Even with council by-election victory, it's far too early for the NPA to crack open the Champagne

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      Last night, members of the NPA were in a partying mood after their by-election council candidate, Hector Bremner, cruised to victory.

      Adding to the NPA's excitement was the election of two school trustees, newcomer Lisa Dominato and veteran Fraser Ballantyne.

      Much of the media coverage has focused on the woes of Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver, even though it elected exactly the same number of politicians as the NPA.

      The reality is the results still showed deep mistrust for both Vision Vancouver and the NPA.

      Bremner, a public-relations executive, only captured 27.83 percent of the council votes. He collected just 13,372 votes, which was lower than 16 of the 19 school board candidates.

      Three NPA school board candidates, including former trustee Christopher Richardson, were defeated.

      Two of them received fewer votes than the lowest-ranking Vision Vancouver candidate and one was even below the only COPE candidate.

      This hardly ranks as a major success, given the effort that the NPA exerted in painting its Vision school-board opponents as bullies.

      NPA fared better in the past

      The last time the NPA had only two trustees on the Vancouver school board was after the Vision Vancouver landslide of 2008.

      In the 2011 and 2014 elections, the NPA elected more trustees.

      So while the NPA might feel it's on the rebound with four members on Vancouver city council, the foundation remains weak.

      Part of the problem for the NPA has been that its base on the West Side of Vancouver is producing a smaller percentage of the overall votes as it did in the party's heyday of the late 1980s and 1990s.

      The rising number of landed immigrants (who can't vote) and the lack of densification in the NPA's prime areas, like Southlands, Dunbar, and Shaughnessy, have given the party a disadvantage in general elections.

      In recent years, there's been greater densification on the East Side and, to a lesser extent, in the West End. This adds up to a growing number of homeowners in Grandview-Woodland, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Hastings-Sunrise, and other East Side neighbourhoods where many voters tend to dislike the NPA.

      It's a simple formula: more citizen-residents add up to more votes.

      Cooperation could stymie NPA

      While it's clear from yesterday's by-election that voters' love affair with Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver is fading, it remains unclear where their support may go in the 2018 general election.

      This time around, many voted for independent Jean Swanson, Green candidate Pete Fry, and OneCity's Judy Graves. But it's conceivable that they may vote more strategically next time to prevent the NPA from seizing power.

      If Vision Vancouver, for example, were to run a short slate of council candidates, perhaps the Greens and OneCity would be amenable to also running short slates so as to concentrate their vote. 

      Five Vision candidates, three Greens, and two OneCity council candidates, for instance, would likely be enough to keep the NPA from taking control of council, which has 11 members including the mayor.

      The three parties could all endorse the Vision mayoral candidate—whether that's Robertson, Andrea Reimer, or Raymond Louie—as being preferable to anyone running for the NPA.

      The Greens might really get behind a Reimer mayoral bid, given that she was first elected as a Green trustee, if she ran as a unity candidate rather than having the name "Vision Vancouver" after her name.

      The NPA might then be kept from gaining a majority even if Jean Swanson were to run as an independent, Mary Jean Dunsdon ran as the marijuana candidate, and COPE ran a slate of candidates.

      Swanson would likely get elected under this scenario, but she would be loath to support the aims of NPA politicians, particularly if Reimer took a left turn.

      As things appear today, the only way the NPA can get a large number of council candidates elected is if there's sufficient vote splitting. This was the lesson of the 2017 council by-election.

      And you can be sure that the Vision, Green, and OneCity brain trusts will learn from this experience and avoid leaving themselves vulnerable in the same way in 2018.

      Recent U.S. history provides a road map

      After the 2010 U.S. midterm elections, it looked like the president, Barack Obama, was a lame duck.

      But two years of Republicans holding a majority in Congress convinced the electorate that they couldn't be trusted with the keys to the White House.

      Over the next year, the NPA could similarly raise doubts in the minds of voters if its politicians obstruct motions that require eight votes, such as issuing grants.

      "Electing the NPA risks having them block key budget votes and increasingly polarize council in advance of our upcoming general civic election next year," cautioned the Greens' Pete Fry on Straight.com before voting day.

      Last night's win by Bremner was hardly a slam dunk for the NPA. It's time that the pundits woke up to that reality.