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Why Vision and the left will unite to run one independent candidate for mayor

By-election results, campaign reform and Robertson’s exit all contributing factors to the left’s united front against NPA
Columnist Allen Garr expects the city’s left-of-centre parties, including Vision Vancouver, to prese
Columnist Allen Garr expects the city’s left-of-centre parties, including Vision Vancouver, to present a united front next election by endorsing an independent mayoral candidate to do battle with whomever the NPA selects.

I figure Gregor Robertson will be the first and last Vision Vancouver mayor to be elected for some time. That’s because, at this point, Vision appears to have no intention of running a mayoral candidate under their party banner in next October’s municipal punch-up. And I will explain why.

Obviously they don’t think they can win a majority on council if they do. So the object of the exercise is to keep the right-of-centre NPA out of power and maintain what they would call a progressive majority on council. 

Read the tea leaves from last year’s by-election won by NPA candidate Hector Bremner. Bremner won with only 27 per cent; the left wing vote of close to 70 per cent was split among the next four candidates. Yes, that was only a by-election and, yes, not many people turned out. But it is a factor in Vision’s current thinking. Another factor is the calm and collaboration that has settled in at both the park board and particularly the school board (now the bullies are out of the way) where the Greens and Vision together hold the balance of power. Both have Green chairs and Vision vice-chairs.

In the past, Vision has been able to make deals with other parties, COPE in particular, to convince them to share the ballot — neither would run a full slate, and COPE would agree not to run a mayoral candidate and basically endorse Vision’s choice. In the 2014 election, however, Meena Wong ran as COPE’s mayoral candidate, and she placed a distant third.

I gather there is no apparent appetite for that this time — not just from COPE or its offspring One City but also the band with the rising brand, the Green Party. Hence the notion emerges: find a mutually agreeable candidate and endorse that person to run as an independent. Then make an accommodation over populating the rest of the ballot.

Aside from bringing the centre-left forces together, it has some other advantages. For one, Gregor’s record for better or for worse will be harder for the NPA to run against. And there is a financial consideration, too.

Under the new election funding rules brought in by the province, donors can only give $1,200 to each party regardless, apparently, of how many candidates they might run. If a mayoral candidate runs independently, donors can also give that person up to $1,200.

And remember, Vancouver has had a successful independent mayor in the recent past. That would be Mike Harcourt. Harcourt entered civic politics with TEAM, the party credited with ending the NPA’s more-than-three-decade grip on power. TEAM mayor Art Phillips passed over Harcourt at the time and handed his blessing to TEAM councillor Jack Volrich. Volrich over his two terms drifted to the right and rejoined the NPA.

That’s when Harcourt stepped up to knock off Volrich and win as an independent. Harcourt’s council was a mix of folks from TEAM, COPE and the NPA. Thanks to his judicial selection of committee chairs and many, long negotiating sessions to get policies and projects past, Harcourt was able to survive for three terms.

So last but not least: Just who will be the mayoral candidate who will bring about the accommodation and keep the NPA out of power?

Well, the first choice seems to be defined as a fairly young, progressive woman, or a fairly young progressive man if it comes to that. Not that these criteria are fully met by the names being floated about. But for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve heard: YWCA CEO Janet Austin, Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman, former NDP MP Libby Davies, current NDP MLA Spencer Herbert and current NDP MP Don Davies.

If none of these turn your crank, it’s still early days. The NPA decision to select a mayoral candidate has apparently been moved from late February until sometime in March. I’m told Kirk LaPointe, the guy who lost to Gregor last time out, is salivating at the prospect of another run. He’d have to kick Hector Bremner aside as well as former Tory MP Wai Young and possibly MLA Michael Lee if he doesn’t win the provincial Liberal leadership race.

But Vision will be keeping its powder dry until June or July while continuing to recruit prospects to fill its much depleted ranks and chatting up potential comrades in arms about this independent mayor idea.