A massive, global social movement has erupted weeks before a municipal election. Its goal is to bring light to the injustice and unsustainability of a corrupt capitalist system. In Vancouver, hundreds have taken the North grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery, with a general message that change is needed now. But, the mayoral debate has orbited around the issue without touching it. Like the Czar on the eve of the 1917 revolution, the two most electable candidates are fighting over who is better at getting rid of the protest rather than who will better address inequality. The ballot question they want is: whose autocracy will better calm the masses. It’s almost as if they don’t understand the issue, and the polls are showing that most people are unhappy with both of them.

What has happened to make Vision sink in the polls? It’s not an NPA surge, that’s for certain.

HOUSING. The failure to address our housing crisis. In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver won on progressive values, promising to end homelessness and implement an empty condo tax. But now, without the tax, condo prices are at historical highs, and homelessness is higher than it was three years ago (despite public relations spin to the contrary). Social housing has been sold out at the Olympic Village, and three years on the Village still has hundreds of empty units.

CORRUPTION. The corruption of developer-council collusion is only growing. The two major parties are accepting over $4 million in donations this year, much of it from developers. In the absence of a ward system, councilors answer only to the big money players and aren’t accountable to particular neighbourhoods, whether it is spot-rezonings or wholesale giveaways to developers in the form of blanket height changes.

PARTY POLITICS. The agreement with COPE has meant that instead of competing with progressives for a more equal and just City, Vision must compete with the NPA in a contest to see who can make it more unequal. Perhaps rightly thinking that they will receive the progressive votes by default, Vision challenges the NPA on the right-wing front, guaranteeing three more years of politics for the 1%.

NEO-LIBERAL POLICY. In lieu of the progressive promises of 2008, Vision is now embracing conservative ideas:

Many occupiers have wondered about the city’s Street & Traffic By-Law 71.1, posted on city signs throughout the Art Gallery grounds. The purpose of this article is to give information and analysis about the By-law and its impact on #occupyvancouver.

“NO CAMPING: No structures (tents or other shelters) permitted in this area or on any other city street, sidewalk or boulevard. Street & Traffic By-Law 2849 Sec. 71.1.” While these words read like eternal declarations, seemingly handed down to us from the founding laws of our colonial state, the reality is that they are recent history — very recent. This past April, Vancouver’s city council and Mayor Robertson passed amendments to Section 71 and other sections of the Street & Traffic By-Law that seriously restrict protest in public space.

The April meetings of city council were called for legal reasons. In October 2010 the By-Law had been ruled unconstitutional by the BC Courts, who gave the city six months to change it. On April 7th 2011, council presented its new edits to the public. According to the new version of the By-Law, political structures remained illegal except with a special permit, which could be purchased at a cost of $200 plus a refundable deposit of $1000. The Mainlander pointed out that under the new By-Law, “no structures would be allowed before 8am or after 8pm, eliminating the possibility for extended protests.” The amendments were unanimously rejected by the public, including the the BC Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Public Space Network.

City council was forced to re-work its amendments, and returned on April 18th to present its revised version at a “no debate” meeting. Despite unanimous public opposition yet again, the Vision-led City Council passed the motion. The allowable structure size was reduced, with the addition of new penalties for non-compliance with the law: anyone who does not follow the new rules faces immediate removal and a minimum fine of $1000. The changes were passed and are now being fought again in the courts. The current version of the By-Law is worse than the edits of April 7. The law is less constitutional than before and today the BC Civil Liberties denounces its “bizarre, unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on political expression [that] violate free speech; full stop.”

This weekend, Vision Vancouver declared its official kick-off of the 2011 civic election campaign. The party sent members a video of a speech by Gregor Robertson, in which he distinguished Vision from its “political opponents.” Election campaigns are in large part about strategically distinguishing oneself from opponents. In this sense, the campaign promises to be a fascinating one, given that the two parties capable of forming a majority agree on all core policy matters.

The opponent to which Robertson refered is the NPA, which he called “highly negative, well-funded.” Both the NPA and Vision are well-funded, so the remaining distinction is that the NPA is ‘negative.’ That claim may seem unfair, given that the NPA isn’t any more negative about Vision Vancouver than vice versa. In the video, Gregor’s critique of the NPA’s negativity is in fact negative.

For us the key term ‘negative’ should be replaced by ‘awkward’. The awkwardness stems from the fact that Vision has adopted the NPA’s policies and is, as a result, at a loss. When the NPA goes on the attack, too, they are found attacking their own policies. Worse, the NPA is now forced to use pseudo-progressive rhetoric when attacking Vision – rhetoric that Vision would have used in the past, but now is forced to reject. The whole game of false distinctions is awkward.

Consider the Vancouver Sun‘s first of eight civic election briefings, also published over the weekend. In the first briefing, about affordable housing, Vision councilor Geoff Meggs discussed some of the implications of the housing crisis. Indeed, when The Mainlander met with Meggs for an in depth discussion last week, he emphasized the need for consensus around recognizing and prioritizing the housing crisis. Excellent. The question remains: what are Vision and the NPA going to do about it?

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 much 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 establishment, 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 establishment School Board slate was only contested by a single SFU student, who forced an election in that category. The 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 surprisingly 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 thee-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.