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Labour organization won’t endorse Vision Vancouver council candidates in 2022 election

Vancouver and District Labour Council likely to support Mayor Kennedy Stewart for re-election
Vancouver and District Labour Council president says it’s “quite probable” that it will endorse Mayor Kennedy Stewart in his re-election campaign in the 2022 race. File photo Dan Toulgoet
A labour organization that boasts 50,000 members in Vancouver says it will not endorse any Vision Vancouver council candidates — including a mayoral candidate, if the party runs one — in the 2022 municipal election.

The Vancouver and District Labour Council announced its decision Wednesday in a news release saying the “progressive political spectrum” in the city is already well represented by an array of parties, including OneCity, the Greens and COPE.

“We don’t see an attempted return from Vision being constructive to our objective of ensuring a strong, cohesive progressive majority,” said council president Stephen von Sychowski  in the release.

The council’s decision comes one week after Vision issued a public call for city council, school board and park board candidates for the 2022 race. The party hasn’t decided whether it will run a mayoral candidate.

In an interview this week, von Sychowski said the labour council’s decision leaves open the possibility of endorsing Vision candidates for park board and school board, noting Vision trustee Allan Wong is likely to get an endorsement, as he did in the 2018 race.

“I don't think anyone's got anything against Allan,” he said of the longtime trustee, who was originally elected with COPE. “ So we'll certainly consider him, if he’s running again.”

In 2018, the labour council endorsed two other Vision school board candidates, four Vision council candidates and two Vision park board candidates; only Wong was elected, with Vision unable to elect anyone to council for the first time since the party was created in 2005.

For its mayoral candidate, the council chose to support former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart over independent candidate Shauna Sylvester and Vision’s Ian Campbell, who later withdrew from the race for personal reasons.

That shift was a departure from the council endorsing a Vision mayoral candidate in every election dating back to when Jim Green ran in 2005. Vision’s Gregor Robertson got the council’s endorsement in elections from 2008 to 2014.

Vote splitting

Asked whether Stewart would get the council’s nod again in 2022, von Sychowski — who attended Stewart’s victory party in 2018 at the Waldorf Hotel — said it was “quite probable,” noting “we’ve had a good relationship with the mayor.”

Stewart, who ran as an independent in 2018, has been working to assemble a team of candidates for the 2022 campaign. In 2018, Stewart held news conferences that included then-OneCity council candidate Christine Boyle, who was elected and is expected to seek re-election.

The concern for von Sychowski about a re-emergence of Vision is vote splitting on the progressive side of the political spectrum and giving rise to the NPA and other centre-right candidates.

That played out at city hall in the 2018 election results, with five NPA candidates elected to an 11-member council.

Since then, four councillors — Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick, Rebecca Bligh and Sarah Kirby-Yung — resigned from the party, leaving Coun. Melissa De Genova as the NPA’s lone representative at city hall.

The Greens are represented by Pete Fry, Adriane Carr and Michael Wiebe. Jean Swanson is COPE’s representative.

In response to the labour council’s decision not to endorse Vision council candidates, Vision provided a response to Glacier Media via email, but didn’t directly say whether the party believed the lack of support would hurt its chances at the polls next October.

“Vision Vancouver was created in 2005 and has a strong and consistent record of defending working people in our city,” the statement said. “We are proud of our record, which includes: no concessions, no strikes and no lockouts. We remain committed to our longstanding policy of opposing contracting out and privatization.” 

With the support of allies in the labour movement and beyond, the statement continued, “we became the first major city in Canada to become certified as a living wage employer, we made record investments in childcare spaces, libraries, social housing and public transit.”

Vision hasn’t decided on how many candidates it will run, but said the goal in the next election is to ensure the city is governed by “a progressive majority of elected officials from various parties.”

Longtime Vision member Kevin Quinlan, who was chief of staff to Gregor Robertson in the final years of his 10-year run as mayor, took to Twitter this week in response to the labour council’s decision.

“Vision wouldn’t be getting approached by candidates and organizing if people felt current city council — a ‘progressive majority’ by VDLC’s definition — was effective,” he wrote. “Three years in, biggest accomplishment from COPE-OneCity-Green-Independent is an in-house auditor general.”

Paid organizers

In the 2018 election, 15 of the candidates endorsed by the labour council were elected, including Stewart. Whether that endorsement assisted in the candidates’ election is open to interpretation, with von Sychowski acknowledging the difficulty in measuring such a connection.

“It's really hard to say because there's not really any kind of data on that kind of thing,” he said. “But we really believe — and even the mayor said it in his speech at his victory party after the election — that we made a huge difference in the campaign for the candidates as a whole, but especially for him.”

Added von Sychowski: “We've got a lot of union members who are part of affiliated unions, and certainly, they receive this information and say, ‘Oh, my union is supporting these candidates.’ And that makes a difference in their process of deciding what to do on election day.”

In the 2018 campaign, the labour council had at least four paid organizers promoting its endorsed candidates and produced poll cards that were delivered to doorsteps. The organizers, which were paid by the labour council, were also involved in recruiting volunteers and running a social media campaign.

Von Sychowski said the labour council is still waiting to learn final details related to campaign financing guidelines for the 2022 race but said he envisions taking a similar approach to 2018 — and he expects criticism for doing so.

“There will be those who want to cast aspersions about it and make it sound like something shady,” he said. “But at the end of the day, any organization does have the right to endorse candidates or a candidate and to engage in activities to promote that endorsement and encourage folks to vote for that person.”