Long-time COPE member Paul Houle is defending Tim Louis against criticisms that the latter's actions were responsible for the rout of the Coalition of Progressive Electors in the November 19 Vancouver civic election.
Houle, who served on the left-leaning party's executive for seven years, maintains that COPE's stance of playing second fiddle to the ruling Vision Vancouver party of Mayor Gregor Robertson was fatal to the organization.
“The real blame lies with the fact that COPE has tried to be a lapdog to Gregor Robertson,” Houle told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “They've tried to be essentially a toy poodle sitting on Gregor Robertson's lap and sort of tippy-toeing around the Vision organization. And sort of saying, ‘Well, if we don't upset Vision too much, maybe we can ride on the coattails of Vision into power.' ”
Houle, Louis, and a third of COPE members had opposed entering into a Vision-dominated electoral alliance going into the recent civic balloting.
If there's a lesson to be learned from COPE's defeat, Houle said that it's for the party to “start acting like an opposition and criticize the two developer parties”. He was referring to Vision and the Non-Partisan Association.
Former COPE councillor Fred Bass also thinks it's unfair to blame Louis.
Bass believes that what hurt COPE were moves intended to isolate Louis within the party.
For Bass, this includes the decision made by councillors David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth to endorse a neophyte Filipino Canadian politician, Rafael “RJ” Aquino, over the experienced Louis when the party held a nomination contest for three council slots in September.
“Tim Louis was actually the object of strategies in earlier years to bypass him,” Bass told the Straight in a phone interview.
Following his defeat in the 2005 election, Louis tried to stage a comeback in 2008 when COPE was running two candidates for council under its electoral agreement with Vision Vancouver. Cadman got the first nomination and Woodsworth edged out Louis by only six votes.
Later, in 2009, Louis lost his seat on the party's executive board when COPE held an internal election.
According to Bass, it's a “shame” that Cadman, Woodsworth, and Louis were not on the COPE slate going into the November 19 election.
At the September 18 COPE nomination meeting, Woodsworth came number one, followed by Louis and Aquino, who outscored Cadman by only seven votes for the third slot.
“I don't think he was the right choice,” Bass said in reference to Aquino. “David [Cadman] and Ellen [Woodsworth] are saying, ‘How could you turn down somebody [Cadman] with experience, an elected member of the party?' Oh, that's exactly what Tim Louis has been. He served two terms [on council], and I worked with him. I found him easy to work with.”
Louis, Aquino, and Woodsworth lost in the last municipal balloting, with the latter coming in 90 votes short of the 10th-place winner, Adriane Carr of the Green Party of Vancouver.
Of the six other candidates fielded by COPE for the park board and board of education, only one survived: incumbent school trustee Allan Wong. All of Vision's 17 candidates for council, park board, and school board won.
The loss had just started to sink in for Woodsworth when she took a call from the Straight on November 22.
“Nobody thought this would happen,” Woodsworth said.
A day earlier, on November 21, Cadman told the Straight in a phone interview that Louis has to take responsibility for the thrashing received by the party. Woodsworth agrees.
“I think that it's true that David Cadman being defeated by Tim [Louis], who hadn't really been active in city politics for six years and who some people really don't like, had an impact,” Woodsworth said.
She recalled that Louis, a lawyer, was preoccupied with a court case until three weeks before the election and therefore had a short time to campaign.
“Tim [Louis] was invisible for six years,” Woodsworth said. “He just wasn't active in the party. He wasn't in the public. He wasn't out there working on city issues. It might have been different had he been out there with his messages.”
Louis was not available to comment by the Straight's deadline.
Sidelined in the election, Cadman said that he will continue as the president of ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability, a global association of local governments working on such issues as climate change. His term ends in June 2012.
Although COPE will push on as a party, Cadman sees a rough patch ahead.
“The problem is going to be whether or not there will be the possibility of an agreement with Vision going forward next time,” he said. “And if not, whether COPE is going to be able to attract candidates who are able to win across this city without the benefit of incumbency.”