Gregor Robertson's "angry old men" remark makes sense in light of Vision Vancouver narrative

One of the most telling moments in this year's civic-election race came at the Vision Vancouver annual general meeting last month.

In a prepared speech, Mayor Gregor Robertson castigated the opposition NPA as a party for "angry old men".

The Vancouver Courier's Allen Garr, a self-described old white man who's occasionally angry, characterized the mayor's comment as a "racist, sexist and ageist assault".

I would argue that it's part of a well-crafted Vision Vancouver marketing plan designed to create a divide between itself and its primary opponent, even though the two parties agree on many issues.

Yesterday, I wrote a column about how Vision Vancouver is creating a narrative that the NPA represents a throwback.

I mentioned how NPA president Peter Armstrong is a central character in Vision's spin campaigm.

The governing party is trying to scare progressive Vancouverites that a Shaughnessy takeover is in the works—and that Vancouver will take a step backward into the past with the NPA. 

Some people misinterpreted my column as an attack on Armstrong because I wrote that he's rich and he looks rich. That's not the point. It's that Armstrong's appearance, ethnicity, age, and wealth fit into Vision's overall storyline.

Vision leaders are smart enough to realize that in an increasingly diverse Vancouver, there are far fewer angry old white men as a percentage of the population as there were in the NPA's heyday from the late 1930s to the 1990s.

By raising the spectre of angry old men returning to power under the NPA, Robertson has sent a message to a majority of Vancouverites that the opposition party isn't like them. It suggests the NPA is backward-looking, not forward-looking.

Of course, the "angry old man" comment will elicit a backlash in the Vancouver Courier, which reaches an older demographic. But imagine how Robertson's message is playing out in the editorial offices of Sing Tao, Ming Pao, the Indo-Canadian Voice, and all those Philippine and Korean newspapers? Some are probably smirking a little bit over Robertson's chutzpah.

It doesn't help the NPA that its caucus is entirely white and that Vision's caucus, on the other hand, has far more diversity.

The NPA's board of directors appears to be dominated by Armstrong and Rob Macdonald, a wealthy, older, white, and sometimes angry rich guy. So why wouldn't Vision want to try to drive that point home about angry old men?

Vision's slogan is "Keep Vancouver Moving Forward". Forward, as I've pointed out before, was also the slogan of the Obama campaign in 2012.

Obama was decisively reelected with the help of nonwhite voters, who responded favourably to shrewd political marketing aimed at Americans of Hispanic, Asian, and African descent.

Meanwhile, the NPA has added a slogan on its website: "Your Vancouver. You Deserve a Voice."

It's designed to highlight Vision's often high-handed approach to governing, in which Robertson's party makes decisions before seeking true input from the public.

There's some mileage to be made in this sales pitch, given how neighbourhood groups have launched various court actions in response to decisions by the Vision-controlled council and park board.

But the NPA could have gone further to defuse Vision's messaging by choosing a mayoral candidate who was not white, not old, not angry, and not male. Given the likelihood that the party is going to anoint former Vancouver Sun managing editor Kirk LaPointe at the top of its ticket, the NPA board has probably missed an opportunity to destroy Vision's framing before the campaign officially began.

Between now and election day, lots of money will be spent by both parties to drive their respective marketing messages home.

In the meantime, the other parties—including TEAM, COPE, the Greens, the Cedar Party, and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver—won't have nearly as much money to devote to splashy, slogan-filled marketing campaigns.

The danger of big money is that it turns elections into two-party races.

If Vancouver had a ward system like most other cities in Canada, this wouldn't be such a problem because independent candidates would have a chance to get known within their neighbourhoods.

In citywide contests, that's not possible.

Of course, a ward system is the last thing that the oligarchs and their preferred parties want.

That's why you'll never hear a peep about this from Vision Vancouver or the NPA during the 2014 election campaign.

Comments (14) Add New Comment
Vision should look in the mirror
Bob Rennie (rich and white), Peter Wall (really old, rich and white), Joel Solomon (old, rich, white) and Gregor himself (rich, white). All male, all Vision donors. Both NPA and Vision are puppets of the development industry.
Vision knows batter than most that it's old, rich white guys who run things, not "diverse" politicians. Politicians are for sale. Instead of holding rallies, collecting signatures on petitions and so on, most interest groups would have better luck if they put all their cash in an envelope and handed it over during a private meeting. $25K is a good place to start. Or does that sort of thing only happen in Quebec?
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White Spot
What's Vision going to run on when people stop being scared of the NPA takeover they fear will lead to fascism? They are paper tigers. The effort to establish a credible threat from the right is admirable, but so very obviously not an issue.
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Sean Hagen
'characterized the mayor's comment as a "racist, sexist and ageist assault"'

No, I'm sorry. If you're a white male, you don't get to that anyone ( especially other white guys ) are being racist or sexist towards you. I'm saying that as a white dude ( admittedly not an old white guy ).
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Wards?
The ward system has been held up as somehow "better" when the true rationale in this case is accounting for the ostensibly under-represented left vote. COPE supports wards because their demographic includes those who are apparently not motivated enough to get out and vote COPE even when ID rules were at their most lax. Westside turnout was always higher and even though many voters would throw votes to Harry Rankin & Bruce Eriksen or other icons COPE knew they weren't going to take long term control without compromises in an at-large system. Knowing they can't expand their support base they want to do the next best thing and restrict the sample size.

