I have recently been involved in the campaign for an independent COPE. There have been many arguments for a coalition with Vision Vancouver, but all of them boil down to a financial argument: if COPE separates from Vision, there will be no money from labour to run against Vision’s unlimited developer backing and strong foreign campaign donations. But honestly, do the members of Vancouver’s unions agree with the idea that their leadership will fund only Vision?
I have been asking everyone I talk to: do rank and file union members really agree with corporate tax cuts? Do members of CUPE 315, for example, agree with staff layoffs, P3’s and service cuts at a time of growing inequality? Do members of COPE 378 agree with the three years of neoliberal reforms that have worsened the situation for everyone except the richest Vancouverites? Do the diverse members of the Vancouver District Labour Council really agree with the massive demolition and sell-off of social housing in our city? As poverty deepens, do rank and file union people agree with a developer-driven planning agenda that worsens the already-dire affordability crisis in Vancouver? Do they agree with closed shelters, and a homeless rate that increases year after year as people are pushed out the bottom in the world’s most unaffordable city?
No, they don’t agree. If there is a plan of action, union members and working people will break with conservative deals and go with what is possible: an independent COPE to win the November elections.
Above all, it is a strategic choice for COPE to reject a coalition with Vision. Currently it is COPE who is forced to argue that “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em.” This is the attitude that has allowed for a coalition despite the wide ideological gap between COPE and Vision. But if COPE takes a stand and refuses to go along with the game, it is Vision who is forced to adopt the survival attitude of joining opponents, and it is a much smaller ideological gap separating the opponent. Vote after vote, decision after decision, Vision and the NPA come together on the big issues, whether it’s corporate tax cuts, property upzoning, or the demolition of public housing.
Let’s face the voting record and compare the NPA term of 2005 – 2008 with the Vision term of 2008 – 2011. By every standard, Vision’s term has been a continuation of the NPA’s mandate, except that in many cases it has been worse. Take at least three areas that matter: taxes, housing, and public sector employment.
Taxes: Since being elected, Vision has lowered corporate taxes three times, so that now they are the lowest in the world.
Public sector employment: Disagreement between the NPA and CUPE over the size of a wage increase package and over the role of outside advisers did lead to a strike in 2007. And though the NPA showed a reactionary and confrontational attitude toward unions, the fact is that the NPA did not introduce significant layoffs. On the contrary, Vision moved quickly to layoff massive numbers of CUPE staff, decimating many departments. For example, the housing and social policy departments were almost totally liquidated, rendering them utterly incapable of grappling with our city’s core problems.
Housing: In its term the NPA provided 12 sites for social housing free of charge to the province on the condition that the Province build social housing on the site to address the growing housing crisis. By contrast, Vision has bought almost zero land and introduced no new no housing initiatives, acting instead as the on-the-ground spokesperson for BC Housing’s delays on the 12 sites. Vision has only carried out counter-productive actions on behalf of the Province, such as demolishing hundreds of units of housing at Little Mountain and closing the homeless shelters.
The point in this is not to show that the NPA is progressive. (NPA was not good for labour and the strike is only one example among many, even if the NPA only added city union workers during their time in government). On the contrary, it is to show that if COPE is strong, it is Vision and the NPA who will be splitting votes in the upcoming elections.
Could COPE win against a super-funded Vision/NPA? I think they can, because of the housing crisis and the need for progressive action in this city. Every single poll completed in the past 6 years has shown that affordability is the number one issue for the residents of Vancouver. After three years of broken promises and inaction by Vision, people want real progressive change. The majority of Vancouverites can’t get behind reductions in corporate taxes, reducing services, diminishing the public sector, losing shelters, losing our affordable housing, and giving a blank slate to developers in neighborhoods where renters are already paying up to three quarters of their income on rent.
In 2008, we could not have known that Vision Vancouver would break their progressive promises. It was difficult to argue that COPE could win on an independent slate, because there was the possibility of splitting the left vote. Today, the situation could not be more different. Vision has proven themselves to be a pro-business, right wing party. If Vision councillors believe in passing right-wing reforms merely in order to have the “ear” of the provincial government, they can do it well or even better through the NPA. COPE, on the other hand, is a party for progressive change and real solutions.