Vancouver city Coun. Rebecca Bligh has stepped down from the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) over concerns at least one newly-elected board member for the party has ties to the anti-SOGI movement.
In a statement released Friday, Bligh said she will continue to sit on council as an independent.
“In light of the newly elected executive to the NPA Board having any affiliation with anti-SOGI is against the core values that I hold dear to my heart,” she said.
“There is no debate when it comes to inclusion.”
Bligh went on to note there’s a “clear line” between the board and the NPA caucus, which includes four other city councillors, two park board commissioners and three Vancouver School Board trustees.
“My fellow members of the NPA Caucus and our supporters are aligned with our values that we share when it comes to inclusion and we support SOGI and the LGBTQ2+ community,” she said.
Bligh was unavailable to provide further comment Friday night.
In their own statement, the NPA caucus said they stand behind Bligh’s decision, highlighting the party’s long ties to the LGBTQ2 community.
“We will continue to stand for inclusivity and will strongly oppose anything that detracts from that objective,” the caucus said.
“We believe it is important for our Caucus to speak out with a strong, unequivocal voice and express our unyielding continued support for our LGBTQ2S+ community and SOGI 123.”
The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification (SOGI) 123 educational program promotes inclusive extra-curricular activities and self-identification for LGBTQ2 schools in B.C. schools, which was introduced by the provincial education ministry in 2017.
The NPA elected a new board on Nov. 25. Among the new names were Phyllis Tang and Ray Goldenchild, who were later voted to executive positions as treasurer and secretary, respectively.
Tang and Goldenchild were both endorsed by the Let’s Vote Organization when they ran in the 2018 municipal election. Tang lost her bid for city council, while Goldenchild unsuccessfully ran for the park board.
The Let’s Vote Organization, which says it promotes candidates with pro-life views and traditional family values, was itself endorsed by an anti-SOGI website, bcsogi.ca.
In a conversation with Global News, Goldenchild said he doesn’t know why he was endorsed by either group.
He added he’s never made a statement on SOGI in his life, and has never attended any meetings linked to the anti-SOGI movement.
Tang could not be reached for comment Friday night.
A request for comment from the NPA was also not returned.
Other NPA councillors who spoke with Global News said they have concerns about the right-leaning views of several new board members, including former Rebel Media personality Christopher Wilson and Ryan Warawa, who’s listed as the president of the B.C. Conservatives on the party’s website.
“The reported views of members of the NPA board members do not reflect those of the elected caucus, and we want to be very clear about that,” Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said.
“This is not the direction the party should be going. This is not something the elected caucus condones.”
Coun. Lisa Dominato pointed out she championed the SOGI 123 program while working with the Ministry of Education, and that her stepdaughter is a member of the LGBTQ2 community.
“It’s my expectation that members of the board who share the caucus’ values of inclusion and diversity will address this matter swiftly,” she said.
As the longest-serving NPA member on council, Coun. Melissa De Genova said she has seen NPA boards come and go, and is confident the party will find its footing.
“We’re a big tent organization,” she said. “We’re not told how to vote and what to think, which is why I decided to come to the NPA. That being said, I do have concerns.”
She and others said Bligh’s decision will not impact business at council.
“We’ll continue to work collaboratively,” she said. “We make our own decisions and then we’ll come together and discuss, but at the end of the day we’re all independent.
“This continues to be a much more collaborative council than the last one, which I also sat on, and I expect that will continue.”
None of the councillors could say whether they would follow Bligh’s lead and step down from the party. They added they haven’t had a chance yet to sit down with the board personally and express their concerns.
“We’ll be having a lot of conversations in the coming days and weeks,” Kirby-Yung said.
—With files from Nadia Stewart