Paul Houle: Hey, Mike Magee, COPE ain’t dead yet

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      The Georgia Straight recently reminded us of a comment made by Mayor Gregor Robertson’s chief of staff, Mike Magee. Magee, speaking in 2009, indicated that the stance of Vision Vancouver toward COPE was to “love ’em to death”. Well, Mr. Magee, I’m sorry to bring you bad news, but it seems that COPE, while much battered, isn’t quite dead yet.

      COPE hosted a healthy turnout of 100 dedicated members on Sunday (January 22) to do a municipal election postmortem. My reading of the meeting is that the deathly embrace by Vision is starting to wear a little thin with a growing number of COPE members. At the very least, many were calling for the terms of this marriage contract to be substantially revised.

      It was noted at the gathering that more vote splitting in the 2011 election (compared to 2008) likely cut into COPE’s (and Vision’s) support, with a resurgent civic Green party and the newly minted Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) contributing to this. However, the “cooperation” agreement between COPE and Vision was blamed by many for COPE’s poor showing.

      One person condemned COPE’s “chaperoning” of Vision. Another noted that, to a great extent, COPE became “invisible” because of its lack of a mayoralty candidate. It was also noted that “COPE didn’t differentiate itself enough from Vision” and that this, in a sense, caused COPE to become “irrelevant”.

      Some did identify as a central issue in COPE’s poor showing the fact that former city councillor David Cadman was not on the ballot (having failed to secure renomination).

      A fundamental issue for me, and for many at the meeting, is that of money. Vision and the NPA have simply become the two “developer” parties on the civic scene. When the disclosure of campaign contributions is made this spring, I believe that we are all going to be a little shocked at the extent of developer contributions to Vision and the NPA (COPE has adopted a policy of not accepting any donations from developers).

      For Vision, donations from organized labour become additional “gravy” on top of the generous developer handouts. I believe that the labour movement needs to do some very deep soul-searching around the ethics of its actions in jumping into bed with some of the developers who are involved with Vision. Some of these developers have questionable track records as landlords and in the provision of affordable housing—issues that very directly impact the quality of life for working people in the city (something labour should be very concerned about).

      Former Vancouver NPA city councillor Jonathan Baker once referred to the NPA as “lint in the pockets of developers”. Well, to paraphrase Baker, Vision has become the new lint in the pockets of developers. COPE, especially in the dying days of the November municipal election, simply couldn’t compete with the enormous financial resources of Vision and the NPA and their ability to blanket the media with their respective messages.

      Mayor Robertson continues to chip away at the city’s serious homelessness problem, but he cannot deal effectively with the huge issue of those in the city who could become homeless because of unaffordable rent and lack of social housing as long as Vision is bought by developers.

      To borrow the language of the “Occupy” movement, Vision and the NPA represent the “one percent”. COPE needs to revitalize its traditional role of representing the “99 percent”.

      So, for COPE to reclaim its position in advocating for the 99 percent, I (and others) recommended to the meeting that COPE immediately start acting like the real opposition at city council. Of course, it’s better to have elected representatives on city council to do this, but it can still be done effectively from the outside—especially with the many COPE veterans who have years of council experience (not to mention school board and park board expertise).

      COPE needs to take its critiques of city policy out into the neighbourhoods and convey its message through the media (outside of the city council chamber).

      COPE needs to revitalize all its committees—especially its city council, school board, and parks board caucuses. It also needs to create new caucuses that bring more Vancouverites into active involvement with COPE—especially more youth, aboriginals, Indo Canadians, Chinese, Filipinos, immigrants, and other citizens.

      COPE needs to do continuous fundraising between elections.

      Above all, COPE needs to fight strenuously for campaign finance reform. Vancouver, and the province, are a backwater of Wild West capitalism in the “sky is the limit” attitude toward municipal election spending. Vision and the NPA are not going to seriously push financial reform as long as they are both on the gravy train of developer largesse.

      Look, for example, to the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador for instances of campaign spending control. Toronto provides rebates to voters of up to 75 percent of their donations in city elections (e.g., for a $100 donation, the voter gets $75 dollars back). Toronto has banned donations by both corporations and unions to city council campaigns. The city has also placed a cap of $5,000 as the amount that one individual can make to a specific council campaign.

      While I am not saying that Toronto is necessarily the perfect model of campaign funding, I am saying that what we have here in Vancouver now is a disaster that reeks of conflict of interest and badly needs a major overhaul. It is worth looking at other jurisdictions to see if we can adopt the best there to remedy the dire situation here.

      COPE must reassert its role as defender of the 99 percent in Canada’s least affordable city. COPE isn’t dead. COPE will revitalize and reinvent itself as it has done for 44 years. That was certainly the strong feeling at Sunday’s meeting.

      Paul Houle has been a member of COPE since 1986 and served on the COPE executive for seven years. He was a panellist at the COPE election debriefing meeting held on January 22.




      Jan 23, 2012 at 10:11am

      Sorry Paul;
      While I voted COPE in '08, and supported the party, I simply could not stomach the vitriol that Tim Louis brings to the table, so COPE got none of my votes this time.

      Emily Cat

      Jan 23, 2012 at 10:53am

      Was Tim Louis at the meeting? Just curious...


      Jan 23, 2012 at 11:07am

      Houle wrote: "To borrow the language of the “Occupy” movement, Vision and the NPA represent the “one percent”. COPE needs to revitalize its traditional role of representing the “99 percent”."

      How can a political party that has been part of the political establishment for 40 years now latch on to a new Occupy Movement that rejects the political establishment?

      Does COPE not recognize that every political organization wants to claim a slice of the Occupy "high ground"? Even Anton managed to mumble some words of support (while gritting her teeth).

      small matters

      Jan 23, 2012 at 11:35am

      The personalization of these issues- and obsessive focus on Tim Louis- is nothing short of pathological. Mad props to Paul Houle for reminding us that Cope, unlike Vision and the NPA, is not bankrolled by the 1 %. The task of rebuilding Cope into a member driven credible opposition is paramount if voices of citizens and marginalized are to be heard at city hall.

      City Observer

      Jan 23, 2012 at 12:18pm

      Tim Louis was not present at the COPE 'consultation' meeting on Sunday; he was home with the flu.

      As to the continued demonization of Mr. Louis, such conduct on the part of commenters such as 'steaua', beggars belief. Mr. Louis, throughout the most recent municipal campaign, was respectful always, in good humour (sort of like a latter day, altho' more mild mannered, George Carlin), and informed on the issues, emerging as we might hope he would be as an articulate spokesperson for the interests of the 99%.


      Jan 23, 2012 at 12:35pm

      COPE it seems to me still has a divided membership and this 'listening to the membership' at yesterday's meeting did nothing to change that fact . While some may say that COPE attracted 100 people to the meeting and that this is a good sign for re-newel. I question though is it really? At least half of those yesterday in attendance are still loyal to Vision and believe its in COPE's best interests for an electoral arrangement with a party funded by developers and foreigners. As long as COPE is tied to a developer party it can't claim to be a party of working class people, the disenfranchised and the poor. The lack of affordability in this City is a direct result of Vision policies which are hurting those classes of people I just mentioned. Many of the working class are also renters who are fighting for housing affordability and Vision has done nothing to address this lack of affordability. Until COPE realizes that people it has historically counted on for support are not willing to be used as pawns at election time to support a developer party and to be relevent it needs to sever all ties to Vision. To be a truly effective opposition, it must now rip up the agreement it has with Vision. I'm not sure what will happen municiplly in the future but clearly voters are not happy with the current parties (NPA, Vision and COPE) and those voters are wanting something else. I think the election of Green party Adriane Carr demonstrates this new reality along with the significant number of votes a number of independent and NSV candidates attracted. It will be interesting to see how COPE responds. But if it continues to place it's trust with those on the COPE executive who negoitiated the electoral alliance with Vision which consequently took the party towards it's worst defeat in municipal history, well that history will only repeat itself.

      N Jacobs

      Jan 23, 2012 at 12:53pm

      Paul Houle's commentary is right on the mark.

      BTW, NSV was not responsible for "vote splitting" to COPE's detriment, because NSV recommended all 3 COPE Council candidates and did not run candidates for the Park or School Boards.

      Mike Dumler

      Jan 23, 2012 at 3:18pm

      By any objective criteria, COPE's election results can hardly be considered the worst defeat in municipal history. Over its 44 year history COPE has actually been "wiped out" more than once. I would also note that after the wipe-out in the 1996, COPE came back to form government in the 2002 election. And although COPE only elected one candidate (Alan Wong to School Board), its total vote, and percentage of the votes cast are among the highest in its history. The claims that COPE's failure to elect more candidates was because of the electoral cooperation agreement with Vision are unsupported by any constructive critical analysis of the election results. One very objective fact that obviously affected the outcome of this election is that COPE's campaign budget was barely one tenth of what Vision and the NPA spent. As for the Green candidate's (Adrienne Carr) squeaking past COPE's Ellen Woodsworth by 91 votes out of nearly 50,000 being a demonstration of a new reality, or rejection of other parties, this certainly isn't supported by the results for the other Green Party candidates. As a member of the COPE executive and election campaign committee I will continue to welcome valid constructive criticism, of which there was clearly some provided at COPE's gathering on Sunday.


      Jan 23, 2012 at 4:11pm

      @ Mike Dumler there you go defending this electoral alliance with a party (Vision) which you were instrumental in supporting and who's policies have negatively impacted the people who COPE purports to support. You should hang your head in shame and if you were an honourable person you would do the honourable thing and resign your executive position.

      Spin, spin, spin

      Jan 23, 2012 at 5:32pm

      "The claims that COPE's failure to elect more candidates was because of the electoral cooperation agreement with Vision are unsupported..."

      Eeeeeepps, that's a lot of spinning. The Cope executive, which Mike belongs to, sold the agreement, with its purported well crafted cooperation- tell that to the piles of Vision voters I talked to who knew little of Cope or the agreement- on the basis that it was a realistic and pragmatic mechanism to elect of Cope candidates. Please. The expectations was that teaming with Vision, muting Cope's critical stance, would get people on on three boards. Now that 8 of 9 of our people lost you can't switch the goalposts. Sometime over the past years Cope became rudderless, so intent was the party to hitch its fortunes to Vision, that it sold its political identity while compromising its raison etre. If we're going to move forward we must be self critical and abandon all the spinning self congratulations.