Will the NPA continue to be hobbled by millionaires and billionaires?

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      Vancouver's NPA ruled the city for the better part of 70 years for a few reasons.

      First and foremost, it presented itself as a "nonpartisan" organization, even when this wasn't really true.

      Secondly, its mayors were all well-known politicians with elected experience before winning the top job.

      Thirdly, when it was most successful, it presented the impression that it had recruited the very best possible candidates to act in the city's best interest.

      In the face of this, the left had serious challenges even gaining a toehold on council.

      Things only began to change in the 1970s when TEAM, a.k.a. The Electors Action Movement, convinced the public that it had the best candidates and that they were going to act in the city's best interest.

      In the early 1980s, the left gained momentum in Vancouver civic politics as the provincial government took a hard right turn under then premier Bill Bennett.

      But the pendulum swung back to the NPA in the late 1980s and 1990s as it once again provided stable leadership with a largely trusted group of councillors. Gordon Campbell was a far less polarizing figure as mayor than he ever was as premier.

      In those days, NPA councillors like George Puil and Gordon Price would hold intense debates in public over transportation and other issues. The NPA park board of the 1990s took the first steps toward limiting the Vancouver Aquarium's authority to do whatever it wanted with animals in Stanley Park.

      It was a government that suited the mood of the city. No more so than when then mayor Philip Owen embraced a four-pillars approach to address illicit-drug addiction.

      Developer Rob Macdonald made the largest campaign contribution in Canadian history when he donated $960,000 to the NPA in 2011.
      Charlie Smith

      So why didn't the NPA continue along this moderate path? In part, because the millionaires and billionaires gradually gained more influence in the party's back rooms.

      In 2011, developer Rob Macdonald donated a whopping $960,000 to the NPA in a futile quest to have former councillor Suzanne Anton elected mayor. She had previously been a centrist politician.

      But in the 2011 campaign, she started slamming back-yard chickens and ridiculing Vision Vancouver's bike lanes. Not coincidentally, these bike lanes were loathed by Macdonald and another multimillionaire NPA supporter, Peter Brown. The NPA was trounced for the second straight election.

      Fraser Institute chairman Peter Brown has been a significant donor to NPA campaigns in the past.

      In 2014, Rocky Mountaineer railway owner Peter Armstrong, then the NPA president, promoted journalist Kirk LaPointe as the party's standard bearer. Armstrong gave $470,000 to the party through his company and in personal contributions.

      Other financial supporters were Brown, an investment tycoon and Fraser Institute chairman, as well as his friend, wealthy developer and long-time Fraser Institute director Hassan Khosrowshahi.

      LaPointe had no elected experience. Because he wasn't completely up to speed on the issues, he tried to win by painting Vision Vancouver as corrupt.

      The NPA lost for the third straight time in 2014.

      Former NPA president Peter Armstrong (right) contributed $470,000 to the NPA in 2014 in an unsuccessful attempt to get Kirk LaPointe (left) elected mayor.
      Yolande Cole

      Four years later, Armstrong has found another mayoral candidate without any political experience to run for mayor with the NPA. His name is Ken Sim and he has been a successful entrepreneur. Billionaire real-estate magnate Chip Wilson is also in Sim's camp.

      Sim has been practically invisible since he was nominated in early June. Perhaps he's holed up in the NPA's new and spacious office at Ontario and Broadway studying council policies in advance of getting out in public.

      Soon, the NPA is going to unveil a slate of candidates. I expect that there won't be a public nomination meeting. The backroom operators, not the members, will likely decide whose names will be on the ballot.

      One former NPA candidate who's popular in the LGBT and arts communities, Rob McDowell, announced last night that he's running as an independent. Presumably, the NPA brass didn't think he was sufficiently right wing.

      One source, who requested anonymity, claimed that McDowell was initially on the NPA slate on Saturday (July 28) but was taken off the slate by Monday. Earlier this month, McDowell was hanging out with other NPA types at the party's booth at the West 4th Khatsahlano Street Party.

      Another person who was previously going to seek an NPA nomination, video-game developer Adrian Crook, is also planning to run for council as an independent.

      The son of a former Vancouver police homicide investigator, Crook has quite a following among those who want greater densification of single-family neighbourhoods.

      Then, of course, there's the spurned NPA councillor, Hector Bremner, who's running for mayor with Yes Vancouver. An impressive slate of political newcomers have been acclaimed to run with him. There's a chance that Yes Vancouver could leave the NPA in the dust much like TEAM obliterated the NPA in the 1970s.

      One of the billionaires in Ken Sim's camp is lululemon athletica founder Chip Wilson.
      Charlie Smith

      If the NPA doesn't hold a nomination meeting, it's going to be easy for its opponents to characterize it as the billionaires' party.

      There's more than enough evidence from previous elections to drive this point home. And that could be political poison going into the fall campaign.

      Right now, Sim appears to be doing okay in the polls, but that's before his opponents have had a chance to frame him and his party in the minds of the public.

      Do Vancouverites really want Peter Armstrong or Chip Wilson running their city?

      Sim is going to need to come up with a decent response to that question because it's surely going to be asked of him in upcoming mayoral-candidate debates.

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