What hobbles wards, aside from valuing non-votes equally with votes, is their similarity to our flawed provincial & federal "first past the post" system and their history of corruption in Vancouver. Our current system is a bizarre middle ground between FPTP and some form of proportional vote that has flaws but changing to wards won't magically solve the money problem: parties will campaign city wide and have to tailor messages to individual wards. Being able to deliver a block of votes in a ward is a much more valuable role than in an at-large system. Bloc votes can be acquired through a range of associations from benign to malignant, encouraging supporters with cash, promises, threats or coercion. "Oligarchs" don't mind wards: take a look at Chicago.

The funny thing is that electing councillors on a neighbourhood basis wouldn't require a revision of the city charter but a simple by-law. Every party that has held power in the city or been part of a coalition could have moved to at least a partial ward system as quickly as Vision approves changes to a development permit for a donor. All those referenda were kabuki at taxpayer expense, whenever the mayor or other official said "our hands are tied without a 60% yes vote" it was a lie. If six councillors supported a motion to have a mixed system in place next election the ball would be rolling, slowly if the bureaucrats don't see a chance to increase their numbers if the change is made. An elected official with a sniff of power rarely supports changing the system that has put him/her in office when doing so could actually change things.
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Alexander B
I am sorry, but isn't Robertson white and rich himself? He's just a hypocrite and is in the pockets of Vancouver developers even more so than NPA! Yes, he talks the talk and he pretends he cares about middle class and housing but his actions and where his support is to the contrary.

People are finally realizing that when Vision talks about future, it's about their own future and pocketbooks, and NOT about Vancouverites who are getting crushed under their mortgage, mostly blamed by foreign investors and how Vision has handed over the keys to the city to those and the developers who are funding their re-election.

I would LOVE to see a total mix of NPA, COPE, Green, and TEAM in power with decimation of Vision after next election.
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bobo
It doesn't matter the color of Vision's caucus. The only color they trust is the color of $$$
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Nelson100
Vision is all about di-vision. In pushing developments in the West End they tried to pit gays (good) against straights (bad), then renters (good) vs owners (bad). Then they attempted to split the East Side (good) vs West Side (very bad indeed, especially Dunbar). In the Langara golf course debate we learned that golfers were (bad and elitist!) vs non golfers (good). In the mayor's most recent speech he has added white (bad) vs ethnic (good) and young (good) vs old (bad). Let's not forget the universal themes of agreeing with everything Vision says (very good) vs disagreeing with Vision (bad, f*cking hack, NIMBY, angry).

All this to keep the overseas investor funded condo profit machine working at full speed and their developer masters satisfied.

Real leaders bring people together towards shared goals. Vision lack leadership, judgment and maturity.
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Gregor is white and rich himself!
This is the most biased article by a Vision supporter it seems!

As if Vision is any different... Gregor's not only white, super rich, but also has the backing of all rich, old white guys in Vancouver fitting the bill for his re-election.

Instead of writing such nonsensical article, Straight should instead try to debunk the MYTH that Vision is anything but supporting rich, white old folks who are running Vancouver real estate and development industry hand-in-hand with city council.

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Bill McCreery, Vice Chair TEAM
Well said Alexander: "I would LOVE to see a total mix of NPA, COPE, Green, and TEAM in power with decimation of Vision after next election."

That's what we're hearing on the hustings. I would leave out the bought and paid for NPA, they're no different than Vision Vancouver.

It's time to get elected representatives that vote rationally for the best interests of Vancouver citizens, and not to satisfy vested interests.
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mike
Grogor should be worried, not well liked, not really accomplished anything unless you count bike lanes and traffic confusion. He has not made Vancouver a better place, failed at most of his boasts, ie: will eliminate homelessness. No real consultation with public, lip service only then he does what he had planned all along. I am old and white but the only thing I am angry about is how he has wrecked Vancouver, time for him to go back to selling granola.
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Save Vancouver
Comparisons with Obama's ethnic appeal are specious. Take a look at voter turnout at all levels amongst areas with a high Chinese immigrant population - they just don't bother to vote.
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James
Funny. I'm pretty sure white people are actually the minority in Vancouver now. Gregor, can I buy a Y, Robertson should worry about this election as people are fed up with the poor decisions he's made. We see it every time we cross the Burrard St. bridge.
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alby
Nelson100 - best summary of Vision ever.
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Diana
Thanks Nelson100 as this is the best summary I've ever seen. Vision Vancouver is a misnomer and has caused too many problems to count. The DTES is worse off now because of the. The West End where I live has become a war zone with development 55.5 hours a week and people moving out by the truck full. My Russian neighbour compares her country's politics to Vision Vancouver! Enough said they need to be voted out. We need real forward thinking by real leaders. Housing must become a right!
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