With 18 months to go before Vancouver’s next civic election, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) is facing more turmoil.
Three of the four sitting city councillors elected under the NPA banner say they’re quitting the party in protest over a “backroom deal” that saw longtime park commissioner John Coupar selected as the slate’s mayoral candidate last week.
The trio has penned an open letter to party membership, in which they make the announcement and say they have “lost confidence in the NPA’s ability to govern fairly and responsibly.”
“We have heard loud and clear from NPA members and supporters that the actions of the Board and John Coupar do not reflect the standards of transparency, integrity and accountability we all expect from the NPA and each other,” Coun. Colleen Hardwick said in a statement.
“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 and fellow councillors Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung will sit as independents until the next municipal election.
Coupar told Global News Wednesday he was “surprised” by the decision, saying he had spoken recently to each of the three councillors and though they were “finding a way forward together.”
He rejected the assertion his selection as candidate for mayor had not been transparent, noting that all three councillors had previously been appointed as candidates by the party.
“Because I had previously gone through the process and had been vetted now by three different boards, including being greenlit as a candidate for mayor last time, they did move a little bit quicker, but that’s really the only difference.”
Coupar said he was expecting the NPA to field a diverse slate in the election, and that he was confident Vancouverites would like what they see.
“When I started with the NPA we had one sitting councillor and one on park board. We’ve been building. This is an unfortunate setback, that three councillors have decided to sit as independents, but I believe strongly that we’ll have a great team going forward,” Coupar said.
“There will be an election, and the residents of Vancouver will be able to have their choice on who they think is an authentic and credible leader.”
The NPA released a statement Wednesday evening thanking the councillors for their service, and echoing Coupar’s comments that they, too, had been appointed.
While the NPA has appointed candidates in previous years, that process was more open and allowed candidates to submit their interest, pay an application fee and sign up members.
Councillors have been demanding an annual general meeting since January 2021, but no meeting has been held.
In December 2019, former NPA Coun. Rebecca Bligh left the party to sit as an independent over concerns about one of the newly elected board members’ opposition to SOGI-123, the B.C. school program aimed at improving inclusion for LGBTQ2 students.
At the time, Bligh said there was a “clear line” between the elected NPA caucus and the party’s board.
Four board members publicly quit in July of last year, complaining about the lack of an AGM and stating the board lacked “enthusiasm and energy” and has been “silent and unremarkable” as the city goes through “unprecedented upheaval” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
NPA councillors have previously expressed discomfort about the political leanings of the board, which includes former Rebel Media personality Christopher Wilson and BC Conservative Party candidate Ryan Warawa.
The party faced further controversy following reports by The Tyee and the Vancouver Sun on a 2017 photograph of director Angelo Isidorou wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and flashing the “OK” sign, which the Southern Poverty Law Centre describes as being co-opted by far-right hate groups.
At the time, NPA president David Mawhinney issued a response calling the reporting a “smear campaign,” and saying the photo was taken out of context and that Isidorou was 20 years old at the time.
Ken Sim, who ran as the NPA’s mayoral candidate, plans to run again in 2022, potentially with the newly-launched “a better city” party.
Political strategist Mark Marissen and incumbent mayor Kennedy Stewart also plan to run.