Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The NPA, Miro Cernetig and Art Phillips

There recently has been much said and written about the NPA's decision to reconsider its name. Most people think it was a waste of time, given the real challenges facing the party.

The NPA Annual General Meeting and Special Meeting on a potential name change did accomplish one thing for some people. It reopened the debate as to whether the NPA is a loose association of independently minded people from various political stripes, with no over-riding policies, or indeed a political party.

And if it is a political party, does it actually have any policies? Is it intended to be Vancouver’s centre-right party? Or is it further to the right…say, Vancouver’s version of the Republican party?

While some directors and members maintain the NPA is not a party, I don’t think many people in Vancouver believe this. Indeed, they do see it as a centre right, or far right party, and certainly not something they want to be associated with.

I was impressed with Miro Cernetig’s recent front page piece on the NPA in the Vancouver Sun. http://www.vancouversun.com/news/even+identity+crisis+remains+public+interest+necessity/3236420/story.html

While I don't always agree with everything Miro writes (by the way, I should use the past tense since Miro announced yesterday he’s taking up a new career with an Ottawa based consulting firm…he’ll stay in Vancouver but no longer write for the Sun), I think he offered some very good advice to the NPA directors and members.

While I initially supported the idea of a new name since it might signal that the ‘association’ was going to become a ‘party’, I voted in the end to keep the old name.

Now the question is whether the NPA is going to become a truly ‘non-partisan’ association, and select good candidates for Council, regardless of their political leanings, including members of the NDP, Green Party, former COPE supporters, etc. or whether it will remain (and I use the word deliberately) a centre right party, despite its claims to the contrary.

In this regard, the discussion over a name change was not a waste of time….but if the NPA is going to play a role in Vancouver’s municipal scene, then it must quickly figure out what it is, and start to get organized. It needs to add a zero to the number of people who come out to important meetings, and somehow re-connect with more Vancouver residents who don’t want just one party representing them at City Hall.

Yesterday I attended a lovely ceremony at Vancouver City Hall when Art Phillips was made a Freeman of the City. It’s the highest honour that can be bestowed on a city resident and in Art’s case, well deserved. For those readers who weren’t around in the early 70’s, Art was a tall, handsome and successful businessman who decided to run for Mayor. (Sound familiar?) He and his TEAM council, that included May Brown and Marguerite Ford and Art Cowie and Walter Hardwick changed Vancouver forever.

TEAM was a party, but it was quite an inclusive party. In the end, some believe it folded because it was too inclusive, but I don’t pretend to know. I do know that Phillips’ Council made some important decisions such as the banning of freeways, the start on the redevelopment of the South Shore of False Creek and Granville Island (on which I worked with him), and the first efforts to convert Granville Street into a pedestrian mall…well, not everything he did was a complete success!

His wife Carole Taylor was also a Vancouver politician. When she lost an NPA nomination because of block voting by new NPA members,(she came in 11th since her name started with a 'T') she ran as an independent candidate for Council and won. She was a very popular and effective councillor and someone suggested to me yesterday that it took so long for Art to be made a Freeman of the City since it was necessary to wait until it was clear that Carole was not going to become Mayor!

To bring the discussion back to the present time, like Phillips' Council, I think Vision has made some good decisions over the past 18 months…it has continued to pursue a variety of policies related to sustainability…I say continue, since many of the ideas related to green buildings and sustainable development and food security were first proposed by earlier councils; it is continuing the direction started by Gordon Price and Peter Ladner and Fred Bass to make the city friendlier to cyclists…these are very good things. Encouraging a greater variety of street vendors is also a good thing…I just hope some will be stationed on the seawall walkways.

But it has also made some bad decisions. The STIR program was ill-conceived and ill-managed from the start, and some of the decisions re: the Olympic Village are going to be very costly for taxpayers (although I am the first to admit that many problems with the Olympic Village relate to decisions by earlier councils, of all political stripes).

I am also worried about the ramifications of some of its planning and development decisions, (such as excluding housing in and around the Central Business District; approving a 20.8 FSR building on Georgia Street just to sell some density…..but that’s another story.

As Miro correctly noted, it is in the public interest of Vancouver residents to have a variety of points of view expressed in the Council Chamber. That’s why I hope that now that the NPA has confirmed its name, it will start to sort out what it is going to be, and let the public (and its members, many of whom are not even sure if they are members) know.

I also hope that if it decides to select some Council candidates in the fall, they are genuinely seen as good, bright people, from various political stripes, true to the party’s (and yes, it is a party) name.

As I said goodbye to Art Phillips and Carole Taylor and their many friends who showed up, I was asked by a number of people whether I would run again for City Council.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and the councillors had returned to the dark Council Chamber. I was heading off to meet a friend for a glass of wine and to sit in on an event organized by the Board of Change, at which Joel Solomon would be a guest speaker.

And what did he say? He said we should all consider running for political office! That’s how we change our society for the better!

Thanks Art for all you did for the city. And Miro, best wishes for continued success in the next stage of your life.

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