OPINION: With Vision Vancouver “in freefall”, other parties will handily fill the vacuum

Vancouver's Stupidest Politics Column

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Pete Fry and Derrick O’Keefe at Car Free Day on Main Street

I ran into Green Party council candidate Pete Fry and COPE candidate Derrick O’Keefe at Car Free Day on Main Street this weekend. Pete had just pulled up on his bicycle in front of the COPE booth and the two were chatting cordially until I interrupted them.

These two have a lot of name recognition and have been involved in politics in one way or another for many years in this City. Out of all the declared candidates so far I feel they’re some of the most likely to end up with seats on council this October.

We chatted briefly about how Vancouver’s progressive parties know there’s an opportunity to fill a void as the ruling Vision Vancouver has become… not-so-popular.

Fry’s take is that “their brand is incredibly damaged and it looks like they are in freefall”.

O’Keefe spoke to the fact that there was a “growing consensus” with the centre and left parties in Vancouver (he doesn’t view Vision as “progressive”) that they were going to coalesce around one independent mayoral candidate. He told me “Vision basically blew that up by announcing they were going ahead with their own mayoral candidate after all – despite finishing fifth in last year’s byelection.”

I wouldn’t be the first to liken Vision Vancouver’s staff and elected officials to rats fleeing a sinking ship over the past year or so. That trouncing they got in the byelection was only one of a number of sirens going off on the deck of the S.S. Vision as it takes on water.

As it was announced last week, Raymond Louie has finally let everyone know he won’t be running for re-election in October when we go to the polls.

That leaves only one remaining incumbent on council out of six deciding to run again. SIX! THAT’S A LOT OF PEOPLE ON COUNCIL. A MAJORITY, EVEN.

Sure, they’ll say they want to pursue their life ambitions, like Gregor Robertson finally completing his sailing adventure around the world (I was told that’s what he plans to do after this October 20th). And Louie actually opened up last week about cancer being a factor. The reality for everyone aside from Raymond is that while Vision was on top none of them were thinking about what greener grass might be on the other side. Now it seems that they see the writing on the fence.

And what about the mayor’s and Vision’s staff? Did they all decide they wanted to find themselves on a wind-powered journey across the Atlantic with nothing but the wind in their face and no cell reception to check and see what the partisan Twitter trolls were saying about the party?

Nope.

It was announced that the mayor’s longtime Chief of Staff, Mike Magee, was leaving his position in April of 2016, in what was described at the time as a 4-month position. I reached out then to ask what he would be getting up to after those 4 months, as it seemed to be framed as a temporary thing, but I got no response from him (he personally sent me an email with the release, so I found his silence in response to my question odd).

It was just after mayor Gregor Robertson’s then-buddy Justin Trudeau was elected, and the City sent Magee to Ottawa as a “Special Advisor” to “ensure Vancouver’s priorities are front and centre with our new federal government”. This new position was meant to “maximize Vancouver’s benefits” of having Gregor’s homeboy and the Liberals in power.

Chief of Staff to the mayor is one of the best jobs for someone who’s politically inclined. You’re basically the mayor’s boss, and you get to hang out and meet with people and sway decisions and basically run the show from behind the curtain without having to take much heat publicly. I didn’t ever hear that Mike returned to work for the City, and his 4-month departure to Ottawa (to talk pipelines and housing?) looked a bit like an easy out as the party continued its downward slide.

Vision’s Executive Director Stepan Vdovine (whom once showed up to a meeting at my office bearing macarons as a gift) quit his job last summer. People looking to advance the theory that Vision is the developers’ party were delighted when a few months later he landed a gig as Director of Business Development for Amacon, one of the largest real estate developers in the province [cringe emoji].

I won’t call out the other people I know who have left but they’ve seemed to be running a skeleton crew over the past few months. With the baggage they’ve got – basically owning the affordability crisis, for one – they’re going to have a tough go drawing support from the city’s young and vibrant movers and shakers like they did in their heyday.

This leaves an incredible opportunity for folks like O’Keefe and Fry, if they can bring forward ideas that might actually help solve that crisis that’s top of mind for most voters. Young and old, vibrant and dull, movers and shakers and those who sit still… we could see a minority council with a number of different voices at the table, working together. Imagine that.

And will this council be led by an NPA mayor? We’ll get to that in an upcoming column.

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