British Columbia

Profiling Vancouver's political parties: COPE

Founded in 1968, the Coalition of Progressive Electors competes with Vision Vancouver, the Greens, OneCity, Forward Vancouver and VOTE Socialist for votes on the left side of the city’s political spectrum. 

Vancouver's oldest left-wing party focusing much of its campaign on ending the homelessness crisis

A number of COPE candidates, including council candidates Tanya Webking and Breen Ouellette, stand outside a hotel worker picket line in April 2022. (Courtesy COPE)

Over the decades, things have gotten progressively more crowded for Vancouver's oldest left-wing party. 

Founded in 1968, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) now competes with Vision Vancouver, the Greens, OneCity, Forward Vancouver and VOTE Socialist for support on the left side of the city's political spectrum. 

But it's the original, and COPE council candidate Tanya Webking argues it's the party most committed to ending the homelessness crisis.

"I think that a lot of the different parties are now mimicking language that we've used, but will they follow through? They haven't so far. Their voting records speak for themselves," she said.

COPE will be running four council candidates (Webking, Jean Swanson, Breen Oulette and Nancy Trigueros), three park board candidates (Gwen Giesbrecht, Maira Hassan and Chris Livingstone) and two school board candidates (Suzie Mah and Rocco Trigueros). 

It's not enough to form a majority anywhere. But current councillor Jean Swanson, who is running for re-election, says more COPE politicians would change how city hall functions. 

"It would be a more powerful signal [to the province]," she said, "but it would also mean we would have the votes to actually do the interim measures … that would make life a little bit more bearable for people who don't have homes."

5 key focus points

So what are some of those steps? 

COPE will be running on a platform (which you can read here) centred around five main topics: rent control, a living wage for all Vancouverites, a mansion tax, safe drug supply, and ending the homelessness crisis. The party is planning on announcing specifics of its platform on a weekly basis. 

In most of those cases, ultimate jurisdiction rests with the provincial or federal government, or would require the province to change the Vancouver Charter to allow the province to make changes (such as with a mansion tax or implementing vacancy control). 

However, COPE's platform on ending the homelessness crisis includes a number of short- and medium-term proposals fully in local jurisdiction. 

It's calling for the immediate provision of more washrooms on the streets, either by trailers or by renting porta-potties. 

It wants to close some side streets to create more community support spaces and overdose prevention sites, and use city reserves to fund those services if the provincial and federal governments won't. 

And it's calling on the city to create a tiny-home village, or to continue buying hotels to convert into housing 

"It's a humanitarian crisis in the Downtown Eastside, and we can't keep going on like this with everything getting worse," Swanson said. 

"We need to get housing for people. And if the other levels of government won't do it, the city has to do the best we can," she added, listing off a litany of SROs that have either suffered fire damage, been condemned, or had rents raised beyond the $375 shelter rate provided by the government. 

Coun. Jean Swanson, seen here in council chambers in 2019, is hoping to have more COPE candidates elected with her in October. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Is it possible? 

While some political parties have focused their promises on the Downtown Eastside around hiring more police, making things safer, or focusing on repeat offenders, Webking argues that's a flawed framework. 

"We have to look at the trauma of the daily living and the overpolicing of the Downtown Eastside residents. The police have historically used the justice system to address our housing issue," she said.

"We have defunded so many of our social services and social safety nets in this city … capitalism has gotten us here and only community living will get us out."

It's the type of argument that traditionally has gotten COPE one or two seats on council, but historically rarely more than that. 

But they're hopeful for a change in voters' moods this election — and with it, a change in the makeup of city hall. 

"We have an issue," said Webking, "and it's time to be action oriented and to really attack these issues." 

CBC News will be profiling all 10 political parties in Vancouver ahead of the municipal elections in October.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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