The man who placed a close second in the race to become Vancouver’s mayor last year says he would be concerned now about running again with the Non-Partisan Association over worries the party has let social-conservative ideologues onto its board.
“If what’s in the media is true then, yes, I’d be concerned,” said Ken Sim, who has been strongly considering another run at the mayoralty. “I wouldn’t support any organization that was extreme and non-inclusive. I’m a centrist, a little bit to the right fiscally, a little bit to the left socially. Any group that I would associate with would have to share core values.”
He is one of many people from the NPA, the city’s oldest and once-dominant civic party, who say it seems to have gone off track. The NPA has been a centrist organization that comes to life only around elections to raise funds and choose candidates who are committed to running a fiscally responsible city, and it has stayed away from debates about contentious social issues.
The NPA was thrown into an uproar this past weekend after one of its five councillors, Rebecca Bligh, quit the party over concerns about its direction. After the 2018 election, the NPA was the most dominant party on council, with five of 11 seats, although it was not the majority.
The remaining NPA politicians on council and the school and park boards met on Sunday night to discuss options and are demanding a clear statement from the NPA board about its support for issues such as gender inclusivity.
“We’re encouraging them to make a strong statement about NPA values and put [the controversy] to rest," councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung said on behalf of the group. "If board members aren’t willing to do that … then I don’t think their place is with the NPA.”
The newly elected board is holding an emergency meeting on Monday night to discuss the developments, which have sparked massive debate inside and outside the organization.
In the board election two weeks ago, several people with apparent conservative and partisan backgrounds were elected directors, including one who had worked until 2017 with the conservative Rebel Media outlet; the president of the B.C. Conservative Party, which is to the right of the federal Conservative Party; and two who appeared linked to socially conservative movements that oppose sexual-orientation and gender-inclusive (SOGI) policies that have become hot-button topics for B.C. school boards.
The NPA’s new president, David Mawhinney, has said reports about links to anti-SOGI groups are incorrect, and that, even if some directors did hold those views, they would not be in control of a 15-member board.
One board candidate who was not elected, Wes Mussio, has said the NPA needed to reach out to groups that split off from the party in the most recent election – some of them socially conservative – to give it a better chance of winning next time.
But Mr. Sim said he doesn’t think the party needs rescuing.
“We had our best showing in 13 years in the last election, with five people elected to council, three to school board and two to park board.”
He said he believes city residents are mostly centrist and not interested a fight over social issues.
Many long-time NPAers seem to agree.
A former NPA campaign manager, Norman Stowe, said it’s hopeless for any party that wants to form government to appear to be sympathetic to socially conservative political arguments.
“The world has changed," said Mr. Stowe, who managed the 2011 campaign. "If you’re not in step with today’s world, you can kiss political success goodbye.”
Peter Armstrong, a recent party president, said he’s mystified by what is happening with the NPA.
“This is a time when the NPA has an opportunity to build on the success it had in 2018. But once again, they have rounded up the wagons and are shooting inward.”
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