I’ve been on the COPE executive on and off for some 30 years. But at our AGM in November I did not seek re-election to the executive board. At the same time, I announced I would not be running again for elected office, starting with the 2018 municipal election in Vancouver.
I was first attracted to COPE back in the late 1970s while still in my teens. I would attend city council meetings and never ceased to be impressed by the lone COPE city councillor, Harry Rankin. Harry was always able to effortlessly summarize a complex debate into common sense. He was also a masterful debater, always standing up for public delegations and the average person. COPE — an alternative to the developer-friendly NPA — strongly advocated for a city council focused on the needs of citizens and neighbourhoods. Harry and COPE were a match made in heaven.
2017 HandyDART press conference
Some of the amazing 2014 COPE campaign team!
In the early 1980s, COPE appointed me to the Vancouver Public Library board of directors; in 1986, I was elected chair. From this position, I lobbied successfully for a significant increase in library services for print-disabled people and for Vancouver’s many multilingual communities.
In 1990, I was elected to my first three-year-term as a COPE park board commissioner. Working with the community, we at COPE were able to achieve a number of victories. One of the biggest ones was that we forced the then-NPA majority to phase out the long-held practice of having privately catered dinners for park board commissioners before their meetings. The money saved was diverted into children’s programming. We also moved the park board toward a pesticide-free policy.
Occupy Vancouver in 2011
In 1993, I was re-elected to a second three-year term on the park board. Working with environmental groups, COPE forced the NPA to adopt a bylaw significantly restricting the Vancouver Public Aquarium’s ability to capture whales from the wild.
In 1999, I was elected to a three-year term on Vancouver city council. My most memorable recollection of that term was the lockout of bus drivers by TransLink. Public transitcame to a halt. Many held NPA councillor George Puil responsible for the lockout because as chair of TransLink, he took a very anti-union position.
Working with the public and the bus drivers, COPE organized a massive occupation of city council chambers. The NPA councillors and mayor fled the chamber! Days later, an agreement was reached between TransLink and the bus drivers, ending a long and bitter lockout.
Poster from a campaign I co-organized with COPE to reinstate the ward system for Vancouver elections.
In 2002, I was re-elected to city council, this time with what appeared to be a COPE majority. Eight of the 10 city councillors elected along with the mayor were COPE candidates. Although COPE soon broke into two factions — COPE Classic and COPE Lite — I managed to get city council to implement two initiatives I’m still very proud of. Both of these initiatives are still in place.
COPE campaign trail 2005
The first was an Ethical Purchasing Policy I worked on with Raymond Louie — one of the many people of other political stripes I could work with over the years as long as we shared certain values. It ensures that all suppliers to the City of Vancouver pay living wages to employees and that all products and services they supply to the city respect the environment and meet fair labour standards, even if they’re from international sources.
The second initiative was the Vancouver Food Policy Council. This is a civic agency that’s responsible for working on food issues and food security for Vancouver and provides advice on these issues to city council. It also does things like connecting seniors who have gardens that need tending with students who would like to do some gardening, and advocating for using schoolyards to teach kids about growing food.
Stuart Mackinnon during my 2011 campaign for City Council
Regrettably, COPE Lite broke away from COPE and went on to become Vision Vancouver — the NPA with bike lanes. However, I’m proud to say that COPE, despite electoral setbacks, has soldiered on and will continue to soldier on. Happily, I will continue to be involved even though I’m not on the executive. I want to contribute what I can to keep a party in the heart of Vancouver politics that puts the average person first.
I have greatly enjoyed my many years of involvement in civic politics. However, there comes a time when all good things must come to an end. It’s time for new blood and fresh ideas within COPE, and I’m very happy to step aside to make room for new leadership.
Penny and I rolling with COPE in the 2014 Pride Parade.
I’m looking forward to spending more time with my wonderful partner Penny, and I’ll continue to serve my clients at my legal practice. And never fear, I am not hanging up my political spurs entirely! I know we need all hands on deck if we want to make Vancouver an affordable place to live again. Watch this space for more articles and critiques of the powers that be!
I look back on my involvement in civic politics with COPE with great memories of what is possible when elected officials work with the community and put neighbourhoods ahead of developers. But I could never have done it without my many, many COPE colleagues, supporters and collaborators over the years.
So a big, heartfelt THANK YOU! to each and every one of you.
It’s been a great ride!
I’m honoured to report that COPE is hosting a dinner in my honour on Thursday, February 15th 2018. There will be dinner, an open bar, and radical luminaries from the community. Proceeds will go to COPE! Click here for more info and to buy tickets
Facebook event page is here