With eye on next election, factions busy writing the NPA’s obit

VANCOUVER — Special to The Globe and Mail

Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan is seen in an August 2008 file photo. (JENNIFER ROBERTS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

There’s a move afoot to replace Vancouver’s oldest and most successful civic party, as current and former members mobilize to create a new political entity.

Non-Partisan Association board member Ken Charko Sunday said he has been approached by several people who are starting a new organization called Vancouver First. Another major party figure is saying publicly that the party should fold its tent, while others are saying it quietly behind the scenes.

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That comes on the one-year anniversary of the Non-Partisan Association’s third major election loss in a decade, as the ruling Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson coast through their second term with little formal opposition.

The NPA, the ruling party for decades in Vancouver, has only two councillors on the 11-member council. The Coalition of Progressive Electors, once the only left-wing party in Vancouver, didn’t get anyone elected to council. And first-time Green Party councillor Adriane Carr is still finding her feet.

Already concerned about the next election two years away, one former NPA party builder is calling on its members to give up and form something new.

The NPA and its free-enterprise supporters should “fold their tent and create a new neighbourhood-based, centrist alternative to Vision Vancouver,” said Daniel Fontaine, former chief of staff to previous NPA mayor Sam Sullivan, in a regular newspaper column he writes.

He said the party’s traditional white, upper-middle-class west-side base is not enough to sustain it, in an echo of the kind of analysis U.S. Republicans are putting forward in the wake of their loss to President Barack Obama.

Mr. Fontaine did not refer directly to the creation of another party in his column.

However, sources say that Vancouver First has been registered recently with the B.C. Corporate Registry. There is already a domain name, vancouverfirst.ca, that was first registered in 2010 and was updated.

The name Vancouver First would echo the name of the party created by Surrey’s popular mayor, Dianne Watts – Surrey First.

But others in the NPA are rejecting the idea that the party needs to dissolve and restructure itself.

Suzanne Anton, who ran for mayor for the NPA in 2011 and lost, said the party is going “full steam ahead” with a good team steering it. She is on the party’s board.

Mr. Charko said a new party and a new name won’t make a difference if the centre-right does not come up with a clear mission statement and a way of attracting a broad range of voters.

“[The people organizing a Vancouver First party] want a new organization. But if it has the same or no mission statement, it will be exactly the same.”

Mr. Charko, a B.C. Conservative Party member helping with the current Victoria by-election, said he believes the NPA needs to get back to the coalition that helped it rule successfully for decades. That was a combination of federal Liberals and Conservatives, along with B.C. Liberals and B.C. Conservatives (who are quite distinct from the federal entities).

NPA board president Peter Armstrong acknowledged that “we’re going to have to up our game” because the party is running against a group of “very smart, capable political operators” at Vision Vancouver.

But he didn’t give a hint that there’s a new party on the horizon.

Instead, he boasted that party membership has increased 10 per cent over last year and said the board is hearing regularly from people who are concerned about the way Vision spends money and treats communities.

He declined to say what the party’s membership is at the moment.

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