So now what happens to the NPA?
The party that came narrowly close to winning a majority on city council in 2018 is now left with one councillor in the chamber.
That would be Melissa De Genova, who sent me a brief text message Wednesday in response to her NPA colleagues Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick and Sarah Kirby-Yung announcing their departure from the party.
“The reality is, little will change for me,” she wrote. “As a caucus, sometimes we would vote together, sometimes not. I expect that to continue.”
Fair enough, but who would have thought that a caucus of five women councillors excited to begin work in the fall of 2018 is now having to explain in the spring of 2021 why the good ship NPA is taking on water.
The number “five” is not a typo, as city hall watchers will recall that Rebecca Bligh abandoned ship in December 2019 when she cited concerns the NPA board was moving to the far right of the political spectrum.
Now the formerly party-heavy 11-member council suddenly includes four independent councillors, whose chances of being elected as an independent in 2018 would have been improbable; that conclusion is based on the city’s political party history, not on whether they were qualified for the job.
But as we heard via a news release Wednesday and in follow-up interviews Thursday, the trio of Dominato, Hardwick and Kirby-Yung were fed up enough to cut ties with the NPA and work the remaining 18 months of their term without party affiliation.
The reasons were many — the board’s shift to the far right, calls for an AGM being ignored and the resignation of four centrist board members in July 2020 over concerns the board was lacking enthusiasm and energy to move forward on city issues.
But it was the board’s appointment earlier this month of longtime park board commissioner John Coupar as the party’s 2022 mayoral candidate that pushed the three councillors to leave; unlike in 2018 when the trio was appointed as candidates, there was no expressions of interest call this time from the board or application process to become — in this case — the mayoral candidate.
The trio met virtually Monday with Coupar and NPA president David Mawhinney to sort out differences, but got no satisfaction in response.
It’s no secret that Kirby-Yung and Hardwick were interested in competing in a nomination battle to become the NPA’s mayoral candidate for the 2022 election. Now Kirby-Yung and Hardwick are not sure they want to seek re-election at all, never mind for mayor.
Kirby-Yung: “I honestly don’t know. I know that in making this decision, it’s probably not going to enhance my political fortunes. But I don’t think it would be smart or wise of me to make any direct response and say I’m going to run again, or I’m going to run with this party or a group of like-minded candidates.”
Hardwick: “I haven’t decided. I’m certainly not going to be running for re-election as an NPA city councillor. I’ve been really having a difficult time finding hope for the future, given the current paradigm. I don’t want to give up on Vancouver, but when you sit in council for the 14-hour days that we do, and you find yourself in a very fragmented council, it’s hard to see a path forward.”
Hardwick also said she’s not interested in joining the newly launched A Better City party, which is connected to former NPA mayoral candidate, Ken Sim, who is running again for mayor after losing to Kennedy Stewart in the 2018 race.
She gave the same answer for what is expected to be a rebranding of the Yes Vancouver party, which longtime political operative Mark Marissen helped create for the 2018 campaign; Marissen told me he plans to compete in a mayoral nomination when the party launches in the new year.
Dominato, meanwhile, said she’s interested in seeking re-election.
Like her colleagues, she said, her current focus is responding to issues in the city that were top of mind in 2018 and have been amplified during the pandemic — affordability, homelessness, drug addiction, climate change and supporting small businesses.
“I work very hard on behalf of residents and intend to continue doing so, even as an independent,” said Dominato, who wouldn’t say whether she’s open to joining another party. “This is all fresh. I haven’t made any plans at this point.”
Added Dominato: “It’s a bit disappointing that there’s a lot of politicking right now when really we need to be focused on trying to get through this global pandemic…I’m not thinking about whether I get re-elected or not. I’m not focused on that at all.”
What all this means for the NPA is an unknown, with Coupar and Mawhinney not returning my calls Wednesday or Thursday to explain the present and future of the city’s once-dominate organization.
In a news release Wednesday, the NPA board thanked the departing councillors for their service, before throwing some political shade their way.
“With the exciting selection of Mr. Coupar as our 2022 mayoral candidate, the NPA has received a wave of interest from an ever-widening group of highly qualified, diverse, potential candidates wishing to run for city council, park board and school board,” the statement said.
“We look forward to putting forward our strongest-ever slate of candidates in the next municipal election. We also look forward to promoting fresh new faces that will vote according to the needs of Vancouverites, not Kennedy Stewart. The NPA is confident that Vancouverites will solidly coalesce behind an authentic leader and finally return common sense to Vancouver in 2022.”
Only 18 months to go to see whether all this shake-up and politicking in April 2021 will matter come October 2022.
As Hardwick told me Thursday, her crystal ball is currently out of order.