In some ways the NPA dinner last Wednesday evening was like a high school reunion. Many faces, young and not so young gathered to show their support for change in Vancouver's government. The concept of bringing together some of the NPA's legacy candidates and a former mayor was an interesting one that was surprisingly effective at dealing with old grievances that the NPA must put aside to move forward. The only painful part was having to listen through all those speeches.
In the room at the Italian Cultural Centre were many business reps, developers, law firms, Conservatives, Liberals, east siders, west siders, community representatives and several longstanding friends of Vancouver's NPA. The NPA caucus was joined by a handful of past elected officials, a few prospective candidates, and even Vision's Jim Green tagged along to witness the spectacle as guest of developer Rob Macdonald.
Also seated in the room were several of my media/blogger colleagues. They were three true media veterans who've covered all things City Hall for the past two decades – Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee, The Courier's Allen Garr and the Globe and Mail/State of Vancouver's Frances Bula, as well as a reporter from CKNW News. You have to wonder how many rubber chicken dinners these guys have covered.
By the way, another good reason to follow @CityCaucus on Twitter is that we were live tweeting all evening from the event.
The elephant in the room on Wednesday evening was how would the two former adversaries of the last council greet each other. Former mayoral candidate Peter Ladner was upbeat and gracious, giving praise to former Mayor Sam Sullivan, the recent recipient of an honorary membership from the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
You have to give Peter a lot of credit. Despite the fact every member of the former NPA council caucus who attended (Kim Capri was notably absent) sat at Sam Sullivan's table, he was a true statesman in his remarks. He could have been coy or avoided making eye contact with them, but he didn't. As reported by Frances Bula, Ladner said:
I learned in 2008 that leadership means working with a united party.
The occasion was really about burying the hatchet, with former NPA adversaries coming together and making nice in front of a room that wishes they would form a strong alternative to Vision Vancouver next year. Which is why the one person stood out during the evening, NPA Park Board commissioner Ian Robertson.
Robertson as the sole NPA representative on the Vancouver Park Board has had his work cut out for him. He's been good on a number of issues, including defending the Bloedel Conservatory and protecting the independence of the Park Board from City Hall. To date we've never seen Robertson be particularly political, with the exception of his release last summer on the cuts to summer youth programs.
Robertson was the first of only two members of the entire NPA caucus to come out against the leader during 2008's divisive fight between Ladner and Sullivan that nearly killed the NPA. It's a fact that many in the room probably hadn't forgotten. From that perspective then, Robertson's number one goal should have been to show that he was back onside, and ready to work cohesively with the entire NPA team.
However, it would not be so.
Members of the caucus spoke after Jonathon Baker (Dunbar's perhaps loudest voice for single-family living who spoke about an HBO TV show he loves), Jennifer Clarke, Ladner and Sullivan (who gave a shout out to CityCaucus.com, garnering us a nice cheer from the room). Then Ken Denike and Carol Gibson both gave thanks for the support of their challenging work on the Vision/COPE dominated School Board.
Robertson's speech channeled some angry feelings toward Vision Vancouver. His remarks such as "this is an extremist, heavily partisan mayor ... leading a council with a radical agenda" were simply over the top and completely unnecessary in my opinion. That tone may be a successful recipe for some in the blogosphere, but it went over like a lead balloon with most of the rank and file in the room. If this was Robertson's attempt at positioning himself as a leading contender for the NPA mayoral ticket, he may want to rethink his strategy and focus more on the positive along with bringing forward some new ideas.
The Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee noted Robertson's obvious snub of former Mayor Sam Sullivan who sat only feet away from him as he delivered his address. Not once, but twice, Robertson painstakingly mentioned how we need to go back to the good old days when Philip Owen was mayor. Robertson contends that Owen was the last "consensus builder" mayor we've seen in Vancouver.
Given the theme of the night was "leadership", Robertson's pointless snub only helps to indicate he remains in a very small coterie of individuals who truly have no interest in burying the hatchet. My advice to Robertson is to review Ladner's speech – because that one was actually classy.
Councillor Anton also gave a rousing address with undertones of a mayoralty bid. However as people left the room the general feeling was that the NPA's next mayoralty candidate wasn't anyone who got up to speak that night. Let me re-iterate, Suzanne Anton is a great councillor, but I still think she should declare sooner, rather than later that she has no intention of running for the NPA mayoralty. By doing so, she would provide her political party some room to move as they seek out a mayoral candidate next spring.
I didn't have a lot of expectations for the NPA dinner other than to see some old friends and media colleagues. However, I will say that I left with the feeling that there is some momentum going the NPA's way. Their upcoming early nominations will be an interesting process to watch, but realistically it will be next spring before we really see the NPA show its cards. Only then will we be able to judge whether they'll be a real contender in 2011 or not. Clearly not only is the fat lady not singing, she never even showed up to the party.
- post by Daniel