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Civic Left Victories a Refutation
of Liberal Policies
| by Dan Keeton
"they sent a solid opposition vote,"
The left-wing sweep of Vancouver and other municipalities in the recent BC civic elections was an unmistakable refutation of the privatization and social spending cuts of the Liberal government in Victoria, say civic activists.
Not every pundit would agree with that statement, but it's a consensus among left wing and labour commentators who see in the massive victory of labour-backed, centrist and left wing hopefuls as a backlash against the Gordon Campbell regime. "This is the first opportunity that the voters have had to express some of their views about what's going on in the province, and they sent a solid opposition vote," says political commentator Bill Tieleman.
In Vancouver, another Campbell - former BC coroner, Larry Campbell - led all his fellow candidates in the Coalition of Progressive Electors to seats on city council, and the school and parks boards. The sweep was limited only by the fact that COPE did not run full slates. In taking the mayor's chair and eight council seats, the labour-backed COPE made history by routing Vancouver's long-time ruling party - the business-supported Non-Partisan Association. The remaining two NPA councillors, one of them new, are both considered centrists within the right-wing civic alliance.
COPE took seven of the nine school board positions and captured five on the seven-seat Vancouver parks board.
Tieleman, a political commentator on CBC TV and radio, and a communications consultant for trade unions and left groups, observed other victories in the Lower Mainland. The Burnaby Citizens Association, an NDP organization, retained its strong grip on Vancouver's eastern neighbour. Helen Sparkes, the New Westminster mayor and former provincial Liberal candidate, was unseated in a squeaker vote by a small business operator, Wayne Wright, who garnered labour support in the final days of the campaign. Three left council candidates - Bob Bose, ex-MLA Penny Priddy and Judy Villeneuve - topped the polls for Surrey city council, and NDPers and other progressives won majorities in all three of the Tri-City elections: Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.
In Penticton, centre-left candidate David Perry grabbed the mayor's spot. Progressives did well in Victoria, where Mayor Alan Lowe had a run for his money from Ben Isitt, a virtual unknown who grabbed 35 per cent of the vote. "The left [in Victoria] must be kicking themselves," says Tieleman, since a better known candidate with an electoral machine might have proved successful.
With an election program that included more busses, reversing cutbacks in education and greater citizen involvement in the running of the city, COPE in Vancouver stood in stark contrast to the Liberals in Victoria and what has been perceived as their civic farm team, the Non-Partisan Association. That is likely why voters turned out in near-record numbers to the polls on November 16, with more than 50 per cent - high, by civic election standards - of the eligible voters reporting.
Polling stations on election day were backed up, with clerks hastily arranging the delivery of more voting booths to accommodate the unanticipated crowds. It is a given that with higher voter turnouts, non-establishment candidates do better, Tieleman noted. Several trade unions, including the bus drivers' local of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Operating Engineers, were active for the first time.
There will be some political flashpoints between Victoria and the municipalities, particularly in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. The GVRD board, with representatives appointed by member councils "is almost certainly going to shift considerably to the left and centre-left. [Gordon] Campbell's government will have opposition to its draconian policies on several fronts," Tieleman remarks.
He predicted some of the most dramatic opposition will occur in public education, where progressives rule the large Vancouver and Victoria school districts. Both will practice the "smart strategy" of greater involvement by parents.
The Columbia Journal
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