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Peter Armstrong addresses a $350-a-plate Non-Partisan Association fundraiser. But that podium he’s holding is a knife’s edge. Stray from sounding energetic and experienced and he risks coming across as the embittered old guard. Slip the other way and the NPA president won’t be able to rile the crowd of 400 enough to open their wallets.
“I want to welcome you to what Mayor Gregor refers to as the Angry Old White Guys party,” Armstrong says at the May 7 dinner. Coming from a two-time incumbent, a jab like that is meant to mark territory and force the opposition to stake out theirs. And tonight the NPA is doing just that, as any political gathering now must, with Chinese and Indian dancers. Young ones. “Look around,” Armstrong says. “He got it wrong.”
Developer Rob Macdonald, the party’s vice-president, sounds mayoral as he declares that half the people in the room are women and that the NPA is inclusive of every gender, age, race, and religion. But when the bhangra dancers, the aboriginal drummers, and the young Chinese lions leave the room, the average age surges noticeably.
The terrain the NPA is marking includes anyone discontented with a party dominant for six years. It’s banking on those who feel shut out by Vision Vancouver policies. Like developers (Concord Pacific has a table), those in the transportation industry (so does the Vancouver Taxi Association), and representatives from the gambling sector.
A challenge from across town is not so slick. On March 31, on the steps of City Hall, the Green Party announced that it will field only three candidates: incumbent Adriane Carr, Strathcona Residents Association chair Pete Fry (son of MP Hedy), and lawyer/social activist Cleta Brown (daughter of onetime MLA Rosemary).
Carr told a crowd of 20 that the party won’t run a mayoral candidate. (The question was later put to the membership.) Onlooker Yahya Nickpour, who owns two hotels in the Downtown Eastside, wondered why he should bother supporting the Greens at all. “What would be the point? You need to have a mayor and you need to be in control,” said Nickpour, who hasn’t committed his vote yet. “Even if you are in control, no one has fixed the problems in the Downtown Eastside. Vision had all the power, and things have gotten worse.”
At press time, the NPA hadn’t announced its mayoral candidate. The last two — Peter Ladner and Suzanne Anton — don’t appear at the fundraiser, and neither does She Who Is Known By All. “Carole Taylor scares the heck out of me,” says Vision councillor Tim Stevenson when asked to speculate on a Non-Partisan challenger. “She’ll win if they get her, but they’re not going to get her. Colin Hansen is another one of the federal Liberals who really should be in our tent, but I’m not as worried about him.”
Former NPA mayoral candidate Jennifer Clarke drops by and says the party still has time. She says she didn’t get the nod until June of the 2002 election year, and Larry Campbell, who beat her, wasn’t selected by his party until August.
Ken Low, a self-described “polite, friendly, and obliging professional civil engineer,” says he believes there is enough anger with Vision that the NPA will win. As for himself, that’s not why he’s considering running for council. “What I am…” He pauses to consider. “Is disappointed in the mayor and this council. Very disappointed.”