NPA 2011: A roadmap for Vancouver's centre-right party

Post by Mike Klassen in


The NPA must campaign when the people are engaged, as Truman once did

Just as it was in November 2002, Vancouver's NPA was reduced to rump status during the 2008 election. Some pundits quickly suggested that the tide had turned permanently, and that the NPA was an anachronism. Those of little faith began to doubt whether the NPA brand had any cachet left with voters, and whispers began of trying to create something new.

Their confidence was so shaken that the NPA itself seriously considered throwing away their name. Thankfully those who were still involved agreed with the words of Vancouver business pioneer Charles Flavelle – the former owner of Purdy's Chocolates – who argued vehemently at a general meeting that the NPA must remain the NPA because established brands are too valuable to give up.

As we enter an election year the prospects for Vancouver's NPA seem to have measurably changed. They no longer appear to be a political group at death's door. Some muse, perhaps over-optimistically, that the NPA may form majorities on city council, park and school board in November. Whatever happens in the next nine months, I believe there is no doubt in my mind that Vision & COPE's super-majorities are threatened. The NPA will elect several more people than they did in 2008.

However, there are endless ways the NPA may, so to speak, drop the ball as they run toward the end zone.

It happened during the NPA's miraculous political recovery in 2005, where they won majorities on city council, school board and park board. However, each of these bodies instead of upholding strong caucus solidarity, ultimately split. NPA elected officials in both the school and park board left their caucus, and of course an NPA member of council decided to run against the NPA mayor.

Weakened solidarity within the NPA led to their wipeout in 2002. The split in COPE led to their defeat in 2005. And the NPA's failure to remain unified almost decimated them in 2008. Clearly, unless everyone in the NPA can remain united, they will make no gains this November.

A mistake the NPA board is purportedly set to make which could hurt the party's prospects are plans for early candidate elections in the spring. The idea of electing candidates a year out from an election may have seemed like a good idea on paper during 2010, but there is no question that acclamation of three candidates, and the decision to elect only one park candidate last November was a failed plan. It's no reflection upon the people the four people the NPA will run in the upcoming election to say that appointing candidates was an idea that didn't meet the goals the organization set out for itself.

The fact is that no one except for a very small group cares about municipal politics until a few weeks before Election Day. Candidate elections used to happen around Labour Day until 2005, when the NPA board thought it was a good idea to choose candidates in two sessions in May & September. The candidates who ran in May practically sailed in, whereas the candidates who ran in September had a true contest that invigorated membership ranks and created buzz around the NPA.

All that buzz around the NPA will not exist if candidates are voted in by the membership six months out from an election. Like last November, the vast majority of the NPA rank and file do not care and will not come out to vote. This is one important reason that instead of voting in candidates this spring, the NPA board should instead open up nominations for seats on council, school and park board. They should leave the membership vote for these candidates until after Labour Day.

However, when it comes to who will run for the NPA's mayoralty candidate, it would be helpful for prospective NPA candidates to know who might get that job before deciding to run. By knowing who will be the NPA's mayoral candidate, the organization can better woo strong candidates for council, park and school board.

For example, when Christy Clark faced off against Sam Sullivan in 2005, both camps had at least a couple of months to sell memberships and build their campaign teams. The building excitement about who would win that contest was a critical piece of the NPA's victory in 2005.

Exactly how and when the NPA chooses their candidate for mayor is open for debate. Candidate selection meetings are a huge drain on party resources, so you really only want to have one gathering if possible. Perhaps the NPA could stagger the deadlines so that mayoralty nominees must be set before the other spots on the slate. For example, the deadline for mayoral nominations could be set by June 15, and all other candidates by July 15.

Another important consideration why the NPA shouldn't nominate candidates early is because we have no idea what Vision Vancouver's strategy is. Vision have not yet revealed how they will approve candidates for the 2011 election. We do not know the date of their meeting, nor whether they'll open up the slate to all comers or provide incumbency protection (something they railed against in 2008). We also do not know how many spots Vision will keep open for COPE, nor do we know if COPE will run a mayoralty candidate.

Not knowing exactly who your opponent will be is a surefire way to lose. I recollect that during 2008 Vision set all their key deadlines for candidate selections until after the NPA had theirs. It was just a good strategy, and you can bet once again they're waiting to hear when the NPA will announce theirs first.

Another reason to halt plans for more early nominations is the fact that six-month campaigns are needlessly expensive and exhausting. I ran the campaign for an NPA council candidate who was nominated in May 2005. In the end the candidate spent a lot of money and didn't win. It was grueling work with a high personal cost. If we could have done it all over again I would have strongly urged the candidate to consider running in September and not May.

