Vision tries to ride the Obama train
Frances Bula, ctvbc.ca
Published Tuesday, November 11, 2008 11:52PM PST
It was party time all over Vancouver last night, it seemed like, as various bars filled up with people who wanted that crowd experience while watching Barack Obama get elected. The Yaletown Brew Pub was packed, of course, as the Democrats Abroad group and a few hundred ex-pat Yanks poured in to gaze at the TV screens and exchange chitchat ("You're from Oregon? Hey, so am I.") Somewhere in the crowd, Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Peter Ladner, skipping out of the current raging debate at city hall over whether the Opus Hotel should get a rooftop restaurant, joined his campaign manager, Mike Meneer, who hails most recently from Washington and is a big Dems Abroad organizer.
But in another part of the downtown, there was one bar crowd that was watching the night's events with very special interest. The Vision Vancouverites held their own gathering at Smiley O'Neals on West Pender to get a contact high from the Obama victory and try to ride the crest of the wave a little. As one radio commentator noted yesterday in the U.S. election, all elections are ultimately a choice between change and the status quo. The Vision Vancouver party that's trying to win control away from the NPA here is obviously hoping voters will be wanting change.
To drive that home, mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson stood up on a bar table right after John McCain made his concession speech and gave his own motivational speech to the couple hundred people gathered there. With the screens around him showing images of people sobbing with happiness or stunned with the realization that their moment had come, Gregor (speaking more forcefully than I've ever heard him do before) called on his crowd to do the same here.
A sample of what he had to say:
"We've seen the world change tonight. Congratulations to Americans for bringing your country back. Now we're going to do that here in Vancouver in the next 11 days. Why? For lots of the same reasons. We have thousands of people sleeping on the streets in our city. Those are the people we need to fight for. We have tens of thousands who can't afford to stay and work in this city. We have a planet that is in crisis. Let's take how we're feeling tonight, how powerful we are and use that."
At that moment, a guy in the back yelled out "And pay for your SkyTrain bill" which caused a short pause before Gregor went on to finish up.
Yes, a microcosm of the campaign. It was supposed to be all about mobilizing people to vote for action on homelessness, affordable housing, making Vancouver greener. Those are the issues that people keep saying -- in public surveys and phoning that the campaigns are doing -- is what they care about most. But in the last few days, it's been derailed by the mini-cyclone of attention to Gregor's decision to challenge his $173 fine for paying a one-zone fare when he was on a two-zone ride. The Nov. 15 vote will tell whether it actually made a difference to anyone, but in the meantime, it's having the effect the opposition was hoping -- getting the campaign off-message and causing candidates and campaigners to spend time they don't have fretting about a) why was Gregor so dumb not to realize the way it would play out politically and b) whether it will have any impact.
By the way, who was that guy who yelled out in Gregor's speech? Well, it turns out that there was a small gathering of Ivy League alumni who had booked Smiley's as well for an evening of gab and TV watching. They were gathered at the back, clearly not as inspired by Gregor's rhetoric as the bulk of the crowd. The guy who called out (Geordie somebody? He ripped off his ID tag when I went up to talk to him -- there's someone who's clearly willing to stand up for his convictions.) Among the Ivy League crowd, by the way, was NPA candidate Sean Bickerton, who'd come down to meet a friend. Vision campaigners were in a tizzy seeing him there, thinking that it was a sign the NPA is falling apart and that its candidates were now coming to Vision events looking for support.
Not so, my friends.