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Vancouver’s political landscape shifting ahead of election season

David Chudnovsky talks to reporters in Vancouver, September 19, 2006. He says there is increasing frustration with the governing party.


Vancouver's political scene is undergoing profound upheaval less than a year away from the next civic election, with Vancouver's two traditional parties splintering into many factions with no clarity on what choices voters will have beyond the status quo.

School trustee Allan Wong, the last elected representative of COPE, the city's long-time left-wing party, announced on Sunday he is joining the ruling Vision Vancouver.

Now a large contingent of former key COPE organizers say they no longer feel they can support the party. But they will not rush to embrace Vision, with which they previously conducted collaborative campaigns.

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The once-dominant centre-right Non-Partisan Association, reduced to two city councillors, is fighting to regain power, throwing money around energetically. In spite of entrepreneur Peter Armstrong's best efforts, and a substantial chunk of his cash, the party does not have a mayoral candidate yet.

And a host of small, new parties on various parts of the political spectrum are all hoping to capitalize on public opposition to the second-term Vision Vancouver council over bike lanes, development, community centres and more.

That is likely to mean voters who have been steady supporters of one party or another are bound to feel the ground – and possibly their loyalties – shifting over the next 11 months.

"The political landscape is in flux and there's inevitably some confusion," one-time COPE stalwart David Chudnovsky said. "There's no doubt there's a deepening crisis in COPE. Every week, there's a new political party that seems to be announced on the right. And there's no doubt in my mind, there's increasing frustration with the governing party."

Mr. Chudnovsky, who was a New Democrat MLA for a term, is one of several COPE executive members who have quit recently over disagreements with the leaders, along with Mr. Wong, former council candidate RJ Aquino, and Stuart Parker.

Mr. Chudnovsky said he became increasingly uncomfortable with COPE because new executive members elected in April appear to have no respect for people who don't agree with them 100 per cent and engage in what he called a kind of politics that is "bitter, confrontational and often disrespectful to people throughout the city."

He said he and a large contingent of people, young and older, who have been COPE supporters for all their lives now feel they cannot stay with the party.

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That group has been talking for the past six months about what to do in the coming election. Some of the options Mr. Chuknovsky outlined include: abstain from the political fighting and "watch what I believe will be an electoral disaster next year for COPE," organize to change the leadership, endorse individual candidates from various parties, or "create a new political home" – in other words, one more party.

Current COPE chair Tim Louis callled Mr. Wong's departure the welcome last chapter in COPE's failed experiment at collaborating with Vision, which it did for the previous two elections, losing votes and seats each time.

"We are now free of the very last anchor that held us back from offering to the electors a real alternative."

And he said the departure of Mr. Chudnovsky and others is predictable because they are among the people in COPE who made the mistake of backing the partnership with Vision and don't know where to go since it backfired.

Internal dissent on the right is nowhere near as loud. But the NPA, where Mr. Armstrong is spending his own money to pay two prominent former provincial organizers, is dealing with small breakaway groups.

Two former NPA candidates have formed new parties, TEAM and Vancouver First, saying an alternative is needed to the NPA's reliance on developer money and dictatorial organization. A third small group has formed the Cedar Party, primarily to oppose Vision's development policies.

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It looks like an unusually combative election season ahead.

"Definitely there's people saying all sorts of things about how they'll vote," says NPA Councillor George Affleck. "The next year is daunting. It's going to be exhausting."

In the end, he believes his party, which has kicked off a series of community discussions on city issues, will emerge as the clear choice for the opposition and, eventually, leadership.

"I feel confident about the team we're putting together, that voters will think they're the ones who need to take charge of the city."

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