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Tory forces win battle for NPA board

It’s one of the cliches of politics that it’s the left, with its petty sectarian battles inside any party or movement, that self-destructs. But you have to wonder about that, watching what’s going on with the Non-Partisan Association.

The NPA had its annual general meeting today, which mainly consisted of electing 11 new board members to fill empty spots in the aftermath of the party’s drubbing at the polls in November. The afternoon was actually pretty cheery, with the atmosphere that comes from battling the elements, as people hauled themselves along slushy roads (some of them breaking up their Whistler ski vacations to do so, like the Ladners) to get to the Hellenic community centre on Arbutus.

There were lots of great speeches from the 20 candidates, who talked at length about how the NPA has to take back the centre from Vision Vancouver and rebuild itself and become relevant again to Vancouver voters and create a new image, etc etc. (It was even kind of fun at points, with DJ Lawrence saying he had worked in security and emergency preparedness, though he hoped he wouldn’t need those skills to be on the NPA board. And Gavin Dew mentioned my blog as a great forum for anonymous posters from the NPA — gee thanks, and the cheque is in the mail!

But it was apparent from the beginning of the meeting that there’d been a lot of organizin’ going on, with a definite Ladner/Liberal camp and a Tory/Sullivan camp. (Yes, both were there.)

There were even slate sheets going around. The Tory slate pointedly didn’t include people affiliated with the Ladner group, like his campaign manager, Bob Ransford, and park candidate Sharon Urton, who has supported him in the nomination fight. The yellow (Tory) sheet was being clutched by a small group of Indo-Canadian attendees who are not regulars at NPA function meetings. And several people noted Conservative organizer types like Robin Dhir and Jordie Hungerford (mobilized, the pro-Ladner/Libs whispered darkly, by Colin Metcalfe and Marko Dekovic) in the hallways, doing their thing.

There were several candidates common to the two sides, including council candidate Sean Bickerton, lawyer Chilwin Cheng, communications strategist Michael Davis (who was helping out Sam at one point in the last three years), Suzanne Anton campaigner Deborah Spafford, and Young Guy Gavin Dew.

But in the end, the candidates on the Tory sheet, aside from that group, won by the time all 147 votes were counted — Manjot Hallen and Naresh Shukla.

That was surely annoying to some just regular NPA types who came out to vote or actually run, without knowing there was a slate battle going on. (One woman asked aggrievedly if she could get information on who had produced the slate sheets. No answer.) And it put a damper on the afternoon, which had otherwise devolved into an informal Christmas party while the vote counting was happening.

In the end, the yellow slate took the day, with the candidates on that sheet — Manjot Hallen and Naresh Shukla — winning out.

All of which left many people with the question in their minds: What the heck was the point of that? Just to show you could muster the forces to make sure Peter Ladner’s campaign manager didn’t get on the board? Hard to see how that was going to help rebuild the party.

Sean Bickerton and Gavin Dew both made specific references in their speeches to the need for the NPA to get past the conflicts of the past.

“There were grievances that some here consider unfinished. I appeal to everyone here to set aside these bloody battles. To win, we need everybody,” was the main point in Sean’s speech.

Well, good luck with that, if the Crips and the Bloods re-appear every time there’s a board member to be elected or a motion to be passed.

One positive I noticed: This meeting seemed more energized and lively than the dismal meeting after the 2002 defeat, when it was mostly the old-timers who came out to raise the party from the ashes. This time, there were lots of young people and new faces. Some I talked to didn’t think that was so great — if the party was going to rebuild, it needed a few of the people from the past and a board that wasn’t almost completely new. And there were questions about how many of the new faces would stick around past the slate vote.

Well, we’ll see. There’s another vote in the spring for five more directors on the board.

In the meantime, the new board and its remaining caucus have to figure out how to do all that re-taking of the centre and building broader community bases.

Although I heard a lot of that kind of talk, there wasn’t a single specific about what issues would be important to do that or a description of where this new NPA thinks the centre is these days.

France Bula is a columnist for Vancouver Magazine and a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail.

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