Back in the spring of 2008 former NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan was fighting for his political life. For weeks he waited anxiously as his caucus colleague Peter Ladner hummed and hawed about whether he was going to challenge him in an open nomination. Reports began leaking out that Ladner was even holding private meetings with his long-time friend Mike Magee (currently Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Chief of Staff) regarding his political future.
In an unprecedented move, Ladner finally announced he wanted to challenge Sullivan. In response, the Mayor said said he was open to the battle..well...the rest is now history. Ladner narrowly beat out Sullivan for the nomination then went on to lead his NPA team to one of its worst electoral defeats in history. Magee's Vision Vancouver won a massive 10-1 majority.
As the entire Sullivan vs. Ladner drama was unfolding, cheering on the sidelines was Vision Vancouver who regularly taunted Sullivan about his stance regarding the incumbency protection offered to him by the NPA Board. “What are you afraid of...” they shouted. “An open nomination process is fundamental to the democratic process...” cried Vision’s elected officials.
Fast forward to the fall of 2010 and the NPA/Vision/COPE parties are now on the verge of determining the process whereby they will manage their respective nomination meetings. How each of the parties handle (or mishandle) their respective nomination process will play a key role in the their future political success.
In the NPA’s case, they are trailing badly in the polls, desperate for donations and volunteers. As a result, their path has been made somewhat clearer. They are holding early nominations this November which will help to secure candidates for council, school and park board. In 2011, they will nominate their mayoral candidate and the rest of their slate. With such a small caucus, there is no need for incumbency protection this time around. At 30% in the polls without a leader, the NPA brand still commands enough respect to keep the party together and likely attract a respectable slate of candidates.
As for Vision Vancouver, things are more complicated and could get a tad more heated. This is the party that campaigned on open nominations and increased democracy back in 2008. Affording their leader and other elected officials incumbency protection is bound to generate a negative reaction from some of their 16,000+ members. And we can’t forget what their coalition of the willing partners COPE and the Green Party will have to say. For instance, COPE councillor Tim Louis has already publicly mused about how Vision and COPE should hold a joint mayoral nomination meeting. Word is that if Vision agrees to Louis’ proposal, he may well throw his name in the ring and give the Mayor a run for his money. Although we all know what the eventual outcome would be.
Protecting the Vision incumbents would beg the obvious question regarding how committed the Vision Vancouver party is to basic democratic principles. After all, if they truly believe in democracy, wouldn’t they open up every single position and their members decide who should be on the slate in ‘11? Likely not, as it may well serve to sideline a few of their less effective caucus members during the nomination process. Just imagine the scenario of a Heather Deal or Tim Stevenson losing out in a nomination battle despite the fact they will remain an elected member of the caucus through to November 2011. Not pretty.
I think Vision will plug their nose, do the unthinkable and tidily protect all of their caucus members from a potentially nasty and bitter nomination battle. This is despite the fact they levelled countless nasty barbs at Sullivan for merely contemplating a similar political path. Oh...how politics can be a funny place when the shoe is on the other foot.
A decision to protect all of the incumbents will not be without its critics. First and foremost, what's left of their 16,000+ members of the Vision party may well have a different perspective regarding how to handle democracy within their party. There may be a group of members who consider incumbency protection an affront to democracy, and decide to challenge the Vision executive to a public battle. This is a distinct possibility, but not a likely one given Vision Vancouver's propensity for quashing any kind of open dissent in their party.
You can also expect the media will want to weigh in on Vision’s incumbency protection plan. City Hall watchers such as Allen Garr and Frances Bula, who used up barrels of ink writing about the divisive battle between Sullivan and Ladner, will surely hammer Vision for this undemocratic undertaking. Or will they? I know I may get attacked here, but with her years of experience in the civic arena, I still have confidence that Bula will report on all the ugly details as she sees it.
In the end, Vision will ignore the chattering classes and simply look at the high poll numbers as justification to forge ahead with a plan to get as many people elected as possible. It might not be pretty, but in the end limiting the amount of new blood that will infuse itself into the Vision caucus is the only realistic option they have at this stage of their young party’s evolution. Anything else could serve to rip apart their fragile coalition.
There isn’t much to write about COPE as their ongoing strategy of not running a mayoral candidate will finally guarantee their wipe out in 2011. Even if Vision does graciously only run 8 spots for council and leaves two open for COPE candidates, they will surely be squeezed out by a resurgent NPA party bound to win at least 3-4 seats in the next election.
Similar to COPE, the civic Green Party’s only hope to take a seat on council is if both the NPA and Vision leave two empty spots on their slate. They could then run a credible mayoral candidate who may help raise their profile and give them the edge over their COPE rivals.
As we head into the busy fall season, all the political parties are now busily preparing for how they will handle the potentially thorny issue of nominating candidates to their slate. Vision clearly has the most to lose in this high stakes gamble of who will win the hearts and minds of Vancouverites in a little over 12 months from now.
Assuming both the major parties only run 8 candidates for council, I’d say the odds are 2 to 1 in favour of a council made up of 7 Vision, 3 NPA and one Green candidate. Then again, it only takes one major scandal to shift those sands very quickly. With all the craziness happening at Vancouver City Hall these days, it sure gives credence to the old saying "a week in politics is a lifetime".
- post by Daniel