Vancouver’s labour unions have endorsed an NDP MP who is running for mayor as an independent in the city’s fall election, passing over the governing party of the current Mayor Gregor Roberston for the first time in more than a decade.
The Vancouver and District Labour Council voted this week to endorse Kennedy Stewart, a New Democrat who plans to step down as MP for the riding of Burnaby South ahead of the election campaign.
It’s the first time since 2005 that the labour council didn’t endorse a mayoral candidate from Vision Vancouver, Mr. Robertson’s party. The council held up Mr. Stewart as the candidate most likely to pull the city’s four centre-left parties together.
Although unions can no longer donate to civic political campaigns and union members don’t necessarily vote according to endorsements, the council’s backing is seen as one more significant factor in an election where there are many candidates, none is very well-known, and the results promise to be close.
“This means a lot to me because I’m running as an independent,” Mr. Stewart said. “The public are looking for cues and this is a very big indicator of what I’m all about.”
The labour council also endorsed a selection of candidates from the city’s left-leaning parties — Vision Vancouver, the Green Party, the Coalition of Progressive Electors and OneCity — for council, as well as school and park boards.
Mr. Robertson is not running again after 10 years in power and neither are most of his councillors, leaving the field open. Vision Vancouver has nominated Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell as its candidate for mayor.
The president of the labour council said members chose Mr. Stewart because he seemed the most likely to be able to work with all the progressive parties, which will be key for the next council.
“We anticipate there is probably not likely a majority government,” Stephen von Sychowski said. “We need somebody at the head who can bring together broad arrays of voices. As an independent, he has a little bit more ability to do that.”
Although Vision Vancouver representatives fought hard for an endorsement for Mr. Campbell – pointing out that the party has produced labour peace for a decade – there are many on the left who feel it is a damaged brand.
A couple of labour representatives among the 50-some who voted opposed the council’s endorsement of any Vision candidates, calling them “centrist shills” for the real estate industry.
The endorsements marked a big step forward for the Green Party, which has only had one backing – for a park-board candidate – in the past decade.
“The number we got this time was a real accomplishment,” said Pete Fry, one of two Green Party council candidates who received support. Three school-board and two park-board candidates were also endorsed. “I sincerely believe it’s the beginning of a new relationship.”
In the past, left-wing parties in B.C. have been dubious about or hostile to the Green Party, seeing them as either competitors or not committed to some of the traditional left-wing social issues.
But Mr. Fry said he argued to the council that “we actually truly believe we have to work with labour to get a green economy,” which he thinks appealed to them. He said the co-operation evident between the NDP and the Greens at the provincial level likely helped.
The council got some criticism for endorsing any Greens, after the Green Party decided not to ratify an agreement the council was trying to get with each party about the number of candidates to run. The Greens have decided to run four council candidates, when the council had asked them to stick to three.
Mr. von Sychowski said that move produced some debate at the council and it reduced its endorsements of Greens to two as a result. But people also felt it was important to ensure the Greens were part of the progressive coalition.