Coalition of Progressive Electors

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Coalition of Progressive Electors
Founded 1968 (1968)
Ideology Social democracy
Political position Left
Colours Yellow, Black
Seats in Legislature
0 / 11
Politics of Canada
Political parties

The Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) is a municipal political party in the Canadian city of Vancouver, British Columbia. It has traditionally been associated with tenants, environmentalists, and the labour movement. COPE is generally guided by social-democratic principles, and has a long history of championing issues like improving public transit and investing in affordable housing. It last held a majority government on City Council from 2002 to 2005.

Recently, the party has adopted policies also advocating for aboriginal representation at the municipal level.[1]


COPE was formed in 1968, originally as the "Committee of Progressive Electors", when a number of left-wing community groups and social justice organizations joined with the city's Labour Council to organize more effectively against the Non-Partisan Association (NPA)—a centre-right political party which had dominated civic politics in Vancouver. Frank Kennedy of the Vancouver & District Labour Council and Harry Rankin, an outspoken lawyer and city councillor, were key figures in shaping the coalition, along with activists from the British Columbia New Democratic Party and the Communist Party of British Columbia.

Beginnings: 1970s and 1980s[edit]

For most of its history, COPE existed in an uneasy relationship with centre-left parties at the municipal level. From 1972 to 1986 COPE competed with The Electors' Action Movement, which governed the city under prominent federal Liberal Mayor Art Phillips in the mid-1970s. By the late 70s, a breakaway faction of TEAM, comprising provincial NDP supporters and led by future premier Michael Harcourt formed an electoral alliance with COPE, from which both parties benefited. Led by Harcourt, the coalition governed from the centre and, although it ran a unified slate with COPE with the cooperation and support of the VDLC, Harcourt's small party of Civic Independents would sometimes vote with the councillors associated with the NDP and the remaining TEAM councilors against COPE's more socialist policies.

When Harcourt stepped down to become a provincial candidate and a renewed NPA led by future premier Gordon Campbell absorbed TEAM's two remaining councilors, COPE became the senior partner in its coalition with the Civic Independents. Nominating Rankin as its mayoral candidate, COPE fielded a virtually full slate of candidates (leaving three open spaces for the incumbent Civic Independents) but was badly beaten, the returning to power for the first time in 14 years, and deprived for the next two years of Rankin's leadership in the council chamber.

COPE and Independents: 1980s-1990s[edit]

In 1988, COPE entered the election an equal partner with the newly formed Civic New Democrats, a party directly affiliated with the BC NDP. Led by anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson, the coalition made few gains but under the leadership of Jim Green in 1990, the party came close to winning the election. But while all COPE council candidates were elected, no Civic NDP candidates were (since a 1983 by-election, COPE had consistently out-performed all other leftist candidates on the concurrently elected School and Parks Boards). At this point, Vancouver's civic left conceded that the COPE brand was now more popular than any more centrist group. Thus, following the 1990 election, COPE officially merged with the Civic NDP, changing its name from the Committee of Progressive Electors to the Coalition of Progressive Electors. At this time, COPE made an official overture to the Green Party of Vancouver, the local affiliate of the Green Party of British Columbia, offering the group some minor policy concessions, joint billing in the party's ballot name ("COPE-Green '93") and assurances that important party members would ensure some Greens were nominated. The Greens turned the deal down.

Since 1993, COPE has nominated candidates for all civic offices (Mayor, City Councillor, School Board Trustee, and Parks Commissioner) but its closer affiliation with an incumbent provincial NDP government and inability to negotiate a deal with the Greens, who began siphoning votes in increasing numbers, resulted in flagging performance. Rankin's retirement from council also damaged the party. In 1993, COPE's representation fell to only one councilor, future MLA Jenny Kwan. COPE did not win any seats in 1996, thanks to a strong showing for the Greens and a left-right coalition called VOICE, led by Rankin's wife Connie Fogal and 1984 mayoral candidate Jonathan Baker. With this fragmentation of the civic left, the NPA won all 27 contested seats in that election with only 43% of the vote.

In 1999, COPE regained its footholds on School Board and City Council and the Greens gained a seat on Parks Board under the leadership of mayoral candidate David Cadman. The two independent candidates who had also joined the coalition were defeated, although former NPA councilor Nancy Chiavario came close to keeping her council seat after being pushed out by supporters of Jennifer Clarke at the NPA nominating meeting.

