Homeless in Vancouver: Dumbing down Vancouver politics is the name of the game

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      Have you noticed how many Vancouver political parties are running candidates in the upcoming October 20th municipal election? There have to be six or seven at least—easily the most ever in Vancouver history.

      I say “the most ever” because, near as I can tell, prior to 2005, there were only ever three Vancouver political parties.

      Of course, I mean Vancouver political parties with “Vancouver” in their name.

      Of those parties, by the way, one was the Green Party of Vancouver, established in 1984 and so named to distinguish it from its provincial and federal counterparts.

      Another was Citizens for the Improvement of Vancouver, launched in 1966 by city planner and one-term Vancouver city councillor (and future MLA) Bob Williams. And the third I found was the Vancouver Council-Manager Association, active in 1938.

      No other Vancouver municipal parties, out of the 23 that I can find before 2005—going back to the 1920s and the beginning of party politics in the city—ever included “Vancouver” in their name.

      And why should they have? It went without saying that the political parties running candidates in Vancouver elections were Vancouver parties—what else could they have been?

      At least it went without saying for nearly 70 years.

      Party names and politics get dumb and dumber

      Here is the best list I could quickly compile of Vancouver political party names:

      Through the 20th century, you can see that Vancouver political parties were named using politically descriptive terms, such as “Non-Partisan”, “Electors”, and “Independents”. Party names were crafted with an eye to telling voters something meaningful about a party’s position on the political spectrum.

      Back then, it probably never occurred to politicians and party officials to waste their party names telling voters something they already knew, like what city they lived in.

      Early in the 21st century, however, something happened to make Vancouver politicians suddenly feel an overwhelming need to state the blindingly obvious, with the result that I am hard-pressed to find even one major Vancouver political party, founded from 2005-onward, without “Vancouver” explicitly included in its name.

      I could blame Senator Larry Campbell for starting this trend, or rather, the gang of politicians who split from COPE and started the Vision Vancouver party in 2005—that would be Larry (then Mayor of Vancouver) and Vancouver city councillors Jim GreenRaymond Louie, and Tim Stevenson.

      However, I think that misses the point. Larry and company—and all the Vancouver politicians and political parties who have followed Vision’s example—are only to blame insofar as they have all swallowed and followed the advice of the consultants and imageers they have hired and who have told them that party politics (and city governance, for that matter) is as much about marketing as it is about anything else.

      These days location is everything in politics

      A “Vancouver”-branded curbside trash bin from 2015.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The latest crop of political party names, such as “Vision Vancouver”, “Yes Vancouver”, and “ProVancouver” are not about conveying meaning, beyond a vague feeling.

      Admittedly, the NSV party (aside from the inclusion of “Vancouver”) has a pretty old-school name and the “Idea” in “Idea Vancouver” is an acronym that unpacks some politically descriptive terms.

      However, most of these new party names are deliberately devoid of meaning—all the better to be inclusive and minimize the possibility of offending anyone.

      What these names are about is brand recognition, being easy to remember, and nothing else.

      As for including “Vancouver”—likely there is focus group data suggesting that the city name adds value to a political party in the eyes of voters.

      And obviously, not just to party names. Look around you at how many things in the city are now branded with the word “Vancouver”, including curbside garbage cans, bicycle racks, recycling bins, and street signs.

      It’s only since image-consious Vision Vancouver took over city hall that city trash cans, and suchlike, have been branded with the city name. It’s as if to say: “Look. This isn’t just any old trash bin, it’s special. We had it made just for Vancouver!”

      Whether Vancouver residents actually appreciate having even the most basic city services “sold” back to them, like something they should be lucky to receive, is questionable. Likely, they barely notice anymore.

      Quite probably, everyone involved—voters and politicians alike—just take it for granted that politics has always been done this way—as a never-ending marketing campaign.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.