It’s Wendy Cox in Vancouver.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the divisive politics that have halved voters into splits between left and right in the international, national and provincial political arenas would eventually find their way onto the civic stage. Most major cities in the country don’t have political parties at the civic level, but Vancouver does and after the events of this past weekend, there are serious questions about the future of one of the city’s oldest.
It turns out the Non-Partisan Association is in danger of becoming precisely that after one of its five councillors, Rebecca Bligh, quit the party, saying the party’s board had been infiltrated by people with socially conservative and partisan backgrounds.
One of them, Christopher Wilson, had worked until 2017 with the conservative Rebel Media outlet, which coined the slur “Climate Barbie” to describe federal environment minister Catherine McKenna, a term that Mr. Wilson has repeated in tweets. Another, Ryan Warawa, served as the president of the B.C. Conservative Party, a provincial party that has been further right to the federal namesake. Two other board members were endorsed by the Let’s Vote Association, a group that defines itself as pro-life and in opposition to SOGI 123, a school program designed to help teachers make students of all sexual orientations feel included.
The NPA’s new president, David Mawhinney, has said reports about links to anti-SOGI groups are incorrect. But he added in a statement that even if some directors did hold those views, they would not be in control of a 15-member board.
The NPA has dominated city politics in Vancouver for most of the past 70 years, giving the city mayors Gordon Campbell, Phillip Owen and Sam Sullivan by running on policies that advocated for lower taxes and smaller government. The party won five of 10 councillor seats in the election last year, making it the dominant block opposed by five councillors and the mayor who lean left.
But the party now seems to be facing an existential crisis.
Some NPA members have told city reporter Frances Bula the party needs to draw more conservative Vancouver voters into its tent in order to be successful in the next civic election. But past NPA stalwarts have reacted with alarm, including Ken Sim, who ran in last year’s election for the party and lost by only 984 votes.
“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 told Frances.
The change in direction also threatens to upend efforts by the party going back to the 1980s to keep social conservative issues on the sidelines. Adrienne Tanner writes it was Mr. Campbell who startled Gordon Price by enticing Mr. Price to become the first openly gay candidate to run for city council.
In her column today, Adrienne reminds that there wasn’t one Conservative MP elected this fall. The strategy for the move right mystifies.
“The shift in the NPA board is out of sync with the city’s political zeitgeist. By kowtowing to the right, the party risks losing support from the centre, including from the NPA candidates Vancouverites voted for in the last election. Left uncorrected, this board could lead to further defections and the end of Vancouver’s oldest political party.”
Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
KENNEY GOES TO OTTAWA: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney brought an entourage of cabinet ministers and staff to Ottawa as he took his case for a “fair deal” for his province directly to the Prime Minister. Mr. Kenney has made fighting the Trudeau government on a range of issues – from energy regulation to the carbon tax – one of his top priorities since winning the spring provincial election, though he has taken a more conciliatory tone recently. The Premier repeated his demands for a firm timeline on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and $2.4-billion from a federal fiscal stabilization fund that he says Alberta would have received if the program wasn’t capped. Earlier in the week, Mr. Kenney said he was “disappointed“ that the federal government appeared to change its position on whether the province could get emissions credits for liquefied natural gas exports – and the dirtier fuel they displace elsewhere.
CARSON CRIMENI: British Columbia’s police watchdog agency says it won’t recommend charges against two officers who went to investigate a disturbance at a Langley skate park but did not find 14-year-old Carson Crimeni, who died of a suspected drug overdose in August. Police were called to the area after a report of a teen in distress.
OIL IN THE CLASSROOM: An online dispute in Alberta over a classroom lesson that touched on the oil industry resulted in the school calling the RCMP and cancelling a Christmas dance. The incident in Blackfalds is the latest example of school exercises sparking backlash in a province where sensitivities are high about how the oil sector is portrayed.
ELECTRIC PLANE: A B.C.-based float plane operator is showing off an aircraft with an electric engine, which Harbour Air Seaplanes hopes will put the company in the global race to develop electric flight and reduce emissions from the industry. The company retrofitted a six-seat deHavilland float plane.
STUDENT TESTING: Both sides in a debate about how to fund and run Alberta’s education system are pointing to test results that put the province’s students among the best in the world. School districts and the province’s teachers’ unions have held up the results from the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, as a sign the education system is working and that the United Conservative Party government should leave it alone. The Education Ministry says the results say more about downward trends elsewhere and they still see room to reshape the system to improve.
LOW-INCOME HOUSING: A city councillor in Vancouver has proposed vacancy control for the city’s single-room occupancy hotels, saying the measure is needed to protect tenants at risk of losing their homes if the buildings are sold.
HOOTSUITE: Vancouver-based tech company Hootsuite has overhauled its executive team, one month after announcing company founder Ryan Holmes would vacate his role as CEO to become executive chairman.
FISCAL STABILIZATION: Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he supports calls to expand a federal program designed to help provinces like Alberta that face sudden financial challenges. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has made reforming the program one of his demands on the federal government, and he left a premiers’ meeting last week with the support of most of the provincial leaders.
PROPERTY TAXES: Experts are warning that a proposed property tax increase in Vancouver could devastate local businesses. City council is currently considering a draft of its 2020 operating budget that would increase property taxes by just over 9 per cent
TRAIN DERAILMENT: A train carrying crude oil derailed in Saskatchewan, sending flames and black clouds of smoke into the air. No one was hurt.
John Ibbitson on Kenney’s trip to Ottawa: “What matters is what happens in May, when the weather warms and the protesters come out. If Ottawa throws its hands in the air and goes on about social licence, then expect Albertan anger to explode. But if the federal government acts firmly to protect the construction schedule by arresting and dispersing protesters, that will prove that Mr. Trudeau meant what he said when he promised “the pipeline will get built.”
Campbell Clark on Kenney and Trudeau: “This is a moment when Canadians not only see Western alienation as a serious problem, they expect Mr. Trudeau to do something about it.”
Eric Reguly on Alberta’s LNG climate pitch: “How would LNG Canada know that any gas sold to China would be used to displace a coal burner? A gas burner might simply be an addition to China’s fleet of generating plants.”
Martin Olszynski on orphan wells: “For Albertans contemplating their future, an independent inquiry into the extent of the oil and gas sector’s underfunded environmental liabilities requires champions – especially since getting a solid grip on the scale and potential solutions for the issue seems like basic due diligence.”
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on pipeline progress: “That opening two new pipelines has taken forever is a blow to the Canadian economy. A lack of oil export capacity is squeezing the energy sector, causing oil from the Prairies to sell at a discount and costing all Canadians a lot of money.”