The last remaining elected politician for the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) has left the party to join Vision Vancouver.
Allan Wong, a five-term Vancouver school trustee, cancelled his COPE membership and joined Vision on Sunday morning. He resigned from the left-wing party's executive in October.
The decision was a "natural progression" for Mr. Wong, who says he remains close friends with former COPE trustees such as Al Blakey, Jane Bouey and Noel Herron, but felt compelled to move forward in advocating for public education as a team.
"Every direction I've taken on the board, there has been support by the Vision trustees, so it was a natural progression," said Mr. Wong, who was first elected to COPE in 1999.
"Everyone is in the same direction with regards to support for public education and ensuring proper funding. … We're at a point where it's individuals and groups and I think the current Vision trustees are moving forward quite well with many of these issues."
Mr. Wong, a father of four, is a former vice-chair of the board of education and current chair of the Planning and Facilities Committee. He is trustee liaison to the city's LGBTQ Advisory Committee and has also served on the city's Race Relations Advisory Committee.
Before a 25-year career in telecommunications, Mr. Wong worked as a substitute teacher. In five years, he subbed in every elementary school in Vancouver – a feat he says gave him an understanding of the unique needs of each school.
He said the most pressing issues in coming years include seismic upgrades to Vancouver schools and addressing what he calls the "defunding" of public education by the provincial government.
In a statement, Vancouver School Board Chair Patti Bacchus called Mr. Wong a "passionate supporter of public education in Vancouver" whose "experience, advocacy and strong record of community service make him a tremendous addition to the Vision Vancouver team."
Meanwhile, Mr. Wong's departure raises questions about the future of the once-mighty COPE. Tim Louis, internal chair and outspoken COPE stalwart, said while he respects Mr. Wong and views him as a "sincere and genuine fellow," his departure crystallizes the party's identity as one that is a clear alternative to Vision Vancouver.
"There has always been two streams, or two currents, within COPE: One current that believes very strongly that COPE should be an appendage to Vision … and another current – the current I'm with – that believes we should put COPE first, that COPE is fundamentally different from Vision," Mr. Louis said Sunday.
Mr. Wong's departure "frees us from the last of the anchors that were constantly and continually insisting that we go back to the failed experiment that if we align ourselves with Vision, we will ride their star to victory. Just the opposite has been true: The public wants an alternative to Vision and left COPE [because of the alliance] by the thousands. Now COPE will be seen for what it always should have been, and could have been."
When COPE and Vision Vancouver ran a joint campaign in 2011, Mr. Wong was the only COPE candidate elected. Earlier this year, COPE voted to run a mayoral candidate against Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in 2014.
Mr. Louis said he was "more than a bit disappointed" Mr. Wong crossed the floor, using former MP David Emerson to illustrate how upset the public can be at such a move. Mr. Emerson, who was elected under the federal Liberal banner in 2006, crossed the floor just days later to join the Conservative Party.
Stuart Parker, who resigned from the COPE executive last month, called Mr. Wong "one of the most respected legislators in town" and said in a Facebook post that COPE had become "an increasingly hostile working environment for Allan and his associates."
He called Mr. Wong's move a "bad decision," but noted "we who were elected to the COPE board in April must accept our share of the blame for creating a political situation that has let down tens of thousands of children in our city."