COPE's First Government: 2002[edit]

In 2002, the NPA was divided between a right-wing faction led by Jennifer Clarke and a moderate faction led by then NPA Mayor Philip Owen, creating the possibility of a COPE majority.

One of these was former Chief Coroner, RCMP officer Larry Campbell, fictionalized on the CBC show Da Vinci's Inquest whom COPE nominated as its mayoral candidate. Although Campbell attempted to keep the Greens in the fold, a new provincial leadership had taken control and pulled the party out of its municipal coalitions.

But Clarke's takeover of the NPA and purge of its centrists was highly unpopular with Vancouver voters, especially her movement's deposition of the incumbent mayor, an ally of Campbell. Now led by a centrist for the first time, COPE defeated the NPA in every seat it contested.

In the 2002 municipal election, an unprecedented surge in voter turnout elected the first COPE mayor and board majorities in Vancouver's history. Every candidate running under COPE's banner was elected.

After the election, the party created a new Climate Task Force, implemented ethical purchasing policy, built bike routes, and legalized secondary suites, among other initiatives.

Vision Vancouver splits: 2005[edit]

By late 2004, there were growing signs of disunity between the COPE mayor and some COPE councillors. Campbell formed an independent caucus along with three of his COPE colleagues (although they all remained as members of the party). The other COPE councillors remained in the original COPE caucus.

The maverick COPE councillors (dubbed "COPE Lite" or "Diet COPE" by the media) eventually separated and formed a new party, Vision Vancouver, to run in the 2005 municipal election. COPE did not run a mayoral candidate to challenge Vision nominee, former COPE concillor Jim Green .

In the election for Vancouver City Council held in November 2005, only one COPE councillor (David Cadman) was elected. The party was reduced to three seats on the city school board and two on the parks board, newcomer Spencer Herbert, and Loretta Woodcock.

More alliances: 2007–2008[edit]

In May 2007, a slate was elected to the COPE Executive, called "the group of seven" or "the facebook group" by some media.[2] All seven members of the slate were elected with a mandate to seek an electoral coalition with Vision Vancouver. From 2007–2008, 50% of COPE's Executive was under the age of 30, unprecedented for a major civic municipal party in Canada. From May 2007-spring, 2008, COPE made overtures to Vision Vancouver to enter into a coalition for the 2008 election "to defeat the NPA" with little success. It wasn't until Gregor Robertson was nominated as Vision Vancouver's mayoral candidate that formal negotiations between the two organizations began in early summer of 2008.

COPE and Vision Vancouver reached a tentative agreement in late summer, 2008, which was later ratified by the Vision Vancouver Executive and COPE membership. COPE agreed not to run a mayoral candidate to avoid splitting the progressive vote.

COPE's decline: 2008-2011[edit]

In the 2008 Vancouver municipal election voters replaced the NPA-dominated council with a near sweep of COPE, Green and Vision Vancouver candidates. COPE elected six of nine candidates, running a new media and youth-oriented campaign.

In the leadup to the 2011 election, several party activists launched a campaign to separate from Vision Vancouver, arguing that in coalition with Vision, that COPE "[hadn’t] been able to do anything."[3] The activists were defeated by the majority of COPE members.[4]

In the November 19, 2011 election, a single COPE candidate was elected. The elected candidate was incumbent Allan Wong, as one of nine school trustees. COPE ran a total of nine candidates in the election.

On December 8, 2013, Allan Wong, COPE's sole elected politician, resigned from the party to join Vision Vancouver.

Recent history: 2011-present[edit]

After the election loss in 2011, a group called "Independent COPE" was elected to COPE's Executive Board.[5]

At the party's Annual General Meeting in 2013, "Independent COPE" captured a majority by a wide margin.[6] The membership also passed a motion to run a mayoral candidate in the 2014 election, and a majority of candidates for City Council, School Board, and Park Board.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hui, Stephen. "COPE backs First Nations votes on Vancouver city council". The Georgia Straight. 
  2. ^ . Public Eye Online Retrieved 24 July 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ Cole, Yolande (June 21, 2011). The Georgia Straight  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Smith, Charlie. "COPE members ratify electoral deal with Vision Vancouver". The Georgia Straight. 
  5. ^ Hui, Stephen. "Coalition of Progressive Electors chooses new executive". The Georgia Straight. 
  6. ^ O'Connor, Naoibh. "Independent COPE candidates capture seats on board". Vancouver Courier. 

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