Kirk LaPointe could hold his own as the NPA mayoral candidate in Vancouver
The Vancouver NPA finds itself in a situation remarkably similar to where it stood in 1984.
Back then, the city was ruled by a popular mayor, Mike Harcourt, who seemed certain to win a third term.
Harcourt had riled the business elites by questioning the wisdom of holding a world's fair in Vancouver.
So the hunt was on to find anyone with a profile to take him on—and possibly have the coattails to help elect an NPA majority on council.
The NPA settled on Bill Vander Zalm as its mayoral candidate. He was thumped, but it resulted in Gordon Campbell being elected to council.
In the next election, Campbell destroyed the left by defeating Harry Rankin in the mayoral race.
The NPA captured control of council, school board, and park board.
This time around, the NPA appears to be having trouble recruiting anyone with a high public profile to challenge Vision Vancouver's Gregor Robertson.
But one name that has surfaced is Kirk LaPointe, publisher and editor-in-chief at Self-Counsel Press.
LaPointe had a long career in the media and is best known locally as the former managing editor of the Vancouver Sun.
He was executive editor of the National Post, senior vice president of CTV News, editor-in-chief of the Hamilton Spectator, and CBC's ombudsman.
LaPointe would have strengths and weaknesses.
Having been on panels with him in the past, I can confidently say that he would probably slice up Robertson in any public debate.
LaPointe is cool under pressure and he has plenty of experience in front of the television camera, having hosted a program on CBC Newsworld.
He also has a curious mind. The last time I was on a panel with him in front of young people at the Chinese Cultural Centre, LaPointe mentioned a book called Give and Take by Wharton School business professor Adam Grant.
Grant argues that people who are naturally giving—and who do this with no expectation of receiving any return—tend to do much better in life than those who are takers and those who live their lives primarily engaging in transactions. I think LaPointe has taken that message to heart.
When he was at the Vancouver Sun, LaPointe demonstrated a keen interest in addressing climate change, setting himself apart from the more rabid right wingers on the editorial board.
The last time the NPA tried to defeat Robertson, it sent a right-wing message to the community that alienated many who worry about the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
That won't be a problem should LaPointe step forward as the NPA mayoral candidate.
As the CBC ombudsman, LaPointe courageously questioned CBC managers for keeping a reporter in the legislature press gallery while his wife was working as a deputy press secretary to the premier.
LaPointe noted that this created "a pervasive appearance of a conflict of interest", even though he found no sign that the journalist took advantage of this in any way.
He also has shown an interest in learning about other cultures, which should stand him in good stead. He's not going to be ignorant about the Indian diaspora, the Chinese diaspora, or the multitude of other nationalities in Vancouver.
Over the years, I've also heard pointed criticism of LaPointe.
Lloyd Dykk, a deceased arts writer for the Straight and earlier with the Vancouver Sun, used to send me witty emails condemning LaPointe in particular and other Vancouver Sun managers for their lack of appreciation for the arts.
Frank magazine used to tee off on LaPointe when he was a media manager in Ontario, most notably in connection with the firing of CTV Ottawa reporter Jim Munson.
I actually felt that Munson was a fairly average reporter—he was certainly no Robert Fife. But according to Frank, this decision to can him upset two of Munson's powerful allies: CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson and then-prime minister Jean Chrétien.
Chrétien hired Munson as his press secretary and later appointed him to the Senate. I take that as a sign that Munson never really rocked the boat on Parliament Hill.
LaPointe and his former boss, Patricia Graham, also crossed swords with the Media Union of B.C., most notably in the firing of real-estate reporter Wyng Chow. To me, it seemed a bit callous to dismiss him, given Chow's lengthy service with the Vancouver Sun, but it was supported by some on staff, who felt that Chow had abused his position in a personal dispute with a condo developer.
The fact that LaPointe wasn't afraid to take on the union might serve him in good stead with the NPA board of directors.
He's not the warmest guy you'll meet and that could hamper him as a politician. But he's not too timid to take a position and defend it, and unlike some politicians, he's able to form an opinion without being spoonfed by staff or his political advisers.
Robertson is often seen as a developers' mayor, but that's not an entirely accurate representation.
While he and the council's rezoning decisions have pleased some of the biggest players—such as Wall Financial Corp., Aquilini Investment Group, and Westbank Corp.—Vision Vancouver has alienated others by refusing to land heritage density, not providing clarity early enough along the Cambie corridor, and doing a bait-and-switch with community-amenity contributions.
Robertson is also positioning Vision Vancouver as the only party that will protect the city from an onslaught of oil-tanker traffic even though it will be a national regulator, not city council, which will deal with Kinder Morgan's pipeline application.
LaPointe is articulate enough to point this out without coming across as a right-wing knuckle dragger who will turn back the clock to the 19th century. He also understands how to get a message across through traditional and social media.
He may not have the profile or the electoral machinery behind him to defeat Robertson. But at the top of the NPA ticket, he might help more of the party's candidates get elected than occurred in the last two elections. And that could set the stage for the party taking back control of the city in 2018.