Why George Affleck is the Rodney Dangerfield of Vancouver politics

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      "Don't you always seem to know, you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

      —Joni Mitchell

      Just two months ago, NPA councillor George Affleck was telling the Straight's Carlito Pablo that he was seriously thinking about running for mayor.

      One of Affleck's key calling cards was his deep understanding of civic issues, which came from serving two terms on council.

      “That significant knowledge of city hall, I think, for anybody is helpful as opposed to somebody who’s coming from the outside, who’s never been there," Affleck said at the time.

      Today, Affleck declared that he won't seek reelection to Vancouver city council and he won't seek a nomination to be his party's mayoral candidate.

      It was his "hasta la vista" to a party that he served so diligently and earnestly dating back to when Philip Owen was mayor.

      I haven't talked to Affleck since he made his announcement. However, I suspect that some key power brokers in the backrooms (i.e. B.C. Liberal heavyweights) didn't want him as their standard-bearer in the 2018 election.

      So they told him that he had to run in a contested nomination race, something that wasn't imposed on the last two NPA mayoral candidates. It costs a great deal of money to do this. Affleck, who isn't fabulously wealthy, likely decided that it wasn't worth the financial risk, given his family obligations.

      Affleck's political rise has been quite astonishing. In 2011, he expressed surprise to Pablo when he was one of only two NPA candidates elected to council.

      That year he beat some better known opponents within his party, including former trustee Bill Yuen, then high-profile civic commentator Mike Klassen, Dunbar Theatre owner Ken Charko, and culture advocate Sean Bickerton.

      It helped that Affleck's name began with the letter "A", putting him at the top of the ballot, but his success was rooted in more than that.

      As a former CBC journalist and as the public-relations adviser to the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association, he had a knack for generating publicity. He was way ahead of his colleagues in using social media, having far more Twitter followers in 2011 than any other NPA candidate.

      Affleck also bought full-page newspaper ads that set him apart from his NPA colleagues. He talked a more centrist, federal Liberal kind of line than most of them with the exception of Bickerton and Elizabeth Ball, who was also elected in 2011.

      In person, Affleck has a quick wit, an easy smile, and comes across as far less menacing than some NPA politicians in the past, including the party's last mayoral candidate, Kirk LaPointe. Affleck can be quite charming in face-to-face encounters.

      But menacing is what appeals to some backroom boys in the B.C. Liberal party. They have an affinity for politicians whose bite can be as nasty as their bark, such as former finance minister Mike de Jong and former advanced education minister Andrew Wilkinson. Gordon Campbell could be menacing. Christy Clark could be menacing.

      Affleck never fit that mould. And even though he topped all other NPA council candidates in 2014 by collecting a whopping 68,419 votes, he won't be on the ticket in 2018.

      It's the party's loss and it could end up costing it control of city council because Affleck was a sure bet to get reelected.

      Rodney Dangerfield's comedy routines were based on him never receiving the respect he deserved.

      Affleck is no lefty

      I didn't always agree with Affleck's positions.

      His opposition to suicide barriers on the Burrard Bridge struck me as a sop to Heritage Vancouver and flew in the face of recommendations from public-health officials.

      His frequent criticism of grade-separated cycling lanes was classic NPA dinosaur politics and overlooked the economic benefits that flow from improving the modal split between pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles.

      I also never felt in my gut that Affleck fully appreciated the threat of climate change to the citizens of Vancouver.

      But there's no denying his political skills, particularly in how he framed his attacks on the mayor and Vision Vancouver's fiscal policies. Affleck often delivered his message with a healthy dose of humour.

      Were he to be the NPA mayoral nominee in 2018, he would have a decent shot at dethroning Robertson.

      In some respects, Affleck is the Rodney Dangerfield of Vancouver politics.

      "I don't get no respect," the comedian once said. "The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest."

      It kind of sums up Affleck. He's an honest politician who never received the respect he deserves for his exceptionally strong work ethic, his understanding of financial issues, and his ability to make Vision Vancouver look foolish.

      This respect has not come from his opponents. It hasn't often come from the media. And, at times, it hasn't even come from his own party. 

      The NPA's recent victory in a council by-election and the mayor's sagging popularity are due, in large part, to Affleck's cleverness in portraying Vision Vancouver as being out of touch. He's done the heavy lifting over a long period of time. He's earned a shot at being the NPA mayoral candidate.

      Instead, one of the losers in the B.C. Liberal leadership race, either Michael Lee or Wilkinson, could be the name at the top of the ticket.

      Perhaps the happiest man in the city this morning is Robertson, who will be relieved that he won't have to endure Affleck's constant needling in an election campaign.

      If the NPA loses its fourth straight mayoral election in 2018, perhaps Affleck will finally get a chance to be the party's standard-bearer in 2022.

      But I'm betting that instead, he'll run as a B.C. Liberal candidate or federal Liberal candidate before then. And given his track record, he'll probably get elected.

      In the meantime, the NPA will continue wandering in the political wilderness until it finally figures out that it's going to have to dump that B.C. Liberal meanspiritedness if it ever wants to regain control over Vancouver city council.