization to let citizens know what it has done, and can do if given the chance to govern again. Eleven months of utter silence is not building anticipation. The NPA are not the next album by Guns N Roses.

What will become of Vancouver in the Age of Vision, and will there ever again be a contender to take on the mighty labour-backed organization with seemingly endless amounts of cash? Is the plastic surgery being conducted on City Hall today, and the politicization of the civil service, going to leave permanent scars for future governments?

For most of the past seventy-one years the NPA's political strength in Vancouver was as certain as death and taxes. No longer, however. Can the NPA muster the strength to take on the Vision behemoth in 2011? It's definitely going to take a lot more than a few cases of Mountain Dew to get a pulse back into this organization.

Take the CityCaucus.com Poll Question! What is the future of Vancouver's NPA?

4 Comments

The real question: will developers with seemingly endless amounts of cash support the NPA once more and make it again a contender?

Accepted Canadian usage of the word 'suburb' is in reference to areas beyond a city's boundaries. Last time I checked, 12th & Cambie lay well within Vancouver's city limits, and has done so for a number of decades. Vancouver's City Hall is not in 'the suburbs', as you claim. It is simply located a few blocks away from the downtown core.

Nothing groundbreaking about that.

When the decision to build was made to build city hall out of downtown in during Mayor McGeer's term in the mid-1930s, 12th and Cambie was well outside of the city's downtown core. The south boundary of the City of Vancouver was 16th Avenue until amalgamation with the City of Point Grey and the Municipality of South Vancouver in 1929.

Remarkably, the whole building was erected in a year, foundation to occupancy in 330 days.

When city hall was built, it was in the depths of the depression. Lots of anger on the streets thanks to high unemployment.

Developers are indeed big supporters of Vancouver's political system. However, if you were to analyze the lists of donors in the past 2 elections, and compare the support of labour to that of developers, you'd quickly discover who the biggest donors are.

Also, developers by in large give to all parties. Sure, they favour "business-friendly" parties over left wing groups, but they still have supported Vision Vancouver all along. Now that Vision has shifted hard to the right, they'll continue to support them even more.

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