One City and COPE liven up the Vancouver election campaign

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” – Antonio Gramsci.

These words from the Italian revolutionary’s Prison Notebooks are on the sign outside the old Video-In space on Main Street. This is where the Coalition of Progressive Electors has rented a campaign office for the next few weeks, and Gramsci’s words feel like a good fit there.

Under the current municipal government, Vision Vancouver, this city has continued to become prohibitively unaffordable, and developers have continued to make a killing. Vancouver may not be dying, but it feels like it has already lost much of its soul. The neighbourhood around the COPE office is a microcosm of this process, with a number of new condo towers going up between Main Street and the Olympic Village development on the southeast corner of False Creek.

Despite their failure to fulfill a promise to end homelessness, and despite the blatant developer power over City Hall, it looks pretty clear that a new politics for Vancouver cannot yet be born, or at least cannot yet take over power. The NPA is close to dead, or at least would seem to have outlived its usefulness, as I addressed in this space recently. Those presenting a genuine alternative to Vision, meanwhile, are simply too divided or too lacking a real political base to win office this time around.

I hope my pessimism of the intellect turns out to be wrong, however, because COPE, One City and the Greens all have candidates who would greatly improve the composition of Vancouver City Council. COPE and OneCity, in particular, have put out some excellent progressive policy proposals in the past couple of weeks.

For example, COPE has made a proposal to make transit affordable for all in Vancouver. The universal program would give everyone an unlimited, three zone transit pass for just $30/month, or $1 a day. People would be able to opt out.

This transit pledge is just the latest in a series of bold policy announcements that have generated media and public attention for COPE mayoral candidate Meena Wong far beyond what might otherwise have been expected from a poorly funded, third party campaign. Last month Wong and COPE promised to move toward a $15/hr minimum wage across the board in Vancouver, beginning with city workers and employees of big corporations. And of course Wong’s call for a surtax on empty properties continues to be the subject of sharp debate.

OneCity, the new political party backing RJ Aquino’s bid to get elected to Council, has added another anti-speculation measure to the mix, with a smart proposal to charge a levy on flipping properties. OneCity is advocating an incremental charge on profits made on sales within the first five years of ownership, taking a full 50 per cent of profits on sales in the first year, and decreasing to 20 per cent of profits in year four and five.

These proposals and these campaigns are important, regardless of the fact that both OneCity and COPE are long shots to get anyone elected to council. RJ Aquino and many of the key people behind OneCity left COPE after years of internal debate within the party. The fundamental disagreement was over the wisdom of electoral coalitions or non-competition agreements with Vision Vancouver.

Photo by Andrea Pinochet

Photo by Andrea Pinochet

In 2011, of course, COPE was basically shut out, despite having made an agreement with Vision. Many who have stayed with COPE publicly professed that if COPE could just run a Mayor and a full slate for Council, School and Park boards, they would return to power or at least get a number of people elected. This was, and is, pollyanna thinking. Neither COPE nor One City represent a broad enough coalition right now to win power.

The rebuilding of a coherent and influential political left in Vancouver municipal politics will take many years, and will necessarily involve those currently active or voting for both COPE and One City. More importantly, it will need to involve and bring in many more who are presently totally outside the political process.