A Progressive Unity? Maybe, But ….

March 11, 2018

It was a busy day in the world of Vancouver politics, with at least three meetings — the Vancouver Greens AGM, the COPE unity conference, and the GWAC AGM — all within hours of each other, and each overlapping.  The most important, perhaps, was the COPE meeting.

Meeting downstairs at the Russian Hall, COPE invited the Vancouver Tenants Union, Team Jean, One City, the Vancouver Greens, and the Marpole Students for Modular Housing to each give 10 minute speeches about their organizations and their thoughts on a unity left position for the next municipal election.

Before the speakers began, the COPE chair was firm in noting that no decision has been made on anything approaching a unity slate, and that “left unity” is just an aspirational phrase. She quite specifically noted a separation with Jean Swanson and Team Jean. The sole purpose of the meeting, she said, was to talk and to listen, and that later COPE members would be allowed to decide which way they should go.

Derrick O’Keefe of the Vancouver Tenants’ Union kicked it off with a rousing speech. He announced they already had more than 1,000 members and that renters now had somewhere to go for legal assistance and a clear political voice.  The Union was pushing for a 4-year rent freeze, rents to be attached to suites rather than tenancies, and for a lot more social and public housing.  He closed off with a passionate call for unity to ensure that developers were no longer in power at City Hall, and to make the city a movement leader.

Jean Swanson spoke next, thanking COPE for its endorsement and support during the last by-election. She also approved the idea that the City and its structures should be used as a movement generator, and noted that a rent freeze was a centrepiece of her by-election campaign. She called for a return to door-to-door voter registration (to register as many tenants as possible), and for easier access to polling stations in the election period. She also had much to say about using the city to better embrace and further indigenous reconciliation.

One City split their time between two speakers. Christine Boyle was a founder of One City having been a longtime COPE member. She said their campaign would concentrate on renters and affordable housing, including a realistic definition of “affordable.” They supported a rent freeze and she thought Once City’s “luxury tax” was similar enough to Jean Swanson’s “mansion tax” to bring them together. They approved the idea of all public land being devoted exclusively to social housing. She aligned herself with thoughts of making the city a movement leader, and specifically suggested using the City structures to beef up the Tenants’ Union. She called for a coalition.

The other One City speaker, their co-chair Alison Atkinson insisted that the market was the problem not the solution to the housing crisis. She also reminded the meeting that the Vancouver School Board was a vital target for this election. She declared herself “scared” that NPA developers would take over control of the City. However, she said that discussion of “a combination” should hang fire until the unity discussions organized by the Vancouver District have been completed (see below).

Ishman Bhuiyan of the Marpole Students for Modular Housing announced that he was too young to vote, but showed himself a great speaker. He went through the history of the Marpole project and how the students had come tigether to help — and continue to welcome the new residents. His message to loud applause was that activist students need to be taken seriously.

Pete Fry of the Vancouver Greens arrived straight from the Greens AGM. Regular readers here will know that I am a great admirer of Pete’s but his message wasn’t I believe what we needed to hear. He made it clear the Green’s were not open to any form of coalition. However, he mentioned several times that a motion from the floor at their AGM has suggested Adriane Carr as the “consensus” mayoral candidate. On each occasion the most charitable view of this meeting’s reception to that idea would be “impassive.”  Pete warned the meeting that the developers always played divide and conquer with the progressives, and that there are massive loopholes in the election financing legislation.

The best part of the meeting was seeing half the 100+ audience under thirty. The talk of unity and supporting policies was great. But there was a disappointing lack of actual concerted action.

The dark horse in all this is of course the Vancouver District Labour Council (VDLC) which was first mentioned, in passing, in the COPE chair’s introduction and the backroom dealings of which were confirmed by One City’s Atkinson.  From what I can gather, the VDLC is actively pursuing an alliance between One City, the Greens, and the remnants of Vision Vancouver. It is hard to believe that a genuine and progressive COPE Board would be in favour of giving Vision a break, but who knows what might happen if the unions press hard enough.

One can almost smell Geoff Meggs behind all of this, and a possible Don Davies mayoral run. Depressing.

Image: Greenspace #4

March 11, 2018