Why Ken Charko's challenge to the NPA matters to the rest of us
Today in the print edition of the Georgia Straight, reporter Carlito Pablo has an intriguing story of political intrigue.
Movie-theatre owner Ken Charko is leading a slate of candidates that's trying to take over the board of the Vancouver NPA, which has been in political purgatory since 2008.
The issue will come to a head tonight at the VanDusen Botanical Garden.
Some readers, no doubt, are saying to themselves: "Why does this matter?"
The NPA has been as good as dead for a long time—and its centrist, free-enterprise, pro-development approach is already being reflected in the policies of Vision Vancouver.
With a couple of exceptions—notably in Vision's dealings with labour unions and in the promotion of car-free days in various neighbourhoods—there's not a lot to distinguish the old NPA under Sam Sullivan from the ruling Visionistas under the leadership of Mike Magee (oops, I meant to say his titular boss, Mayor Gregor Robertson).
I would suggest that tonight's NPA meeting matters for the following reasons:
• If Charko's group shoves out the crowd that backed Suzanne Anton's mayoral run, you could see the emergence of a more aggressive NPA sharply focused on reducing taxes and government spending.
• If Charko's group succeeds, he will be the odds-on favourite to become the NPA candidate in a municipal by-election should Geoff Meggs be elected to the legislature. Charko has already told me that he's interested in running if the opportunity presents itself.
• If the NDP wins the next provincial election, the NPA could be poised to come roaring back in the 2014 election. That's because in recent years, voters have had a tendency to offset the provincial party in power in municipal elections, most notably in 2002 when COPE won a surprising landslide victory.
• The rise of Charko's group could turn the NPA into more of a populist party—as opposed to a top-down, money-driven organization. In the 2011 election, it sometimes seemed as though right-wing downtown businessmen such as Rob Macdonald, Peter Armstrong, and Norman Stowe were writing the lines coming out of mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton's mouth. If their power is dimished, we could see a very different party emerge over the next couple of years.
The two NPA candidates who won in 2011, George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball, represent the party as it existed in the years leading up to the 2008 debacle. They're pleasant people not exactly known for causing any political earthquakes or creating major controversies.
It's fair to say that Affleck and Ball are a little more to the left than other NPA candidates on the 2011 slate, including Charko. He can be blunt, outspoken, and brings more of a blue-collar sensibility than the two NPAers on council, particularly on law-and-order issues and bike lanes.
Unlike most NPA politicians, Charko also supports the creation of a ward system to give neighbourhoods a greater say in the planning process.
Generally speaking, Charko seems to have a far greater sense of outrage about him--which is well-suited to the political times when economic growth is slow and public dissatisfaction with incumbents is high.
It will be intriguing to see if Affleck and Ball could remain over the long term in a more populist, less elite-driven, and conceivably more right-wing party controlled by Charko and his supporters.
From where I stand, Charko doesn't have a lot in common with Affleck, a communications executive, and Ball, a former arts administrator, even though they ran under the same banner in the last election.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.