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Mayor Robertson's party gets low turnout to annual general meeting

Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr not ruling out mayoral run

Mayor Gregor Robertson made his best attempt at a rally-the-troops speech Monday at Vision Vancouver's annual general meeting but conceded the party is no longer the powerful force that attracted thousands in its heyday in 2008.

That was evident in the turnout to a classroom-sized room at SFU Harbour Centre, where about 100 people jammed together to hear Robertson deliver his first speech to members since announcing he won't seek re-election.

The mayor stressed that it was important Vision join forces with other "progressive" parties in Vancouver, including the Green Party, OneCity and COPE to keep the centre-right Non-Partisan Association from winning city hall in October.

"I fully expect that we can figure out how to get along and elect some fantastic new people to office this fall," said Robertson, who pointed to Vision's 2008 run where more than 10,000 members joined the party. "That's the kind of excitement that we need. That's where we need to go here — is rebuilding that energy and momentum."

That rebuild at city hall appears to rely largely on only two of Vision's current council members, Raymond Louie and Heather Deal, who are seeking re-election.

Geoff Meggs resigned this summer to take a job as chief of staff to Premier John Horgan. Andrea Reimer and Tim Stevenson will not run again and Kerry Jang is likely to forgo another campaign, although he has yet to publicly declare his intentions.

Some of the crowd included young people and Robertson pointed to them as the future of the party, noting he was "really, really excited about who comes next."

The party did not reveal any new candidates for council, school board or park board, with a nomination race expected in a few months.

Interestingly, as Courier columnist Allen Garr suggested in a Monday online column, those nomination races may not include one for the mayor's position. That scenario is conceivable when considering Robertson's comments about joining with other parties to defeat the NPA.

As results of the Oct. 14 byelection made clear, splitting the centre-left vote led to an easy NPA victory for candidate Hector Bremner. Vision's council candidate, Diego Cardona, finished fifth behind OneCity's Judy Graves, the Greens' Pete Fry and runner-up Jean Swanson, an independent endorsed by COPE.

Monday night's meeting attracted many familiar faces from previous campaigns, including strategist-turned-Robertson's chief of staff Mike Magee (who has since been replaced by Kevin Quinlan), pollster Bob Penner and financier and advisor Joel Solomon.

The trio has watched as Vision, with its majority over three terms, has gone from an unstoppable force to one that appears in disarray and strapped for money, as its financial statements revealed at the meeting.

The party's "income statement" covering the period from October 2016 to September 2017 showed the party raised just over $1 million but spent $1.1 million, leaving a deficit of $28,670.

The majority of the spending — $690,426 — was on "office expenses." Vision's "balance sheet" for the same period showed a deficit of $160,724.

The party, however, had more than $20,000 left over from the Oct. 14 council-school board bylection race. Financial documents released Monday by Elections B.C. indicated Vision raised $278,125 for its campaign and spent $257,838.

Robertson used his time at the microphone to rattle off a list of accomplishments, including creating more affordable housing, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, funding programs to help people living with an addiction and mental illness and generating a thriving economy.

"We have now the fastest growing, most diverse and most resilient economy of any city in Canada," he said, referring to new businesses, including clean tech, the animation industry and craft breweries. "I don't know when the last time you saw that in the paper, but that's what's been happening the last three years."

In a scrum following his speech, he reiterated the importance of Vision collaborating with other parties to ensure the NPA doesn't win a majority at city hall. He said he will personally reach out to elected officials of other parties to secure a partnership going into this year's campaign.

He downplayed Monday night's turnout, saying annual general meetings "are never a big ticket event." He predicted "big gatherings ahead" with nomination races, but said he didn't know the party's member count.

"I'm guessing it's thousands, but I haven't heard," he said. (The party's outgoing co-chair, Maria Dobrinskaya, said later that it was "in the hundreds.")

Robertson said it was up to the party's board to decide whether it will run a mayoral candidate, or "whether we endorse an independent candidate, along with Greens and others."

If Vision doesn't run a mayoral candidate, it's a sign the party is in more trouble than the results of the byelection showed, said NPA president Gregory Baker, who attended Vision's meeting Monday along with other members of the NPA board.

"That would be a sign they're falling apart," said Baker, quipping as he left the meeting that Robertson had "a knack for filling a small room."

Baker, who unsuccessfully ran as a council candidate in 2014 and is the son of former councillor Jonathan Baker, said he was surprised by Vision's low turnout. He said the NPA had more than 400 people at its annual general meeting in November.

Baker promised the NPA will have nomination races for mayor, council, school board and park board. NPA Coun. Hector Bremner, former Conservative MP Wai Young and the party's 2014 candidate, newspaper executive Kirk LaPointe, are possible contenders for the mayor's spot.

Since Robertson announced Jan. 10 his decision not to seek re-election, the talk among municipal politics insiders is that Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr may now position herself to run for mayor.

Carr told the Courier in a telephone interview prior to Vision's meeting that she is not ruling out a run but emphasized her party needs to discuss a number of issues going into this year's campaign.

"You're not the first person to ask," she said of the question of whether she will run for mayor. "Of course the party is going to be thinking through the pros and cons. That would be natural for us to do that. Nothing, in any way, has been firmed up."

Carr noted she topped the polls as a councillor in the 2014 race but pointed out voters had 10 choices for council but only one for mayor.

"It's important that as a party and that I would look at what degree of support there is out there for a Green mayor," she said. "I love what I do, I feel effective — increasingly effective. I'd be reluctant to give that up. But minds are open, and we're assessing the situation."

No matter what unfolds with parties' strategies in the coming months, they must all run their campaigns under new finance rules implemented in October by the provincial government. Corporations and unions are banned from contributing to parties and no individual can donate more than $1,200 to a party.

At Vision's meeting Monday, Reimer told members how she and the party fought for years for campaign finance reform and "won the fight."

That fight, however, now means the party can't rely on the millions of dollars it received from unions and developers to fund its previous multi-million dollar campaigns.

Reimer urged members to donate the maximum of $1,200 or face the prospect of waking up the day after the election to read a newspaper story about how the NPA's LaPointe is the city's new mayor.

The election is Oct. 20.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings