Gregor Robertson: Beware the power of the Kingsway NDP Mafia

A while ago, Carlito Pablo wrote a story in the Georgia Straight that was based on the following question: even though Raymond Louie lost the Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination, could he still end up running the city after the election?

It was an original piece of work, and I’m guessing that it didn’t make the Kingsway NDP Mafia very happy.

You probably haven’t seen that term Kingsway NDP Mafia in print before.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that NDP members in the Kingsway area are members of the Mafia. It’s just a shorthand descriptor I use to keep track of some of the players on the left side of the spectrum in Vancouver.

I’ll let you know who I’ve admitted into the club I call the Kingsway NDP Mafia in a moment. But first, it’s important to describe the politics of most of the members.

The Kingsway NDP Mafia tends to be looser with public funds, less keen than other NDP members  about environmental issues, and more strongly supportive of the labour movement and the wishes of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

If there’s one thing that binds the members of the Kingsway NDP Mafia, they side with labour leaders on issues of importance to the private-sector labour unions.

In the past, that has included lifting a moratorium on slot machines in the interest of job creation; supporting major construction projects like the Canada Line that create lots of jobs, lots of union dues, and lots of money flowing into the workers’ pension plans; and building social housing rather than employing tactics like rent supplements to make housing more affordable to the poor.

Farther back in time, it meant supporting a fast-ferry construction project against the recommendations of shipping experts, and supporting the Millennium Line against the recommendations of transit experts. The members of the Kingsway NDP Mafia  liked the expansion of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre before it became a political embarrassment because of massive cost overruns.

They talk a good game on environmental issues, but they’re usually not zealots on this issue. Sometimes, they’re downright contemptuous of environmentalists, who are seen as effete by the more macho members of the club. Remember former premier Glen Clark’s famous line that Greenpeace was an “enemy” of B.C.?

Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson, Vancouver-Hastings NDP MLA Shane Simpson, COPE councillor David Cadman, and former Vancouver Centre NDP candidate Michael Byers are all keeners on tackling climate change, sometimes at the expense of big public-works projects that create lots of jobs.

That makes them suspect in the eyes of some members of the Kingsway NDP  Mafia, as I like to call them.

To be part of the Kingsway NDP Mafia, the members have to be connected to Clark, the former MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway, by one or two degrees of separation.

The long-time members of the club tended to be Clark loyalists—or, in the words of Bill Tieleman, members of the Purple Kool-Aid Club, who were prepared to back his leadership to the bitter end.

Let’s look at who has been connected to Clark in this way. Vision Vancouver council candidate Geoff Meggs was Clark’s director of communications.

Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MLA Adrian Dix was Clark’s principal secretary.

Vision Vancouver candidate Kerry Jang was president of Dix’s constituency association, which makes him a member of the Kingsway NDP Mafia because there are two degrees of separation from Clark and he’s close to Meggs and other members.

CEP Local 2000 used to employ Louie as an organizer. Based on  Louie's voting record and his close connections to Meggs and Jang, I've included him in the club.

Bill Saunders, president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, was the long-time secretary-treasure of CEP Local 2000, so that gets him into the club. He was also Louie’s boss at one time.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, definitely belongs in the club. He and Meggs both worked at the fishermen’s union. After the 2005 election, Meggs worked with Sinclair at the B.C. Federation of Labour.

When Clark was premier, the government hired former Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Jim Green to do a bunch of things on the Downtown Eastside. He created the Four Corners Bank, Bladerunners, and the Pride Centre, which all stimulated employment in the area.

The then-premier sidelined local groups, which rubbed some in the community the wrong way but which benefited Green's Pride Centre. Even though he doesn’t live near Kingsway, I most definitely include Green in the Kingsway NDP Mafia club.

Doug MacArthur, an SFU public-policy professor, was deputy minister to the premier for a while in Clark’s government. He played a role in the backrooms when Vision Vancouver was created. I’ll grant him an honorary membership in the Kingsway NDP  Mafia, even though he doesn’t live near Kingsway.

I also include the COPE campaign manager in the 2002 election, Neil Monckton, in the Kingsway NDP  Mafia. Monckton worked in Clark’s office for a while. He managed Louie’s mayoral campaign, and has at times been close to Meggs and Green.

Monckton managed Ian Waddell's federal campaigns in Vancouver Kingsway. Dix worked for Waddell when he was an MP for the federal riding of Vancouver Kingsway.

Clark supported Waddell's run for MLA in Vancouver-Fraserview, which is home to the Ross Street Temple. Clark put Waddell in his cabinet. So yes, Waddell is a member of the Kingsway NDP Mafia even though he lives on the city's West Side.

You might be noticing something about the Kingsway NDP Mafia: it’s mostly a boys’ club.

But there are some women. Vancouver-Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Jenny Kwan was a staunch Clark loyalist and she worked with Green at the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association in the early 1990s. I’ve put her in the club.

Carmela Allevato, the COPE candidate for mayor in 1996 and a backroom supporter of Vision Vancouver, worked with Meggs at the Hospital Employees' Union in the 1990s. Allevato, a labour lawyer, is definitely part of the club that I've created in my mind.

The same is true of labour activist Kelly Quinn, who was a huge supporter of Vision Vancouver.

I have included Libby Davies, the NDP MP for Vancouver East, as an associate member of the Kingsway NDP Mafia because she has been close to some of the members, notably Kwan and Green. Davies is perhaps a bit too left-wing at times to qualify for full membership, however. She's a bit too  vocal about women's equality and  fairness for sex-trade workers.

The other Vancouver NDP MP, Don Davies, is a full member of the Kingsway NDP Mafia, having worked as a lawyer for the Teamsters, which was a strong supporter of Clark’s leadership in the 1990s. Like many modern  Kingsway NDP Mafia members, Davies has done a ton of outreach to multicultural communities.

In recent years, the Kingsway NDP Mafia has made significant inroads in this area, setting it apart from West Side New Democrats, who don't have a clue how demographic changes have transformed Vancouver politics.

Dix has forged some close links with the Vietnamese, South Asian,  and Filipino communities. Organizers like Rey Umlas have been brought into the fold.

Umlas was Clark's liaison to the Filipino community, but failed to secure a Vision Vancouver council nomination. Raj Hundal, a Vision park candidate, worked for a while in Dix's office as a constituency aide.

Similarly, Green did a lot of outreach into the South Asian community, visiting the Ross Street Temple on numerous occasions before and during his time on council.

During his bid for the Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination, Louie enjoyed the support of Kashmir Dhaliwal, a Vision Vancouver candidate for council and president of the Khlasa Diwan Society, which controls the temple.

Dhaliwal formed a slate with Meggs, Jang, and Andrea Reimer to secure Vision council nominations. Dhaliwal, who is pro-development, is an embodiment of the more centrist politics that characterize the Kingsway NDP Mafia, so I’ve included him in the club, too.

Reimer, a former Green party school trustee, was a supporter of Robertson and is not in the club. But she understands its power over left-wing politics in Vancouver, which might account for her decision to form an alliance with Meggs.

The Kingsway NDP Mafia members know that it’s smart politics, even if it’s not smart policy, to support increasing the size of the police force. As a result, Vision Vancouver has consistently called for beefing up the police, much to the delight of the Vancouver Police Union.

Being pro-police also plays well with new Canadians,  whom the Kingsway NDP Mafia members know they must attract to remain in power.

Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt was never a member of the Kingsway NDP Mafia, which always preferred Clark. But Harcourt was necessary for the NDP to take control of the B.C. legislature.

Similarly, Robertson was never a member of the Kingsway NDP Mafia, which always preferred Louie. But Robertson might be necessary for Vision Vancouver to gain control of Vancouver City Hall.

Don’t be surprised if Robertson wins the election, and one day suffers the same political fate as that other nice guy Harcourt, who blamed the boys at the B.C. Federation of Labour for his downfall.  

The Kingsway NDP Mafia doesn’t give up easily. Robertson should watch his back.




Nov 14, 2008 at 12:36pm

Oh Charlie - for goodness sakes!

I think your version of reality is the result of purple-coloured sunglasses.

The conspiracy theory here is a bit hard to imagine to me - and I know all the people mentioned.

And the story you repeat that the BC Fed was responsible for Mike Harcourt's resignation has been debunked thoroughly, including by Harcourt. At one point BC Business magazine reported breathlessly that I had been dispatched to Victoria to tell Mike he had to resign!

Completely and utterly false. The reference in Mike's book was in regard to a conversation he had about the level of support he was maintaining within labour and he was honestly told it was very low. With the NDP in the low 20% polling range that was obvious.

Yes, some of the people you mention are closer than others and have different links but the bad blood you infer is not there.

And I should know!

Bill Tieleman


Nov 17, 2008 at 3:20pm

If it takes purple-coloured sunglasses to see what Charlie Smith sees, I'm going to order some. Frankly, he does journalism how it is supposed to be done -- providing a context so people can understand the world rather than reporting as if the world is made up of random happenings. I appreciate knowing the connections among the "Kingsway Mafia" just as I want to know the links of the NPA to corporate board of directors and downtown business people. If only more media in town did this work, we'd have a much more informed electorate.

Bill, it's a bit of a cheapshot to try to dismiss something by calling it a conspiracy theory. There's no doubt that a group of like-minded folk who knew each other, worked together, belonged to the same organizations, and had the same interests communicated with each other and organized to achieve their own ends. That's politics. And I'm sure you'd agree that we'd all be better off better understanding how it works in the back rooms and paying less attention to the theatrics of the campaign trail.

Anne Roberts