Councillors quit NPA over `Old Boys club'
Three members say all-male board's appointment of male mayoral candidate was final straw
Three of the Non-Partisan Association's four city councillors quit the party on Wednesday to sit as independents, saying the last straw was the organization's “Old Boys club” suddenly appointing a mayoral candidate this month.
In a joint statement, councillors Lisa Dominato, Sarah Kirby-Yung and Colleen Hardwick said they “don't have faith the NPA will represent the priorities and values of Vancouver residents” and have “lost confidence in the NPA's ability to govern fairly and responsibly.”
The announcement answers one of the mostasked questions in Vancouver politics over the past year, namely if and when the NPA's remaining councillors would officially break away from the party.
This latest defection reduces Vancouver's oldest and historically most dominant party to a single member of council, down from five following the last election.
Second-term Coun. Melissa De Genova was conspicuously absent from the trio's announcement Wednesday, and is apparently remaining with the party, at least for now.
The defections follow more than 16 months of growing friction between the NPA's elected caucus and the board of directors chosen at the party's most recent general meeting, in 2019. Soon after the new board was elected, Coun. Rebecca Bligh quit to sit as an independent, citing concerns about what she called the new board's shift to the “far right.”
Other board members quit over the next year, with some also voicing concerns about the party's direction under the current board leadership. After a series of public controversies involving new NPA board members, the party's elected politicians — and some high-profile longtime supporters — have also distanced themselves from their leadership.
Those frictions culminated in a January joint statement, signed by all NPA caucus members at city hall, the park board and the school district, publicly demanding the party hold an “immediate” general meeting, which would allow the party a chance to elect a new board.
Instead, the NPA board announced earlier this month — to the surprise of almost everyone, including the party's own politicians — that it had appointed NPA park board commissioner John Coupar to be the party's mayoral candidate in next year's election.
In an open letter addressed to NPA supporters, the three departing councillors cited Coupar's sudden appointment as the primary reason for their decision.
The trio had issued an earlier public statement — also without De Genova — saying they were “extremely disappointed there was no open, transparent and democratic mayoral call for candidates, or application or nomination process, thus eliminating any opportunity for elected women in the NPA caucus to participate, or for any others to submit expressions of interest.”
“Instead of a fair and democratic process to select the best mayoral candidate, the NPA board and John Coupar sidelined the elected members of the NPA and made a backroom deal. By any measure, it was about as Old Boys club as it gets,” Hardwick said But others, including Coupar and NPA president David Mawhinney, questioned the sincerity of the councillors' concerns over the board's supposed “backroom” candidacy appointment
“We remind everyone that each of the three departing councillors were appointed to their role as candidates for the NPA in the exact same manner as our current mayoral candidate,” Mawhinney said.
Coupar also said that when Hardwick, Dominato and Kirby-Yung were appointed in 2018 by the NPA board to run as council candidates, “they didn't complain about the process then.”
“I'm disappointed they did it so quickly,” Coupar said. “I had a good conversation with them the other day and I thought we were perhaps moving forward in a more positive way, but I guess they made a decision contrary to that, which is their right.”
Many observers have also viewed the situation through the lens of gender, after an almost entirely male NPA board decided privately to give a male park commissioner the mayoral nod, instead of allowing any of the four female NPA councillors to pursue the nomination.
This was evident in Wednesday's statement from the defecting councillors.
“I'm proud to be serving on Vancouver's first-ever majority-women council and I won't diminish that by not drawing the line,” Kirby-Yung said in the statement. “In 2021, we shouldn't have to fight for a level playing field, but we are.”
Dominato said: “Women in politics need to stand up for their point of view and lead by example.”
De Genova, has served with the party longer than the other four councillors elected in 2018, and previously sat on the park board alongside Coupar.
Asked for comment Wednesday afternoon, De Genova wrote in a text message: “The reality is, little will change for me. As a caucus, sometimes we would vote together, sometimes not. I expect that to continue.”