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The Globe and Mail

B.C. parties jockey for position in Nov. 19 municipal race

Vision Vancouver mayor elect Gregor Robertson celebrates his victory in Vancouver Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008.

Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press

Vancouver's civic election unofficially left the start gate this week, amid the sound of chickens clucking and two very different parties racing to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the first-term Vision Vancouver and its mayor, Gregor Robertson.

The city's centre-right Non-Partisan Association, working hard to recover from near annihilation in 2008, launched an attack ad Monday that blasted Vision for its focus on "backyard chickens and front yard wheat fields."

The ad, unusually negative for the beginning of a campaign, intoned that Mr. Robertson's "priorities are not yours," amid the sound of chickens, and promised that the NPA would bring "common sense" back to City Hall.

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The party followed up Tuesday with a news conference to announce the first part of its platform, where mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton took aim at the mayor again for not taking responsibility for the Stanley Cup riot.

"I will be accountable for the Stanley Cup celebrations next year. The buck will stop with me," said Ms. Anton, as she delivered a set of promises to make city hall more accountable. Those included pledges of support for big initiatives, like the province's proposal to create a municipal auditor-general, and more picayune ones, like a promise to require more detailed expense accounts from councillors, including the names of those treated to lunch.

While the NPA was delivering its messages, the Green Party was preparing to nominate Adriane Carr Tuesday night to run for a seat on council.

That marks the official divorce between the Greens and Vision, which had an agreement to co-operate in the 2008 election that allotted one slot on the park board to the Greens. The Greens turned down the same deal for this election – a move that has created some dissent in that party.

Ms. Carr, like NPA candidates, said she's hearing people express unhappiness with Vision Vancouver, which was elected with high hopes three years ago by many who liked its message of fighting homelessness and pushing a green agenda more aggressively.

"A lot of people have talked to me about their concern that Vision Vancouver has catered to developers," Ms. Carr said. The severe cuts to the park-board budget in Vision's first year also sparked her decision to run, she said.

Although the Greens have decamped, the other of Vision's coalition partners is still hanging tight. Although the Greens offered to run a joint slate with the city's oldest left-wing party, COPE, its members have agreed to co-operate with Vision again. This time, however, COPE is getting three of the 10 slots on that slate, instead of the two it had last time.

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Like the Greens, COPE has some members who don't want to share a bed with Vision any more. A nomination meeting this weekend will select among candidates who differ on whether to keep working with Vision, which could lead to friction over the deal.

Amid all of this jockeying, Vision's campaign team has been relatively silent. The Vision council was busy in the spring and summer passing big policy documents on housing, homelessness, and future plans for greening the city but has been lying comparatively low since then.

Vision's executive director, Ian Baillie, said the party is busy "running the city" rather than campaigning, but that it will be coming out soon with a platform focused on what it knows people are the most concerned about: affordable housing, homelessness, and transportation.

He said the NPA's decision to start its campaign so negatively is a disservice to Vancouver voters.

"Any party that starts off negative has nothing to say on the important issues."

Mr. Baillie couldn't resist making his own negative point, however, noting that Ms. Anton talks about accountability but still hasn't released the names of people who donated to a private fundraiser she held earlier this year, as she promised to.

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There will be much more energetic wrestling for public opinion to come before the Nov. 19 election. Both of the major parties have been polling. Both have had their candidates out knocking on doors and trolling the streets for weeks. And both are out raising money through private requests – rumours say significant amounts for the NPA – and through fundraising dinners planned for this fall.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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