Leaving Vision's herd may result in banishment to a lonely political wilderness
Say what you will about Gregor Robertson and his Vision caucus, but you certainly can’t fault them for holding together despite dark clouds on the horizon. Unlike the previous three regimes in Vancouver – led by mayors Philip Owen, Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan – this team clearly has the discipline to keep a lid on any kind of internal discord. That’s not to say that Vision is living on a Happy Planet, it’s just that they haven’t been willing to expose their divisions.
Despite Robertson’s steadily dropping approval ratings and the end of his media honeymoon, the Vision council caucus continues to publicly hold firm behind their mayor. It would appear no matter how serious Mayor Gregor’s policy or communication gaffes become, his caucus colleagues sit on their hands and let it continue to unfold.
As one of my Vision contacts joked with me yesterday, “the alarm bells could be ringing and the iceberg could be right off the bow, but these guys are sticking with Robertson through thick and thin. They’re not going to allow Vision implode like COPE and the NPA. Not a chance. Keep dreaming.”
Meanwhile, as the Mayor’s poll numbers continue to tumble and the NPA surprisingly appearing to gain momentum with voters (despite not even having a declared mayoral candidate), Vision are staying the course. Like lemmings, their caucus sit idly by as the Mayor presides over a council that's witnessing plummeting staff morale, historic cuts to the park board budget, and a controversial expansion of the PNE’s footprint.
Don’t any of them have the political acumen to realize that many of them won’t be re-elected in November if this continues? Several members of the current Vision team are going to be thrown off the island. The question is no longer about whether it will happen, but rather, it’s about which of the them will get the boot.
When it comes to holding together his potentially fractious coalition caucus, Robertson has two people making him vulnerable. No, I’m not referring to COPE councillor David “Carbon” Cadman, or even failed Vision leadership candidate Raymond Louie. Far from being the voice of reason, both of these politicians not only endorse Gregor's agenda, they’re helping to craft it from behind the scenes.
Gregor's dissenters are not at council but at the Vancouver Park Board, which under this Vision administration has seen their budget slashed for the last three budgets. The only two politicians in the Vision-COPE-Green coalition who've had the political smarts to stand up to Mayor Gregor are Green Party Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon, and Vision Park Board Chair Aaron Jasper.
Mackinnon – along with his NPA counterpart Ian Robertson – have been the only contrarians on a Park Board which has basically handed the keys of the operation over to the City Manager’s office. For example, despite facing repeated personal attacks from operatives within the coalition, Mackinnon continues to speak against the City Manager’s interference in Park Board operations. He’s also described his Vision Park Board colleagues as the least progressive bunch he’s seen.
By speaking out publicly, Mackinnon is demonstrating a trait that former NPA elected officials such as Gordon Price and Nancy Chiavario used to exhibit. They regularly openly challenged their NPA colleagues on various policy matters when they felt it was a matter of principle.
It was a time when the NPA’s role was to simply elect good candidates who were asked to leave their partisan politics at the door. I’m sure some of you remember those good old days when civic politicians in Vancouver were actually permitted to speak their mind on issues and not face the wrath of a caucus whip. Whereas if you're in the Vision caucus and speak out, you run the risk of losing your "cabinet portfolio."
If the NPA’s candidate recruitment committee were thinking, they’d be approaching Mackinnon now and ask him to maintain his Green credentials while joining their 2011 civic slate. Perhaps Stuart would even be open to moving up to council in order to work with a team truly interested in greening up the city through its park network.
Not sure if he’d be willing to make the move, but it would certainly shake Robertson’s coalition to the core if he did. The Mayor’s henchman should think about this prospect the next time they are about to push the send button on their next nasty press release aimed directly at Mackinnon.
Much to my surprise Aaron Jasper has also broken slightly free of the Mayor’s talking points this week. He’s finally stating that he won’t sit idly by as the Mayor moves to cut the Park Board core budget yet again. Too bad he was so quiet over the last two years, but better late than never I guess.
Many political watchers know that Jasper fancies himself as a possible mayoral candidate one day. Could that be what’s motivating him to speak out now? Is he trying to position himself as different from the nanomanagement style that has become the hallmark of Robertson’s term?
Regardless of what’s behind all Jasper's political posturing, park supporters are cautiously optimistic. That’s because with Mackinnon, Jasper and Robertson all saying they won’t support Mayor Gregor’s cuts, we could well see His Worship back down and restore some of the Board’s funding.
If the Mayor chooses to ignore the Park Board's concerns on this one again, he might discover that other members of his coalition will end their silence and speak up.
- Post by Daniel