Sources: Internal polling, dispute over finances sank Coupar's mayoral bid

Park Board Commissioner John Coupar, left. | Mike Howell

The Non-Partisan Association is looking for a new leader, just over a month until the deadline for candidates to register for the Oct. 15 civic election.

Park Board Commissioner John Coupar resigned as the mayoral candidate Thursday, leaving three declared challengers to Mayor Kennedy Stewart. The party announced Friday morning that it met the previous evening and accepted Coupar’s resignation.

“We thank John for his remarkable service and tireless dedication to Vancouver as an elected Park Board Commissioner since 2011 and we wish him well,” said the NPA statement.

Multiple sources say that Coupar’s internal polling was below expectations and there was a dispute between the party board and Coupar about financial support, spending and policy advice from real estate developer Peter Wall. The board wanted to cut ties with Wall, but Coupar didn’t.

The NPA has a storefront office at the Wall Centre in downtown Vancouver. Wall’s hotel, the Sheraton Wall Centre, was the venue for a party after the office ribbon-cutting on June 25. The party is relocating to space in Kerrisdale.

Wall has not immediately responded for comment. Coupar did not respond to a message to his personal mobile phone. He Tweeted that he had resigned Thursday and looked forward to spending time with his family and friends.

"I am grateful to the NPA for the opportunity to run and for the wonderful team of NPA candidates who surrounded me,” Coupar Tweeted. “I love this city and have enjoyed serving the residents of Vancouver over the last 11 years. I have always strived to walk with the utmost integrity and with an unwavering commitment to those I serve.”

Wall is a longtime BC Liberal supporter who backed Vision Vancouver under Gregor Robertson’s leadership. Four years ago, Wall funnelled $85,000 into a billboard campaign for YES Vancouver mayoral candidate and former NPA councillor Hector Bremner. The controversy sparked amendments to third-party advertising rules and extended regulation prior to civic elections.

Angelo Isidorou, a former NPA board member, said he was volunteering as digital director for the NPA until a month ago and was disappointed to see Coupar quit. “He’s a good man and genuinely wants to see Kennedy Stewart defeated,” he said.

“I know there's some disagreements regarding the Walls as being major fundraisers for the campaign, but at the end of the day, you need money,” he said. “You can't run a campaign without money.”

Coupar was the first candidate to declare a run for the mayoralty and the first to depart the race.

On Easter Monday in 2021, the NPA board announced it chose Coupar behind closed doors.

That prompted 2018-elected NPA councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung, Lisa Dominato and Colleen Hardwick to quit the party and sit as independents, leaving Melissa De Genova as the only NPA member of city council. Rebecca Bligh was also elected on the 2018 ticket, but she already left in late 2019 after a dispute with conservative-leaning board members.

Earlier this year, Kirby-Yung, Dominato and Bligh joined ABC Vancouver under Ken Sim, who defeated Coupar for the NPA mayoral nomination in 2018 and fell 957 votes shy of Stewart.

Hardwick formed TEAM for a Livable Vancouver and is now the only elected official aiming to unseat Stewart.

The other candidate is Progress Vancouver’s Mark Marissen, the driving force behind Bremner’s campaign in 2018 and a longtime BC Liberal and federal Liberal backroom strategist and lobbyist who was formerly married to ex-Premier Christy Clark.

NPA campaign manager Mark Werner declined comment. Werner was campaign manager for BC Liberal leadership runner-up Ellis Ross.

Ken Charko, one of the NPA city council candidates, said he has “nothing but respect for the time that John has put into the city and saving the Bloedel Conservatory.”

Time is running out to find a new mayoral candidate. Charko still thinks it’s possible, noting that in 2018, the NPA announced its slate of candidates at the end of July. For this cycle, council candidates were named in late May.

“We've raised a good portion of funds outside of the involvement of the Walls, we already have a campaign office that will be fully up and running,” Charko said. “It’s my understanding that it is always our intention to leave the Walls.”