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COPE votes to run mayoral candidate against Gregor Robertson in 2014

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson stands near the Vancouver Art Gallery in December, 2012. COPE, the city’s left-wing party, voted to run a mayoral candidate next year against Vision Vancouver’s Mr. Robertson.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

The campaign for the 2014 civic election began this week, when the city's left-wing party voted to run a mayoral candidate against Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

If that resolution holds over the next 18 months, it will end the uneasy coalition between Vision and COPE that many see as a major factor in helping the fledgling centre-left Vision defeat the long-reigning Non-Partisan Association in the past two elections.

The move is provoking glee among NPA strategists and some apprehension in Vision.

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But COPE, which has had an influx of new, young members who view Vision as nothing more than a greenwashed version of the pro-development NPA, has decided it is better off on its own.

"It is a response to the results of the last election," COPE executive director Sean Antrim said on Tuesday. "The membership has been incredibly frustrated. Now they're very excited."

Although COPE and Vision ran a joint campaign in 2011, only one COPE candidate was elected – school trustee Allan Wong. That was starkly different from 2008, when the collaboration resulted in solid COPE representation at council, school board and park board.

COPE's decision to run a mayoral candidate and a big enough slate to form a majority if elected arose from an impromptu motion at the party's annual general meeting on Sunday, which drew an unusually large crowd of 500.

At the meeting, a group that has called itself the "independents" won most of the positions on COPE's executive.

That group, according to an article written this week by supporter Nathan Crompton, has revived the party by taking it over from the inside. It has provided people with an alternative to the "raft of neo-liberals" – former NDP MLA David Chudnovsky being one – who were too close to Vision and "preventing real change."

But it's still an open question how militantly the new COPE will hold to its decision and its view of Vision as the political apparatus of "an unforgiving property-owning class" in Vancouver.

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A lot of variables are in play.

First is money. COPE has relied heavily on union funds to run its campaigns. The majority of unions agreed to give money to COPE in the past two elections only if it collaborated with Vision.

Mr. Antrim said not all unions are satisfied with Vision.

However, even if the party persuades more unions to give, there's wide speculation that the NDP will change municipal election law to ban corporate and union donations by 2014 – a move that would inflict serious damage on COPE.

Then there's the issue of what COPE's position will be by the November, 2014, election. COPE has been split at every one of its meetings on whether to co-operate ever since a group of COPE breakaways formed Vision in 2005.

Some observers said that many of the more "moderate" members of COPE were too busy helping run provincial NDP campaigns this month to have time for organizing voters in what has become the yearly tussle at COPE meetings.

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However, it's also clear that even some who have worked with Vision are uncomfortable with the party's recent development decisions, especially in the Downtown Eastside.

"As Vision policies have been enacted and these new developments go in, there's a lot of anxiety in a lot of neighbourhoods," said Nathan Allen, who was a co-director of COPE's 2011 election campaign.

The party also faces a problem if the B.C. Liberals lose the upcoming provincial election.

"If all the Liberals move from Victoria and join the NPA, that's going to change the landscape," Mr. Antrim said. "The membership isn't discounting coalitions. Even working with Vision in some way is a possibility."

It would have to be a different way from before, though.

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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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