In big upset, Tim Louis wins COPE nomination

Today, 614 COPE members cast ballots to nominate candidates for this fall’s Vancouver civic elections. The turnout was large, at least when compared to the nomination meetings of the other two major parties, NPA and Vision, neither of which brought out more than 100. Throughout today’s nomination meeting, not a few COPE executives pointed to the turnout as testimony to COPE’s strength, appeal, and democratic vibrancy.

The truth is that the party establishment was extremely anxious about the meeting, especially its large turnout. The party, including incumbents and the executive, had preselected slates to recommend to the membership – for City Council, Parks Board, and School Board. Indeed, the Parks Board slate-of-two was uncontested, and rubber-stamped by acclamation. The School Board slate was only contested by a single SFU student, who forced an election in that category. The party establishment much prefers preselection and acclamation to elections – the latter signifying lack of “unity” and loss of control.

The reason for the large turnout was that the race for council was hotly contested. In general, the 614 members were of two tendencies: one group supported of the establishment slate of Ellen Woodsworth, David Cadman, and RJ Aquino; the other group supported Tim Louis, who recommended that his supporters vote for himself, Ellen Woodsworth, and Terry Martin (previous Chair of the Board of Variance).

Although there are 10 seats on City Council, COPE was only nominating three candidates. The decision to nominate only three candidates was made at the June 26 2011 special meeting, where an electoral agreement with Vision recommended by the COPE establishment was approved – although with a substantial vote of opposition from the membership.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the June 26 vote was the more important one, shaping our city’s government for the near future. The agreement with Vision virtually ensures three more years of a Vision majority. The NPA team is weaker than ever, and is not running a single incumbent for City Council. The only NPA incumbent is Suzanne Anton, who is now running for Mayor and is likely to be unsuccessful. TEAM was in the exact same position in 1980, and was wiped-out, permanently. Therefore, it made no sense for the COPE establishment try to scare the membership into supporting Vision by holding up the NPA bogey-man. It is true that right-wing parties are based on fear, but as philosopher Alain Badiou notes, “fear of fear” is not a viable alternative strategy.

As for Vision, its city councilors have shown that they will not caucus with, or even work with, COPE councilors. It’s worth recalling that Vision held their nomination meeting, and nominated seven candidates, a week before the COPE membership had even ratified the electoral agreement! Vision is fully supportive of, and funded by, the developer oligopoly that controls housing prices in this city. Vision is committed to the gentrification model of development in the Downtown Eastside. Vision has proven unwilling to take bold action to address the affordability crisis, and on the contrary has taken to neoliberal “solutions” at every turn. The majority of their new “affordable housing plan” consists of free market condos. If there is anything to fear, it is this: around the world, after pseudo-social-democratic parties have done the dirty work of implementing neoliberalism, right-wing parties are sweeping into power on a wave of populism, with the slogan “we can’t possibly be worse than those guys!”

That said, despite the relative unimportance of today’s nomination meeting, something surprising and interesting happened: the substantial opposition from June 26th became the majority. Many expected the establishment slate to win handily today, but the results for council nominees came in as follows:

534 – Ellen Woodsworth
345 – Tim Louis
316 – RJ Aquino
309 – David Cadman
240 – Terry Martin
98 – Colin Desjarlais

Because of the coalition with Vision, only Woodsworth, Louis, and Aquino, made the cut, while three-time incumbent David Cadman did not. Many people in the room were visibly shocked. The surprising take-home-message was that Tim Louis had mobilized at least as many members as the entire establishment slate combined.

Although a strong supporter of the establishment and its back-room method, Ellen Woodsworth secured near unanimous support because she has worked hard to maintain relationships with the grassroots. She’s maintained integrity by sticking to principles of justice and equality as a matter of everyday practice, and by (for the most part) avoiding the politics of fear and personal attacks.

It should not go unsaid, though, that the main strategy of the COPE establishment leading up to today’s meeting (and the previous one in 2008) was to vilify and personally attack Tim Louis and his followers. Even worse, the current party establishment tried to peg and vilify the diversity of groups opposed to the coalition with Vision as being in the Louis “camp” (whereas in fact many Louis supporters voted for the agreement, whereas the opposition to Vision was largely comprised of artists and Downtown Eastside activists whose communities are being displaced by gentrification). The establishment’s anxiety today was grounded in the realization that, having personally attacked Louis for so long, they are now going to have to work with him. Hopefully the personal attacks will finally come to an end. If our politics are anchored in fear of the NPA, or fear of Tim Louis, we are lost, and the gentrification and neoliberalization of our city will continue unchecked.

Although parties have a role, our politics should rather be rooted in grassroots organizing that is independent of parties, and certainly not dependent on politicians. We should have no illusions: we will have to apply pressure on all these politicians in the coming years.

So no more bogey-men, fear of fear, or propping up the ruling class. As Jane Bouey said today, let’s “keep our eyes on the prize.” Ellen Woodsworth called for reactivation of the Vancouver Housing Authority. Tim Louis called for leveraging the property endowment fund to build social housing now. Of course the Vision majority will never support those ideas, but by 2014, those ideas must be fully developed and ready to implement. Otherwise politicians will have to be held accountable for their broken promises.