While Gregor Robertson remains undecided about running for the city’s top job, the Vancouver-Fairview MLA may be emerging as the consensus choice for a mayoral candidate for both the Coalition of Progressive Electors and Vision Vancouver.
“We think that there’s a real possibility for someone, perhaps Gregor Robertson, to be a unifier to really bring both parties under a joint mayor,” COPE executive member Rachel Marcuse told the Georgia Straight. “We think if the political will is there to do it, then we can and we should.”
Marcuse was interviewed on the sidelines of Vision Vancouver’s annual general meeting on January 14. At the meeting, Vision members approved nomination rules which, according to people in both parties, boosted the chance of seeing a common campaign to challenge incumbent Mayor Sam Sullivan and his Non-Partisan Association in November’s civic election.
“Yes, informally we’ve been talking to Gregor for a long time,” Marcuse said, but she didn’t identify which COPE members have been in discussions with the NDP MLA. Marcuse was part of the so-called Group of Seven slate that took over the party executive last May with a mandate to seek a coalition with Vision.
Robertson, whose presence at the meeting was cheered by Vision Vancouver members, confirmed that his talks with COPE haven’t been on a formal level. Along with other provincial NDP figures, Robertson attended COPE’s annual fundraiser last July.
“They [COPE] have expressed a lot of interest in a joint campaign,” Robertson told the Straight. “It’s a difficult thing to engineer. It will be a challenge, but I think it’s important for all progressive organizations to work together to win back City Hall.”
Largely considered city councillor Raymond Louie’s main potential rival for Vision Vancouver’s mayoral endorsement, Robertson also noted that he hasn’t set a specific timeframe for his decision on whether to enter city politics.
Although Marcuse and a number of COPE figures were present at the Chinese Cultural Centre for the Vision meeting, lone COPE councillor David Cadman did not attend. Cadman spoke to Vision members about the need for a unity slate at their 2006 general meeting, and he has also previously expressed his willingness to be drafted as a common candidate by both parties.
Like Robertson, Cadman “could be a great unifier”, Marcuse said.
In a phone interview the day after Vision’s meeting, Cadman indicated that although he remains interested in running for mayor, his primary concern is getting the two opposition parties to work together for the election.
“I think that Gregor could be a unifying candidate,” Cadman told the Straight. “I think I could be a unifying candidate. The issue here is that both Vision and COPE need to select a candidate that will lead a common slate and a common campaign. That’s the critical issue.”
In an overwhelming majority vote, Vision Vancouver members approved the party executive’s recommendation to field not only a mayoral candidate, but also slates for city council, park board, and school board. Members also authorized the executive to determine the number of candidates running for each body, leaving open the possibility of accommodating candidates from COPE.
Kerry Jang, a Vision Vancouver member and a declared aspirant for a slot on the party’s council slate, said the nomination rules allow for flexibility in working with COPE. Vision councillor George Chow noted that there’s still plenty of time for the two parties to work out their differences before the election.
By the party’s own estimate, more than 400 people attended the Vision Vancouver meeting, including party member Paul Faoro, president of Local 15 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents city inside workers who went on an 81-day strike last year. At the height of the job action, which included other CUPE city locals, Sullivan said that he expected to face off with a CUPE-backed mayoral challenger.
COPE school trustee Sharon Gregson attended the meeting from start to finish, and left saying she was “very pleased”.
“This is not about everybody having to be best friends,” Gregson told the Straight. “This is about being strategic, being smart.”
Although Vision Vancouver may have allowed for some room for COPE candidates for council, park board, and school board, the manner of picking a common mayoral candidate could be contentious.
According to Caroline Askew, cochair of the Vision executive, the party isn’t in favour of seeing a so-called independent candidate endorsed by both parties.
“We’re hoping that COPE would endorse a Vision mayor,” Askew told the Straight at the end of the meeting. “We’re gonna do everything we can to make sure that may happen.”
That’s not what Cadman has in mind. “No, we already indicated to them that it’s not gonna be Vision naming and COPE endorsing,” Cadman said. “It’s gonna be a jointly endorsed candidate, and that’s the way its gonna have to move forward. Otherwise, COPE is committed to running a full campaign with a mayoralty candidate.”