It's still Peter Armstrong's NPA

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      One of the more astonishing aspects of last night's NPA mayoral nomination meeting was the number of security guards.

      The media were instructed not to take photos of any party members. Only the candidates' photos were permitted.

      And the presence of so many bouncers made it clear that anyone who violated the party's diktat was going to face some serious consequences.

      I wanted to snap an image of former party president Peter Armstrong, who was sitting just a few feet away from the media table during the candidates' speeches.

      But I knew that if I pulled out my camera, I probably would have been tossed out of the meeting. Then I wouldn't have been able to hear the candidates speak.

      It's a sign of what protesters can expect to encounter should the NPA retake control over city hall in this election.

      But make no mistake, the real winner of last night's NPA mayoral nomination was Armstrong, who backed the victor, businessman Ken Sim. In fact, Armstrong played a pivotal role behind the scenes in advancing Sim's candidacy.

      Armstrong is the founder and CEO of Armstrong Group, which owns and operates the Rocky Mountaineer train company.

      He's been active in B.C. Liberal backrooms and despite his considerable success in the business world, he's been a singular failure in municipal politics.

      Since he became the eminence grise of the NPA following the Peter Ladner debacle of 2008, the party has lost two straight mayoral elections. It could be on its way toward another political iceberg in 2018 as a result of the board of directors vetoing the mayoral application of Coun. Hector Bremner.

      The only time that the NPA won a majority in the last two elections came at the park board in 2014.

      But that was squandered when a rookie commissioner, Erin Shum, fled the caucus, alleging that she was being bullied. Naturally, the other NPA commissioners rejected her claim.

      The NPA hasn't controlled council or the school board since losing the 2008 election. 

      Peter Armstrong went door-knocking with then NPA council candidate Gregory Baker in 2014; now, Baker is the party president.
      Gregory L. Baker

      Armstrong is no longer the NPA president, so he can put on airs that he's just an ordinary member, like everybody else. 

      The reality is that NPA candidates seek his counsel and vie for his approval.

      In that regard, he's like Mike Magee, who's been the party supremo of Vision Vancouver in everything but title.

      Through Gregor Robertson's first two terms as mayor, Magee was his chief of staff. The real mayor was, in fact, "Gregor Magee" because Magee had as much, if not more influence than Robertson.

      We all know that in the Gregor Magee era, developers had plenty of access to the mayor's office.

      Average folks sometimes felt they weren't treated with the same deference, except when the mayor was doing some admirable work promoting reconciliation or leading the charge for sound policies to address the opioid crisis.

      Like Armstrong in the NPA, Magee used to play a pivotal role in the nomination process.

      If you wanted to get anywhere in Vision Vancouver, you had to go through Mike Magee. Now, he's backing the mayoral candidacy of Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell, whose only opponent, Taleeb Noormohamed, backed out of the race last week.

      Most Vancouverites couldn't pick Mike Magee out of a police lineup, but he's probably had more influence over Vancouver in the past 10 years than practically anyone else.
      Charlie Smith

      Armstrong's NPA makes a pretense of listening but still gives short shrift to environmental concerns. That's been its undoing in the last two elections and there's no sign that the party has learned any lessons from this.

      Before Armstrong took control of the NPA, it had a green wing, with councillors like Gordon Price and Peter Ladner advancing some environmentally sound policies.

      The NPA council of the 1990s also brought forward one of the most progressive transportation plans in Canada. 

      Don't forget it was an NPA-controlled council, not Vision Vancouver, that was way ahead of its time when it created a task force to prepare the Clouds of Change report in 1990.

      This highlighted the dangers of rising greenhouse gas emissions long before the public recognized the gravity of this issue.

      One of the members of the task force was a future COPE councillor Fred Bass, and it was chaired by green-minded venture capitalist Michael Brown.

      The NPA of the 1990s also played a major role in crafting the Livable Region Strategic Plan, which preserved greenspace and advocated for sensible development policies across Metro Vancouver.

      Even if voters didn't like the NPA's hobnobbing with the rich, they could rest assured that its politicians of that era were not just bottom-line thinkers incapable of seeing government as a force for some good in the world.

      That version of the NPA was best reflected in the campaign of John Coupar for this year's NPA mayoral nomination. He talked about increasing electric-vehicle charging stations and using city government as a means to accomplish positive things, like new pools, community centres, and schools.

      Coupar promised to be a mayor for all Vancouverites, like Philip Owen, who headed the NPA through much of the 1990s.

      Sim, on the other hand, focused on how money was being misspent and how this was chasing people out of Vancouver. He came across as an Armstrong NPAer, advocating for lower taxes and not much in the way of new services or environmentally sensitive policies.

      Whereas Coupar mentioned the drug crisis and building civic assets, Sim offered a bottom-line vision of watching where every dollar is spent.

      There was no indication from Sim's speech that he's concerned about rising greenhouse gas emissions.

      As an Armstrong NPAer, don't expect to hear Sim express a great deal of opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline project or the threat it poses to Vancouver's tourism industry, of which Armstrong is a kingpin.

      Back in 2011, Armstrong was one of the key players backing Suzanne Anton's ill-fated NPA campaign for mayor.
      Charlie Smith

      Fortunately in this election, there could be a choice for those who are sick of Armstrong and Vision insiders having a stranglehold over civic politics in Vancouver.

      That's because it looks like an NPA breakaway group led by Coun. Hector Bremner may mount its own campaign.

      Bremner is a tenant and he's advocating a sharp increase in the supply of housing and greater densification of single-family neighbourhoods to address the high cost of housing.

      That runs contrary to the wishes of older NPAers who love their houses and lavish lawns on the West Side of the city.

      Those who like some of Vision's policies but who hate its arrogant and elitist mindset have two independent options for mayor: NDP MP Kennedy Stewart and SFU public-practice professor Shauna Sylvester.

      Stewart is not an egomaniac and, in fact, comes across as one of the more humble politicians you'll ever meet. Sylvester has demonstrated a commitment over a long period of time to listening to the voices of people from across the ideological spectrum.

      So if this election turns into a referendum on whether the public wants Peter Armstrong or Vision insiders to continue playing an outsized role in local politics, there are other options.

      Party members in the NPA can move over to Bremner's camp.

      Vision supporters can get behind either Stewart or Sylvester to breathe some democratic wind through the council chamber.

      There's no reason in this era of campaign finance reform and greater transparency that backroom boys like Armstrong should still be exerting so much influence over civic affairs.

      This is the year that voters and party members can change that.