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Opinion: Vancouver’s oldest political party is poised for a major collapse

With surging offshoot parties, Vancouver's Non-Partisan Association (NPA) may be on the brink of irrelevance heading into the October election.
Vancouver City Hall stock
As Vancouver readies itself for a municipal election this October, one major party, the NPA, "is a dysfunctional shell of a political party," according to columnist Mo Amir.

The NPA is in trouble.

Ahead of this year’s municipal election, Vancouver’s oldest political party — the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) — is struggling to reap any perceived advantages of incumbency or name recognition. Worse yet, the NPA is a dysfunctional shell of a political party that continues to surrender valuable political capital to competing parties, which, in turn, have become more viable alternatives to oppose Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

In the 2018 civic election, the NPA won five Vancouver City Council seats. Their mayoral candidate, Ken Sim, lost by a mere 957 votes. Beneath the surface of these electoral results, however, lay the cracked foundation of a political party struggling to hold together (let alone, build) a coalition that could reclaim Vancouver City Hall.

Heading into election day on October 15, the NPA is down to one city councillor. The other four councillors abandoned the party, citing an “out of touch” NPA Board of Directors that did not reflect the party’s values. 

For its part, the NPA’s board has repeatedly intervened in selecting a mayoral candidate, driving swathes of would-be supporters to other parties. In 2018, the board rejected the mayoral nomination of Hector Bremner – a sitting NPA city councillor at the time. In 2021, the board simply appointed Park Board Commissioner John Coupar as the party’s mayoral candidate, upsetting members and forgoing the opportunity to build on party membership through a competitive nomination contest.

Three of the former sitting NPA city councillors — Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato, and Sarah Kirby-Yung – are running for re-election with A Better City (ABC) Vancouver whose mayoral candidate is the aforementioned former-NPA mayoral candidate, Ken Sim. ABC is further bolstered by the addition of media-savvy city council candidates — Peter Meiszner and Brian Montague – and a team of skilled organizers, including some fresh off winning Kevin Falcon’s BC Liberal leadership campaign.

The fourth sitting city councillor to leave the NPA, Colleen Hardwick, is now the mayoral candidate for TEAM for a Liveable Vancouver, a spiritual successor to The Electors’ Action Movement which held a majority of city council seats from 1972 to 1976. TEAM recently announced that political strategist and lobbyist Bill Tieleman would be one of their city council candidates. Tieleman has emerged as a spokesperson of sorts against mass development in Vancouver after garnering extensive media coverage for his vehement opposition to the Broadway Plan, the city’s sweeping guide for development along the $2.8 billion Broadway subway.

In 2018, the NPA also contended with offshoot parties (namely, Yes Vancouver and Coalition Vancouver), which arguably cost Ken Sim the mayorship. Now, the NPA-offshoot parties — ABC and TEAM — may wipe out the NPA altogether.

After spending years driving its own elected officials and membership away from the party, the NPA announced a rather underwhelming slate of city council candidates compared to candidates announced by TEAM and ABC especially. 

Moreover, the NPA has yet to establish its proposition value for Vancouver voters beyond simply opposing Mayor Stewart. In contrast, ABC has quickly established itself as a business-like and business-friendly choice for Vancouver voters, while TEAM stands in clear opposition to rapid densification, effectively cornering Vancouver’s loud anti-development crowd. Both ABC and TEAM have adopted tough-on-crime public safety stances, further undercutting the NPA’s traditional appeal to voters. 

This was exemplified last month after a Research Co. mayoral election poll had John Coupar at a mere 8%, far behind Ken Sim (26%) and Colleen Hardwick (19%). While there are still months of campaigning ahead, this poll should be alarming for the NPA, since the party has always been said to have built-in support rooted in its long-standing brand; The NPA was expected to poll well this far out from an election. Instead, the NPA has seemingly lost considerable support to ABC and TEAM already.

With a battered brand, an unclear contrast in the electoral field, a slate of low-profile candidates, and hemorrhage of supporters, the NPA is no longer running against Kennedy Stewart. Rather, the NPA is running against the very people it drove out of its tent, as winning back those former supporters will prove to be a far greater challenge than defeating Kennedy Stewart ever was.

Mo Amir is the host of This is VANCOLOUR, Vancouver’s bona fide culture and politics podcast, now also airing on Sundays at 7 p.m. on CHEK News.