It was not that long ago that Vancouver’s once long-time governing party seemingly lay in ruins. The Non-Partisan Association had been reduced to a tiny, insignificant rump on council. Meantime, the organization was bedevilled by political infighting and seemed incapable of attracting the kind of star mayoral candidate who could give Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver party a run for their money.
Now the NPA seems to have found its footing again, announcing this week that long-time journalist Kirk LaPointe will be its candidate for mayor. For the first time in a long time, the mayor and his party have something to worry about.
Like many journalists in this town, I have a past with Mr. LaPointe; he was once my boss at The Vancouver Sun. It was a relationship free of hostilities. I have no axe to grind with the man. But nor will he get any type of free pass from me because we once enjoyed talking about sports and other minutiae. Still, if some consider that a conflict, I have declared it.
Mr. LaPointe is an attractive candidate for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he is not a dumb guy. In fact, his smarts are one of the reasons he advanced through the ranks of Canadian journalism at a young age. He has worked around words all his life and knows how to use them. Occasionally, he can sound like he is showing off, so desperate does he seem to let fly some four-syllable brain-teaser that sends people scurrying for their dictionaries.
But mostly, he sounds intelligent and at ease expressing his views in front of a bank of television cameras. He once hosted his own news show on CTV. He is every bit as telegenic as the man often known in this town as His Handsomeness: Mayor Robertson. The mayor, conversely, was not someone who initially seemed comfortable articulating his thoughts to reporters. He has improved immeasurably since being in office.
All that may sound like window dressing, but it is not. How you come across to people, how you present, is the very essence of politics. So the NPA has found someone who, while being a political newbie, can enunciate his party’s policies extremely well.
Perhaps as important, however, is that Mr. LaPointe represents a freshness to which many people living in Vancouver might be receptive. Vision has been in office for six years, and has begun to rub people the wrong way in the course of pushing an ambitious agenda. The party has angered neighbourhoods targeted for densification and which have felt powerless to slow the development juggernaut sweeping across the city.
This certainly presents an opening for the NPA.
All political parties these days promise to listen to voters, to have an open and honest dialogue that goes two ways, not just one. So when Mr. LaPointe mentioned this in announcing his candidacy on Monday, it seemed banal, almost trite. Yet, given the climate in this city, the promise may resonate with the less skeptical and those simply fed up with the way things are being run.
Mr. LaPointe has demanded the mayor “open the books” to allow taxpayers to see how their money is being spent. He also vowed he would have the most “open government in Canada.” Again, these ploys and campaign pledges are right out of the modern political playbook. Everyone is promising to be the most “open government” anywhere. The B.C. Liberals made the same guarantee. Look at how well that has gone. Nevertheless, these slogans are trotted out for a reason; people, especially those looking for a voting alternative, like the sound of them no matter how much of a cliché they may be.
Over all, I would have to say Mr. LaPointe’s political debut was a success. People will love the sound of free WiFi, the (temporary) freeze on taxes and the promise to crack down on the number of break and enters in the city. They are all NPA pledges that have been oven tested by a pollster, I assure you.
The only truly odd one concerned the code of conduct that Mr. LaPointe has asked NPA candidates to sign. It insists the party and its candidates run a clean campaign devoid of personal attacks. The mayoral candidate said that if anyone violates the oath, he will step down.
Never heard of that before. And honestly, I cannot imagine him carrying this out and leaving his party in the lurch with, say, three weeks left in the campaign. Not going to happen. It was an unnecessary overreach on his part and may be the first campaign promise he breaks.