There are more arguments for stalling the candidate elections, but the NPA board has traditionally not been a very nimble organization. I think as a group representing free enterprisers the NPA board should adopt an important tenet of business, which is to admit when your strategy isn't working and adapt. Good businesspeople do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and develop their strategy from there. Today, the NPA cannot know what many of these factors are.

One could argue that the longer you let the attention remain on Vision Vancouver, their accumulating mistakes will drive more people to the NPA. Vision already have the reputation for creating a sealed fortress around City Hall, and for impregnating the public service with accommodating political friendlies. They are also known as social engineers who are more focused on paying lip service to the environment through ideas like backyard chicken policies.

It's my opinion that Gregor Robertson & Vision are out of step with the majority of Vancouver voters.

The opportunity for the NPA today is to build the very best team possible to take into the 2011 election. Only as the months pass and we get closer to November will we see viable candidates drawn into the NPA fold. To really succeed in November the NPA must have two key strategies:

  • The #1 strategy should be to win six seats on city council. You win six seats then you win government or;
  • The #2 strategy should be to win a minimum four seats on city council. By winning four seats you immediately take away "super-majority" status for mayor and council. All key votes on by-laws, grants and motions for reconsideration require the approval by eight members of council. If you have four NPA city council candidates you take that ability away, and immediately force the government into compromises.

If the NPA simply become more dominant without winning government, then the re-energized NPA opposition must focus on winning it all in 2014.

One of the keys to winning the additional seats on city council – remember this is goal #1 – is keeping your incumbent representative. While Suzanne Anton may be asking herself if running for mayor is in her future, if her commitment is to bring back good governance to the City of Vancouver she would be putting all of her energy into a return to council where the chances of her success are highest.

The NPA must set out with a mission to bring back accountability to City Hall, Park and School Board. A campaign message which asks voters to help the NPA return a strong opposition may have the effect of bringing out more votes. Students of Canadian politics will recall that this "strong opposition" strategy worked for Bob Rae, who did the unthinkable by forming an NDP government in Ontario.

The NPA must also campaign on a message that they will bring back Vancouver's traditionally non-partisan public service. The NPA have always supported the idea that we need a public service that tells political decision-makers what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. The NPA should tell voters that they will promise a full review of all senior management appointments during Vision Vancouver's term, in order to ensure that the work of building our city is not tainted by partisan politics.

Vancouver's NPA have a real chance at expanding their influence over the affairs of the city, provided they are strategic. There are many citizens who are desperately looking for an alternative to vote for next November that isn't Vision Vancouver or COPE. Winning will require adopting some of the tactics of successful past elections, such as delaying the nomination of candidates.

As things wind down on the provincial leadership contests, we might see Vancouver's most experienced centre-right political operatives turn their attention back to civic politics. With their influence the NPA will make the right calculations on who to run, and when to ask the membership to choose their candidates.

- post by Mike


Man you guys sure are beating this same old paradigm to death.

This is the funniest line:

"in order to ensure that the work of building our city is not tainted by partisan politics."

As if lol!!

All tactics, no reason here to even consider the NPA. I think you guys actually have some policy ideas hidden somewhere. Let's get them out. I for one like to be able to have chickens in my back yard, like the bike lanes and want to see a lot more, like the use of on-line media to interact with people and generally think what Hollyhock has been advocating over the past years makes a lot more sense than the Haprer approach. But at least I know what Harper's policies are. I have no idea if the NPA even has any policies other than to somehow claw its way back to power. That sucks, as democracy only works when there are real alternatives. Hopefully the NPA can come up with some.

Is it better to elect good people who will weigh each vote based on the merits of the policy? Or, to elect a bunch of politicians like those in Vision who make a bunch of policy promises then proceed to break most of them. And no Steve, don't ask me to list all the promises they've broken, you can go research that yourself.

I know which group of politicians I prefer. Give me some good, bright candidates who will put the interests of our city and neighbourhoods before those of their US based multi-millionaire funders.

The silence in this thread is deafening.

The thing is Steven the only idea they have is the single consuming one of getting rid of gregor. Not a very positive one!

