About 100 members of the Coalition of Progressive Electors met Sunday (January 22) to discuss the party’s direction as it looks ahead following its defeat in the November civic election.
Among those in attendance at the membership consultation meeting were former city councillor Ellen Woodsworth and former council candidate RJ Aquino, both of whom cited the turnout as a positive sign.
“What came out of it is that we do have our differences within the party, but we all agree that there’s work to be done, and that we need to move forward,” Aquino told the Straight. “Seeing how people have come in and have agreed to do that, and just the turnout–the original estimate was about 50 people and double of that showed up–that says a lot to how passionate people are about what needs to happen.”
The topics discussed among small groups at the meeting included whether or not the party should continue with its electoral alliance with Vision Vancouver.
No consensus on the issue was reached, but Aquino noted that “I think people really want to evaluate the kinds of relationships we establish moving forward.”
“How we’re going to do that, I think that’s still up for a lot of discussion, but I think the consensus is that people want to...just take more steps in evaluating how to create partnerships or any other types of relationships in the future,” he added.
The former candidate said he got a sense while door-knocking during the campaign that members of the public didn’t understand the electoral partnership that Vision and COPE had formed.
“The way I see it, it’s good if we build partnerships, but then there needs to be clear definitions as to what each partner’s role is, and that needs to be not just clear internally, but clear to the general public,” he said.
Woodsworth said it will be “pressing social issues” that will determine what kind of parties or alliances go forward in the next election.
“But it’s three years from now and a lot can happen,” she added.
Woodsworth came within just 91 votes within winning a seat, behind Green party councillor Adriane Carr. COPE school board trustee Allan Wong was the sole candidate from the party to win a seat in the November 2011 civic election.
According to election analysis data presented by Christopher Porter at the meeting, vote-splitting may have impacted COPE’s results.
Porter said his analysis showed that Vision and COPE garnered 55 percent of the vote in the 2008 election, while Vision, COPE, the Green Party and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver comprised 55 percent of votes in 2011.
He also noted that in 2008, former COPE councillor David Cadman came in seventh place among council candidates, earning 56,665 votes, meaning he could have lost over 8,000 votes in 2011 and still earned a council seat.
Woodsworth acknowledged that not having veteran councillor Cadman on the ballot may have impacted the party’s chances at not gaining a seat.
“I think the polling that was presented...showed that David Cadman could have won a seat, and could have possibly pulled others of us on council, because he’s been on council for a very long time, strong name recognition, so that’s certainly a factor, there’s no question,” she told the Straight.
Cadman was turfed as a candidate for his party at a nomination meeting last year, where former city councillor Tim Louis won a spot on COPE’s partial council slate of three candidates.
Woodsworth added that the party wasn’t able to overcome the competing budget of the city’s two major parties.
“For people who hadn’t voted before in an election, a lot of people didn’t know what COPE stood for, and we didn’t have the $2 million to advertise ourselves,” she said
The COPE gathering included discussion of what members said is a need for electoral reform measures such as restrictions on campaign donations and spending limits, and of potential steps for the party to move forward, including early identification of candidates for the next election, and establishing alliances with local grassroots organizations.
Panel discussion participant Paul Houle suggested that the party should position itself as more of an opposition over the next three years.
“I don’t think we really clearly positioned ourselves as being an opposition and criticizing Vision where Vision should have been criticized, and to do that I think we need to reinvigorate some of the caucuses and committees that we had going...between 1999 and 2002,” he said.
The party will hold an annual general meeting on February 19, where Woodsworth expects members will want to establish committees.
“What I’m hearing is that people what to get a strong executive committee set up, they want sub-committees...they want to start an online COPE newspaper that talks about municipal issues, they want to reach out to diverse communities, they want to make sure that the community neighbourhood organizations know what COPE stands for,” she said. “We need to continue what we’re best at, and that is building social movements.”
Woodsworth, who was recently quoted in a press release sent out by COPE on expanding the city’s proposed online rental database, said the party will continue to be vocal on similar topics.
“We’re all of us community activists and we will continue to work on those issues,” she said.