3 important things left unanswered in last night’s Vancouver Mayoral Debate

Oct 11 2018, 2:40 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Stephen Smart, Vice President with Citizen Relations in Vancouver. He is also a former journalist and political staffer.


If you didn’t watch Wednesday’s Daily Hive Mayoral Debate and you live in Vancouver, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Okay, fine… grab a beer, order Thai food, and replay the debate in the background while you check out Instagram. Or just check out some of Daily Hive’s follow up coverage. Either way, it is well worth your time to hear from the four people most likely to be the next Mayor of Vancouver.

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Unlike the usual leadership debate formats where one person has 60 seconds to answer a question, the next person has 30 seconds for a rebuttal, followed by a 15-second debate and so on and so forth (seriously, that’s what these are usually like), this was an actual discussion of real issues impacting Vancouver and in particular, younger Vancouverites. I’ve covered a lot of political debates as a reporter and helped steer candidates through a handful of others as a communications guy, and I have to say, this was really refreshing.

Watch the full debate below:

Sure there was a lot of canned sounding messaging (*Cough Cough – Hector Bremner), a good number of non-committal answers (Ken Sim), and apparently Kennedy Stewart will be helping us all organize neighbourhood pig roasts and beer fuelled block parties (I’m all for this, btw). Oh and if you need someone to effectively deliver a 60-second pitch to a Tech CEO on why they should consider Vancouver, Shauna Sylvester has a spiel for you.

But here are a few things we didn’t hear from the candidates that they should be prepared to answer:

1. How much will this all cost and how will it be paid for?
Every single promise that is made, from building daycares to speeding up housing permits, costs money and that means property taxes. I’m not suggesting some of these ideas aren’t worth the money or paying higher taxes for, but Vancouverites deserve to know how much more they will be asked to pay. You heard nothing on that front in the debate.

2. What magic spell do they possess that will get senior levels of government to fund projects that they so far have been unwilling to fund?
I’m thinking here of the lively portion of the debate where the candidates discussed whether they would “promise” to extend the (still unbuilt) Millennium Line extension from its planned terminus at Arbutus all the way out to UBC. News flash, Victoria and Ottawa (mainly Ottawa) will control when and if this might happen, not the Mayor of Vancouver.

3. And finally… and this one is probably the most significant… whether they are talking about housing or the arts or relaxing liquor policies, how will they fight through the ever present, crushing weight of nimbyism and bureaucratic process at City Hall?
There was a two-year debate over whether to build a single tower at Commercial and Venables to add a couple dozen new units of rental housing. Try extending liquor service hours on a patio within earshot of a neighbourhood and watch the stampede of concerned residents demanding to be heard at City Hall opposing the plan. What do you think will happen when whoever becomes the next mayor proposes the equivalent of a new Olympic Village worth of rental housing projects in Vancouver every year for the next 10 years, dramatically altering the feel of neighbourhoods across the city? Will they care about the public feedback or will they just ram projects through?Pho

Again, I’m not suggesting that the candidates shouldn’t make promises like the ones we heard in the debate or that these issues aren’t critically important to the city. That’s what campaigning is all about and the exchange of ideas was excellent. But saying what you’re going to do in a 90-minute debate is the easy part. Actually figuring out how to deliver on these promises in the harsh reality of life in the Mayor’s office is a whole other story filled with competing interests, legal and legislative requirements, and the ever-present reality of having to seek re-election and face potentially angry voters in another four years.

So when you consider who you’re going to vote for on October 20, ask not only what the candidates say they will do, but how they’re actually going to get it done. That’s just as important.

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