Here are 10 reasons why Vision Vancouver should worry about the NPA

On Monday (December 29) at 4 p.m., the rebuilding begins for the most powerful force in Vancouver civic politics over the past 70 years. Members of the Non-Partisan Association  will meet at the Hellenic Community Centre on the city’s west side to elect a new board of directors.

Established in 1937, the Non-Partisan Association has elected 11 different mayors and for most of its history, has controlled Vancouver city council.

As bad as things might now  seem for the NPA, there are many reasons for party members to remain optimistic about  the possibility of taking back City Hall in  2011.

Here are 10 reasons why things don’t look so bad for the NPA, despite the party only winning one seat on council, one seat on park board, and two seats on school board in the November 15 election.

1.  The civic left has fared very badly whenever the NDP has held provincial office, and the NDP under Carole James has a decent shot at winning the 2009 provincial election. After the NDP won the 1991 provincial election, the NPA’s left-wing opponents were decimated in the next civic election, capturing only one seat on council. After the NDP was reelected in 1996, the NPA won every seat on council, park board, and school board in the November election that year.

2.  If the NDP loses the provincial election, the party will dump James and an obvious frontrunner to replace her would be Mayor Gregor Robertson. If Robertson becomes the NDP leader, Vision Vancouver will have lost its trump card in the 2011 election. And the united slate of COPE-Green-Vision could disintegrate before the 2011 campaign if Robertson isn’t there to hold them together.

3.  A bad economy generally hurts incumbents. Keep in mind that more than $30 trillion in wealth has been wiped out of the stock markets around the world this year. There’s a good chance that  the economy  will get worse before it gets better. Whoever runs for mayor in 2011 can ask the favourite question of challengers in hard economic times: “Are you better off now than you were three years ago?” The answer could very easily be, “No”, which means more votes for an NPA challenger.

4.  The NPA was crippled by divisive mayoral-nomination races in each of the last two elections. And in both instances, the NPA mayoral candidate fared far worse than former mayors Philip Owen or Gordon Campbell ever did. Expect the NPA to settle on one candidate in 2011 who will be backed by the Vancouver establishment. There won't be a repetition of the Sam Sullivan-Peter Ladner duel over who  would get to  be mayor during the Olympics.

5.  Vision Vancouver will govern in a way that pleases the unions. That's a certainty with Geoff Meggs and Raymond Louie on council.  This will be noted by the labour movement's critics, who can be confident that their views will get plenty of coverage in the mainstream media--especially on CKNW Radio, Global TV,  CTV, and in the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers.

6.  The NPA has three years to build a bigger tent in the same way that Vision Vancouver did over the past three years. There’s a lot of upside potential for the NPA to attract support from the LGBT community, the South Asian community, and from younger people in the professions and business--especially if property taxes go up significantly during Vision Vancouver's tenure (see number 9).

7.  Vision Vancouver looks united now, but there are key wedge issues that could divide the party. One is the ward system. Another is transportation. A third is the way city council deals with the park board. A fourth is the size of the police department.

8.  The magnitude of the NPA loss in 2008 eliminated a lot of deadwood, creating room for smart, young, media-savvy candidates to step forward into the limelight. The old NPA was boring. The marketing types who are attracted to the NPA  have a great opportunity to rebrand the party.  

9.  The Olympics is costing Vancouver taxpayers a lot of money in various ways, both big and small. The police force is being beefed up for the 2010 Games, even though nobody admits that this is the real reason why there are always big budgetary increases even though the crime rate is falling. Taxpayers are ultimately legally liable for completing the billion-dollar Olympic Village on time. There are smaller expenditures for such things as Olympic banners and bigger expenditures for such things as an ice-hockey practice rink at Trout Lake. Meanwhile, the community centres are being neglected. Property taxes will probably go up significantly by 2011, in part because taxes from the commercial sector could decline. This will create a big fat target for NPA politicians who want to portray Vision Vancouver as a tax-and-spend party.

10.  It’s rather astonishing that 20 people have put their names forward in an election for 11 positions on the NPA board. It shows that the party still has a lot of juice, even if it doesn’t have many elected officials.