The party that has dominated Vancouver civic politics for more than 80 years has had some spectacular rifts in that time.
But even long-time members of the party say they’ve never seen a bigger mess than the one bubbling now with the Non-Partisan Association.
One city councillor and four board members have resigned over concerns the NPA board has become a haven for people who espouse hard-right views.
This past week, in response to news accounts and a photo of a newly appointed board member attending a rally three years ago displaying a pro-Trump hat and white-power hand signals, Mayor Kennedy Stewart called out “the hate spreading within [that] party.” The party’s elected politicians put out a public demand for new board elections to choose a group more representative of the city.
The steady drip of negative revelations has prompted a long-time supporter of the NPA, developer Rob Macdonald, to pull together a team and offer financial support aimed at getting the party back on track.
The city “needs a big-tent party,” said Mr. Macdonald, who gave the party almost $1-million in the 2011 election back when campaign-finance rules allowed that. (Current rules allow parties to raise as much money as they want for operations without having limits or reporting requirements in non-election years.)
Mr. Macdonald said the next election is an opportunity for the NPA to take charge again, but only if it’s not seen as an exclusively right-wing party.
“I don’t know that they can do it without a broad base of support. It has to be a brand the public has confidence in, the press has confidence in,” Mr. Macdonald said. He currently does much of his development work outside Vancouver, in cities like Kelowna, B.C., Calgary, and Phoenix.
Mr. Macdonald said he is working with former NPA mayor Sam Sullivan and former NPA councillor Suzanne Anton in hopes of returning the party to the centre-right with a coalition of liberals and conservatives that might entice people like the NPA’s 2018 mayor candidate, Ken Sim, to once again return to the fold.
Mr. Sim has said he will run as an independent in 2022 because of his discomfort with what the party has become.
Many other NPA supporters say the board’s public problems threaten to seriously damage the party’s reputation.
“It’s definitely chaotic,” said George Affleck, a two-term NPA councillor who chose not to run in 2018. “Some of the things they said are unacceptable.”
He referred specifically to news stories that include a three-year-old photo of a just-appointed board member, Angelo Isidorou, showing him wearing a MAGA hat and flashing a white-power hand signal at a counter-protest related to President Trump in 2017.
“That photo speaks 1,000 words to me. That wasn’t acceptable,” Mr. Affleck said.
Mr. Isidorou announced on a radio show Friday that he is resigning from the board position that he was appointed to earlier this month.
The controversy around Mr. Isidorou was just the latest scrutiny of an NPA board member. In 2019, the election to the NPA board of Chris Wilson, a former correspondent with the right-wing outlet Rebel Media, prompted Rebecca Bligh to quit the party and sit as an independent.
The NPA caucus of nine elected councillors, school trustees and park commissioners has also issued statements in the past year expressing disagreement with actions or statements of various board members over comments the caucus believed disparaged mask-wearing or encouraged people to harass the homeless.
Four board members resigned last July, saying the board had become too right-wing and was getting nothing done.
Last week, the caucus issued a statement calling on the board to convene an annual general meeting and an election to choose a new board.
“The board must reflect the values of the elected caucus, long-held ideals of the organization, membership, and the diversity of our city and residents,” it said.
It’s unclear when an election might be held and what the outcome might be.
The NPA has typically seen itself not as a party, but as a civic-minded association that only gets together during campaign periods to raise money and decide how to run nominations. Long-time members say the current situation means volunteers may not be willing to stick with the party for the work that needs to be done to bring it back to prominence.
“I just can’t imagine calling on all my supporters to go out to another meeting,” said Jane Frost, one of the former directors who resigned last July.
“Maybe if we had a concerted effort to get a lot of good people and had the caucus behind us … I would get involved.”
But if the current elected councillors, trustees and commissioners don’t get active, nor do former members, and the board elections could be decided by a small group of highly partisan and motivated members.
The NPA’s constitution gives the board power to decide on nomination rules and membership eligibility, which has often generated battles within the party.
In 2002, the NPA board told then-mayor Philip Owen, in his third term, that he would have to compete for the nomination to run again – a startling decision that appeared to stem from its discomfort with his support for legal drug-consumption sites. That ripped the party apart and led to the end of a long reign.
In 1999, two of the NPA’s more progressive councillors – gay-rights activist Alan Herbert and community advocate Nancy Chiavario – found themselves unceremoniously dumped by the party in the pre-election nomination battle.
In 2018, the party barred its sitting councillor, Hector Bremner, from running for mayor, a move that prompted him to leave and start another party.
Former NPA board member Dave Pasin, one of three other directors who have left since the November, 2019, election, said he is optimistic that the party will demonstrate its historic strength.
“There’s no racism on that board,” he said. “And it is not affecting our fundraising. We have received a hundred e-mails of people saying ‘Hang in there.’ ”
Another former board member, David Chen, said he also believes city residents are hungry for some option besides the current left-green alliance at the city.
“The NPA – they empirically represent what people think in Vancouver,” he said.
But Mr. Chen, who ran for mayor in 2018 and got 3,500 votes with a party he started called ProVancouver, also said he wonders if the NPA board and members can pull it together to act professionally.
He said he resigned in November, 2020, because the party was making no moves to develop any kind of policy or overall plan and was instead just spending all of its energy with factions fighting each other for control.
“It’s like a gang.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained the incorrect year of when Rob Macdonald donated almost $1-million to the NPA.
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