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Vancouver Election 2014: Who Really Came Out Ahead?

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GREGOR ROBERTSON
CP
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If self-confidence is a quality you need to win elections, then NPA park commissioner John Coupar has it in spades. For years, the affable Coupar assured anyone who would listen that he and his political counterparts were on track to win in the 2014 Vancouver civic election.

Most others -- including myself -- were not so sure. But as the prospective chairman of the newly elected Vancouver Park Board, it is clear now that Coupar understood Vancouver voters better than the rest of us.

In spite of having the strongest civic political machine in Canada, Vision Vancouver faced a major setback on election night. It would not be until late into the evening when the final results -- the mail-in ballots that had to be hand-counted -- confirmed that Mayor Gregor Robertson's candidates would retain a majority on council. However, Vision would be all but wiped out on park board and their majority would disappear on school board.

Significantly, Vision lost their eight-vote "super-majority" status on council. Without it, Robertson will always need one Non-Partisan Association or Green Party vote in order to pass important financial measures, issue grants or approve real-estate transactions. The mayor, whose majority on council always meant he never had to kowtow to the opposition, would now have to make deals with those he infamously dismissed once as "hacks."

Anyone who construed Robertson's margin of victory over Kirk LaPointe and his council majority as a decisive win needs to look under the hood to appreciate how the wheels just about fell off the Vision Vancouver election machine.

First, consider the fact a party used to getting everyone over the line on election night had 10 candidates -- including five incumbents -- go down to defeat. Now Vision has 10 unelected candidates sitting on the sidelines looking for someone to blame for their loss.

Would any of Robertson's campaign advisers, like the ones who brought his marital separation into the limelight, or advised the mayor to apologize 72 hours before the polls closed, take the fall?

Those remaining in Vision's elected caucus are an older, less diverse mix than the party put forward to voters. Several of them, including the mayor, are highly unlikely to seek re-election in 2018. With fewer incumbents, Vision will struggle to elect enough candidates to form majorities on council and on the school and park boards.

Is Vision Vancouver finished as a political force? Not yet, of course. But three things signal to me that Vision is living on borrowed time.

The first indicator is the slow, steady ascendancy of the Vancouver Green Party under Adriane Carr. The Greens elected more representatives in a single election than in Canadian history. As the swing vote in a split NPA-Vision school board, trustee-elect Janet Fraser is Canada's first-ever Green Party elected official to hold power.

Given their increasing popularity, there will be increasing pressure on the Greens to run a mayoral candidate so that they can be in a position to eventually form government.

Secondly, there is the return of COPE as the left's political conscience. Established in the late-1960s, the Coalition of Progressive Electors has doggedly represented Vancouver's low-income earners or marginalized population for generations. Now they are out of office altogether for the second time in their history.

With 2018 marking COPE's 50th birthday, look for them to come back strong with a smaller slate and a mayoral candidate who will stand up to the well-financed, pro-development parties like Vision and the NPA.

The resurgence of the NPA's reputation may be the final nail in Vision Vancouver's coffin. For the past decade, the NPA seemed unsure about what it was. It often took pains to describe itself as the "new" NPA, or "not your parents' NPA." However, as former mayor Sam Sullivan says, the NPA has always been a reflection of who is running it.

As hard as Vision tried to label NPA candidates as being out of touch, voters still embraced them.

The NPA captured more of the popular vote than Vision Vancouver and, unlike Vision, several of its diverse slate of new and younger candidates won seats on council and on the park and school boards.

The power of the NPA brand was best demonstrated, however, in the precipitous fall of school trustee Ken Denike, who dropped nearly 30,000 votes short of regaining his seat. Even his 20-plus years of name recognition could not make up for being booted off the NPA slate.

It's no wonder then that John Coupar and others behind the scenes in the NPA are smiling. That's because the Non-Partisan Association is, for the first time in years, looking legitimately like a government-in-waiting.

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