Photos: Suzanne Anton slate takes control of the NPA board of directors
Vancouver's oldest civic political party showed signs of life last night when more than 150 people attended the annual general meeting.
NPA members elected a new board of directors, mostly from a slate that included former mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton.
Former NPA council candidate and Dunbar Theatre owner Ken Charko fell short in his attempt to defeat the Anton slate with his own group of candidates.
Charko and businessman Robert Boyko were the only two rival slate members to be elected to three-year terms. Anton, NPA campaign chair Peter Armstrong, and NPA fundraising chair Rob Macdonald were the others elected to three-year terms.
Four members of the Anton slate—Susan Gagnon (Coun. Elizabeth Ball's campaign director), former park candidate Gabby Kalaw, Robert McDowell (Coun. George Affleck's campaign director), and former school-board candidate Stacy Robertson—were all elected to one-year terms.
The meeting lasted for more than four hours and included a lengthy delay in announcing the results.
Charko told the Georgia Straight at one point that he was told he was tied for the final spot, but there were contested ballots. A recount was held, and Charko was elected.
"At this time, I'm not contesting the election," he said. "I'm going to look at everything in its totality and go from there."
One of Anton's unsuccessful slate members, Jason Lamarche, said afterward that he believes he fell two votes short of being elected to the board.
One of Charko's chief concerns is how the NPA spent more than $2.5 million last year, particularly when it came to advertising.
He said he couldn't comment specifically in this area because he hasn't seen the numbers. However, as someone with experience buying ads, it's an area he would like to examine more closely.
"I want the NPA to act like they want the city council to act, which is not just to provide a top-line item—this is what we spent—but to be able to give the meat of it, which is the general ledger information on what we spent," he stated.
Charko said he has no concerns about the election of Anton and Macdonald—a developer whose company contributed $960,000 last year to the NPA—but expressed concerns about dealing with Armstrong in the future.
When asked why, Charko replied that he prefers to focus on ideas. He alleged Armstrong, executive chairman of the company that owns the Rocky Mountaineer rail service, simply throws more money at a problem to advance the NPA's prospects.
"At the end of the day, I can work with Peter, but it's just going to be difficult," Charko said.
Armstrong declined an invitation to respond to Charko's remarks.
During the meeting, Armstrong pointed out that the NPA raised $2.5 million in 2011 and elected seven candidates to council, school board, and park board.
That compared to $2.2 million for Vision Vancouver, which elected all of 18 candidates to the mayor's office, city council, park board, and school board.
"We need to have somewhere north of 1,600 volunteers to just match what Vision has," Armstrong told the members. "We were, on election day, somewhere around 365. And during the campaign, we fell way short of that."
He added that Vision had identified 30,000 to 40,000 voters' preferences by the November 19 election day, whereas the NPA wasn't anywhere near that number.
"Vision is not going to slow down," Armstrong stated. "They're a fine organization, tough competitors, but we can beat them if we work really hard on making sure we become a political party."
The NPA constitution states that it opposes the introduction of political parties to the electoral boards of the City of Vancouver. So for years, NPA officials have maintained that they aren't running a poltical party.
Armstrong, however, suggested that this has to change.
"In Rob's [Macdonald] and my opinion, we feel that the NPA needs to make structural changes," he said. "We need to become a political party. We need to look at fundraising over the course of a three-year cycle. We need to ensure that we have the resources now to identify the vote, keep in touch with members, [and] attract more members."
Peter Armstrong explains how the NPA can win the 2014 election.
In a candid aside, he also stated that the party needs to ensure the policies reach a broader spectrum of voters.
"We are perceived to be a little bit too far to the right," he admitted. "We need to move a little bit into the centre. I don't know what that looks like, but we need to have a good discussion around that and we need your assistance."
Armstrong's company, Great Canadian Railtour, has hired replacement workers to replaced locked-out unionized staff for a year. Vision Vancouver tried to inject this issue into the last election campaign.
None of the members of Anton's slate acknowledged any possibility that Armstrong's role as NPA campaign manager—at a time when his company was locking out workers—might have played any role in diminishing public support for the party in the 2011 election.
Armstrong also spoke of the importance of recruiting candidates earlier, putting them in contact with former NPA politicians to learn the issues, and taking action to boost their profiles in the community.
One of the more colourful moments in the meeting came when Lamarche explained why he was seeking a seat on the board of directors.
After first speaking of the importance of an effective communications strategy, he talked about crafting policies to appeal to 23 separate neighbourhoods across the city.
"Let's create a strategy that recognizes every single one of them so no NPA supporter is ever left behind," Lamarche stated.
Jason Lamarche puts a positive shine on the NPA's loss in 2011.
At that point, he cited comments by NBA basketball star LeBron James of the Miami Heat. Lamarche quoted James's response when asked why his team didn't win the championship in 2011.
"He says, 'We weren't losing last year. We were learning how to win'," Lamarch said. "That's where the NPA is right now."
A fair amount of time was spent discussing a brochure using NPA colours that highlighted the Anton slate. One of the Charko group's candidates, DJ Lawrence, introduced several motions dealing with ethical issues, including one calling for people not to use official party colours before becoming nominated candidates. This motion was tabled, but not before the outgoing president, John Moonen, declared that no party funds or resources went into the creation of the brochure that mentioned the Anton slate.
All of the party's elected officials were at the annual general meeting, but only two of its former politicians was in attendance: former park commissioner Al De Genova and former school trustee Carol Gibson.
The best-known names from the past did not show up, including former mayors Philip Owen and Sam Sullivan, former councillors Peter Ladner, Jennifer Clarke, Lynne Kennedy, George Puil, Daniel Lee, Gordon Price, Tung Chan, and Maggie Ip, and former park commissioners Ian Robertson, Duncan Wilson, and Laura McDiarmid.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.