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:
- 1928: Independent Labour Party: leftist party of Angus Macinnis, elected 1928 to city council.
- 1936: Cooperative Commonwealth Federation: leftist party of MLA Lyle Telford, elected mayor in 1939. Active to 1953.
- 1937: Non-Partisan Association (NPA): centre-right party.
- 1938: Labour Progressive Party: leftist party.
- 1938: Vancouver Council-Manager Association (VCMA).
- 1943: Trade Union Representation Committee (TURC).
- 1945: Civic Action Association (1) (CAA).
- 1945: Democrat (Dem.).
- 1945: United Labour (UL).
- 1946: Civic Reform Association (CRA): leftist party of Effie Jones, nearly elected mayor in 1946. Active to 1950.
- 1957: Civic Voters’ Association (CVA): active to 1961.
- 1964: Civic Action Association (2) (CAA): active to 1966.
- 1964: Central Council of Ratepayers (CCR): active to 1966.
- 1966: Citizens for the Improvement of Vancouver: started by one-term councilor Bob Williams.
- 1968: Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE): left-wing party.
- 1968: The Electors’ Action Movement (TEAM): centrist party active through 1980s.
- 1970: Christian Democratic Party (CDP).
- 1970: League for Socialist Action (LSA): active to 1976.
- 1970: Youth International Party (YIP).
- 1973: Civic Independents: centre-left party of Mike Harcourt, elected Mayor in 1980.
- 1984: Green Party of Vancouver: centerist party; affiliated with provincial and federal Greens.
- 1988: Civic New Democrats: centre-left party affiliated with B.C. NDP; shared slate with COPE in 1988.
- 1996: Voice: left-right coalition active in 1996; mayoral candidate was Jonathan Baker and among the council candidates was Connie Fogal, now mayoral candidate of Idea Vancouver.
- 2005: Vision Vancouver: centrist party formed by breakaway COPE members.
- 2007: Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV): centrist advocacy group-turned-party.
- 2013: Vancouver First: neighbourhood-centric party. Running a mayoral candidate in 2018.
- 2014: Vancouver Cedar Party: “non-developer funded” party that ran city council candidates in 2014.
- 2014: OneCity Vancouver: centre-left party formed by breakaway COPE members.
- 2018: Coalition Vancouver: right-wing party formed by breakaway NPA members.
- 2018: Idea Vancouver (Independent Democratic Electors Alliance): resident-centric party.
- 2018: ProVancouver: neighbourhood advocacy group-turned-party.
- 2018: Yes Vancouver: formed by breakaway NPA members; not to be confused with YES! Vancouver.
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 Green, Raymond 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
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.