There are only three issues in civic politics. 1) taxes; 2) development; 3) transportation (which is really a development issue). The NPA's problem is that only one one of these issues, transportation, is there any significant difference.
The Vision council realized that it had to raise taxes last year and keep the rise much lower this year; it agreed with the NPA's policy of shifting the tax burden from business (really landlords)to homeowners. The Vision council is pro-development, probably as much as if not more so than the NPA. And, since the 1960s decision NOT to have freeways within the city (except largely underground along the far eastern border), the transportation policies of both parties is similar. There is some difference regarding bicycle lanes, but even the NPA councilor voted in favour of Hornby Street at first. The bike lanes aren't a major irritant for most Vancouver voters anyway. All the rest (chickens in backyards, Green City stuff, car free days, etc. & etc.) is minor and mostly symbolic.
The NPA's problem is how do you get support (especially money from its usual source, the business and development communities) when there are no significant differences with your opposition. The answer is: you can't. Eventually, Vision will screw up and alienate enough people to create the opportunity for an NPA revival. But I don't think that will happen before 2011. But you never can tell.
Now if the opposition were COPE, things would be different!

" Give me some good, bright candidates who will put the interests of our city and neighbourhoods before those of their US based multi-millionaire funders."

Can you give an example of Vision putting the interests of their supposed 'US based multi-millionaire funders' ahead of Vancouver?

And who are these "good, bright candidates"? I haven't seen any NPA candidates show up that meet this description, though I hope they do. I like to have choices.

Ask who these bright npa'ers are and you get silence.

Actually, boohoo, I've been quite impressed with Bill McCreery for starters and he will be getting my vote, the first I've ever cast for the NPA. Also, despite feeling that her performance has been rather variable, I'll vote for Suzanne Anton who has done her thankless job as the sole opposition councillor facing an arrogant majority.

If Mike were to stand I think he would certainly deserve respect and would get my vote. Another NPA possibility that I have started to consider seriously, rather to my surprise, is Sean Bickerton, in part because believing in local representation I'd like to see someone from the DTES in council. That is to say someone, you may guess who I mean, that doesn't have his finger in the pie.

As time goes on others may come forward and I will also study the other existing candidates. What is certain is that none of those Vision/COPE councillors that I voted for last time round will get my support in this election. My only consolation so far as they are concerned is that at least I don't have Gregor on my conscience.

Millionaire fare evaders have never been my cup of overpriced fruit juice.

everything david hadaway said...

Ahh, ok. So bright new candidates = same old.

Got it. And you expect something different because....?


instead of sarcasm and attacks against me for my opinion, why not give us your ideas... why don't you run... you seem to have all the ideas....share them.

The point is boohoo we work with the choices we have... and Vision isn't working

"The point is boohoo we work with the choices we have"

Demand better. If you get presented at dinner a plate full of shit and a plate half full of shit, do you take the half plate because it's the best choice at that time?

The problem with the current system is you can't get better, you get the same old party lines. It's incredible that you think electing the NPA in will be in any way different that vision. It might not be bike lanes, it will be some other menial topic. But in the end, same old.

If you don't like the system stop wasting so much time here ...

go out and change it...put your money where your mouth is as they say..

when was the last time you attended a Council meeting?


Do you like the system? Do you think it's working?

Stop deflecting boo I asked you questions play fair and answer... then you can a question..
you always do this...stop arguing for the sake of's pointless

still deflecting.. answer the questions boo

What questions--do I attend council meetings?

What good would attending council meetings be when the party system trumps all rational decision making?

Do you think the system is working?

If you can't be bothered getting involved in the process and attending the meetings...

I don't have the time to listen to your complaining...

I attend and participate...that is the only way to make any change...

you are just bored...

@ boohoo

You know, bad as our politicians are in City Hall, and worse by far though they are in Victoria, we should remember that there are parts of the world where they would be a dream come true. Accountability, limited and only partially effective though it may be, does exist. Everyone feels cynical sometimes, with good reason, but look to Egypt at this moment to see the sacrifices people are forced to make to gain something we take for granted.

I don't mean to say we should be complacent. On the contrary, let's remember exactly why we have to be vigilant against the tendency to authoritarianism, corruption, repression and other evils that exist everywhere. Discussing, arguing, participating and in particular relentlessly exposing the failings of our leaders will make sure we never end up where they are.


Good for you. By the time the decision reaches council, it's already made. I attend open houses, stakeholder groups, etc... Spare me the lecture in civic responsibility.

My point, and I'm feeling more and more so with things like stakeholder groups, is that the system is broken.


Really? The 'well at least we're not Egypt' argument?

Yes, we need to be vigilant. We need to speak up. But, as is beaten to death on this blog, our current government isn't working. I know many of you think that's a trait exclusive to vision, I don't.

Check out!

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