Vancouver's municipal parties should hold open nominations

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Open nomination battles often provide the fuel for internal political battles

The issue of whether to protect incumbent politicians is always a thorny one for Vancouver's civic parties. On the one hand, they don't like the prospect of all the infighting that occurs during the nomination process. On the other hand, they are hard pressed to explain to voters why they're being undemocratic. For many, watching the civic parties determine whether to protect incumbents or not has become a fascinating spectator sport.

Vision Vancouver's unofficial "official" spokesperson on the blogosphere is now openly musing about how messy it might be if his party forces incumbents to run for nomination. The alternative is having the Vision board anoint everyone who already holds public office. If Vision goes down this incumbency protection path, it may well serve as one of the key issues that hurt them in the next civic election.

During the last term, Vision politicians took great pride in attacking former Mayor Sam Sullivan for the incumbency protection afforded to him and his caucus members by the NPA Board. If you recall, no sitting NPA mayor has ever been forced to run for nomination. Former Mayor Philip Owen, a man who successfully led the NPA to three back-to-back majority governments, never had to subject himself to an open nomination meeting. Rather, the NPA Board simply gave him a pass – as they did with previous mayors.

Despite originally agreeing to support the NPA Board's decision regarding incumbency protection, Peter Ladner eventually challenged the Mayor to an open nomination. We all know how that story ended up.

With Vision now in government, the shoe is clearly on the other foot. I'd lay money on the fact the people currently occupying those chamber chairs are not keen about the prospect of fighting each in a winner takes all nomination battle. That's why I suspect the Vision Board is likely weighing its options regarding whether to protect incumbents or not. The issue may well come up at their annual general meeting later this spring.

A worse case scenario for Vision is they need to keep a few seats open for COPE while running a nomination meeting that boots out one or more of their sitting members. What does that elected official do once they've been rejected by Vision's membership? Do they remain a member of the Vision caucus, or do they bolt to another political party? Do they suck it up, or sulk in the corner. Do they lash out at the leader in public, or simply bite their lip?

It's a very realistic scenario that could have major political ramifications for the governing party if they don't get it right. You don't believe me? Just check out the history books and read about some of the more controversial NPA nomination meetings. They were doozies.

My bet is there will be immense pressure (mostly from the politicians and their supporters) to have the Vision Board protect incumbents. They will likely cave after coming to the conclusion that the benefits of a closed nomination far outweigh the negatives. You can expect they'll trot out some warm and fuzzy Hollyhockish reason why they can't support democracy, then proceed as one big united family into the 2011 election.

So what happens to all those budding civic politicians who thought they had a fighting chance of joining the Vision team in 2011? Well, they'll have to take whatever scraps are left on the table. In regards to council, this will likely mean only 1 or 2 vacancies might be up for grabs – if they're lucky.

Vision Vancouver may well surprise us and open up the whole nomination process by allowing a free-for-all election. I wouldn't count on it as they've likely got enough political acumen to realize it has the potential to rip apart their fragile (Liberal/NDP) coalition, just as it got wings.

What do you think? Should all three of Vancouver's civic parties commit to an open and democratic process of electing their slates? Leave a comment below and let them know your perspective.

- post by Daniel


As a committed voter, I would welcome open nominations. The more information on prospective councillors the better decision I can make. However, the current apathy in voting makes manipulation of the nomination process necessary to ensure who gets elected. Wouldn't want to leave the election results up to the voter who might actually make informed choices (regardless of affiliation) rather than vote a slate.

If the selection of party candidates were done by means of 'primaries' with public participation it might go some way to giving the current system some democratic legitimacy. Of course that won't happen so the question of whether or not incumbents should be challenged is essentially irrelevant. The choice here, not made by the public, is just two alternative ways for political insiders to fix the all important party list.

The survival in Vancouver of the 'at large' system is a tribute to ( or indictment of ) the success of the city's oligarchy in protecting its interests and promoting political apathy. Whatever the result of the next election we can be sure that the only important decisions will have been made in advance by a very small number of people and that all policy decisions will be consequently skewed in their favour.

No political system is perfect but to create and then sustain one like ours, with all the worst features of the various alternatives rolled into one, is quite something!

With great respect, Daniel.

Mayoral candidates should be subjected to open nominations when it's clear that they have not provided DEFINITIVE leadership, such that a run at re-election would not likely bear fruit.

Philip Owen was squeezed out by Lady Macbeth's court without good reason.

Sam, on the other hand...

First - we have to get rid of municipal parties. Each candidate should run independently as was the original concept of municipal politics. This would ensure a democratic process, rather than what we have today: block voting by party line.

Well first that's not going to happen and second, even without parties the number of candidates in a city-wide list would still bamboozle the average voter, as it does now and as it is intended to do.

Check out!

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