When Kennedy Stewart kicked off his campaign earlier this year, he had a simple message for voters.
“I want to work with all progressive voters to make Vancouver even better,” he said at the time.
And last week, Stewart, who resigned his seat as NDP MP for the riding of Burnaby South, to run in this year’s election, sat down with Daily Hive to discuss how he intends to do that.
On housing and affordability
Noting that one would “really have to be a zombie” not to know that housing is the biggest issue in the election, Stewart said he knew that going into this, he knew he “had to have a policy that would work.”
As such, Stewart said he spent “quite a lot of time working with experts figuring out what could work and what we could make happen in this city.”
The best thing to start with, he said, is “what the status quo is and the status quo plan is what the city has planned, which is 72,000 units over the next 10 years.”
However, when he looked at the plan, “I thought that when it came to the affordable housing component of that plan, there wasn’t enough there. So my current plan is 25,000 affordable rentals that would be run by non-profit housing associations, 25,000 at full-market rentals, and the 35,000 would be condos or coach houses that you would purchase.”
Recognizing that the 25,000 affordable units components “is what most people are interested in,” Stewart said this would be for households or families making $80,000 or less.
“However, with that model, there still is revenue generated from that,” he furthered. “The non-profit housing generates revenue and then that revenue is put back into social housing – the stuff that always loses money.”
He pointed to Copenhagen “as a place where this works really well.” In fact, he said, that city has seen so much success, that they’ve had to start taxing non-profits, because they are generating revenue. “That really stabilizes everything for the workforce.”
Stewart said his housing plan is a “practical” one based on the city’s current projections and now that it’s been out there for a while, there’s been a lot of industry interest.
“[I’m] talking to to non-profits now that already exist, small t0 medium-sized developers that are very interested and actually working through how this would look on land that they already have access to,” he explained. “I’m getting the nod from lots of business leaders who all know this has to happen, they just need confidence in the person that’s going to try and put this forward.
The target, he said, “is 2,500 of these, per year, over 10 years.”
Stewart noted that the housing can’t simply be a cookie-cutter model, though.
“I think that within the homes, you have to have culturally appropriate housing,” he said.
For example, he said, ” I’ve learned there are 8,000 sex workers in the city – 60% of whom are Indigenous- so then you think well what kind of housing do we have to build? We have to think of it differently; it has to be culturally appropriate. In some cases, it’s going to be for women only, in some case it’s going to have to have a very different kind of feel.”
In terms of market rentals, “I think that kind of takes care of itself – we’ve already seen lots of proposals in this city,” he said. “I think the one thing we have to do is speed up the permitting process – it’s super slow and there’s lots of people pointing fingers, but what I can tell you is we’ve jumped from 2,025 permits to 4,000 or 5000 coming through the city per year.”
But with the same number of city staff left to deal with the increase, “it’s going to clog up,” he said. “So I think we need to identify bottlenecks and just sort that out and figure out why it’s taking so long to get particular things through.”
Asked about handling the homelessness issue in the city, Stewart said it’s all about management.
“We’re never going to solve homelessness, we’re only going to make it better or worse,” he said. “I think being honest with folks about where we’re at is the way to go.”
Even though he would like to see “more permanent structures,” Stewart called the temporary modular housing model “a very good short-term solution” and noted that “there seems to be a consensus that this modular housing is the way to go, and I agree with that.”
On jobs and businesses
When it comes to the business, particularly on the tech side of things, Stewart said he has “great advantage” in that area, thanks to his time as an MP in Burnaby.
“[Federally] I was the science and tech shadow minister… really, for about four years, so I do know a lot about that industry and just how difficult it is, mainly for startups to get going,” he said. “I’m prepared to go champion industries and I feel I have good access to the decision-makers both at the federal and provincial levels, so that can help shake some stuff loose.”
Stewart noted that part of his platform is to build “a kind of tech incubator hub so we can use city land to figure out what’s needed the most, and again that’s based on the startup folks.”
Stewart also spoke about supporting smaller, mom-and-pop style businesses.
“If you rip everything up and put new stuff down, you drive a ton of these smaller businesses out,” he said. “You can’t just pick one neighbourhood and say we’re going to totally redevelop this and leave everything else blank – you kind of half to have gradual change and keep a variety of businesses.”
Stewart said he’s aware of “what’s happening with these triple net leases, and it seems to be universal, so maybe we could help business owners think more about their leases and that would give some assistance.”
He noted that he’s met with most of the BIAs across the city and asked them what they wanted.
“What they asked for a review, which they said they’ve been promised for quite some time,” he said. “So let’s have a full-on review of all the aspects here; we could build a mandate of the review together and then go through and just find options.”
Being selective of what kinds of industries come here is important as well, he said.
“This is why I fought against the [Kinder Morgan] pipeline – I think it’s a terrible idea. If we have a spill, English Bay would be shut for years,” he said. “That pipeline brings 50 full-time jobs for BC, that’s it. You can open a McDonald’s and have more jobs than that and people would like it better.”
Vancouver’s “No Fun City” image
Stewart said the city’s image as a “No Fun” is a “weird” one, but that a lot of it can be tied back to housing costs.
With so much income being put towards putting a roof over one’s head, “these high housing costs means everybody’s stressed out all the time,” he said.
Stewart said that when he moved to Vancouver in 1989, the city was “really fun” and a lot of that came from being able to live and work how he wanted. He noted his early jobs included working at Radio Shack, driving a beer truck, and running a printing press.
“I could do that and play music and live in an okay place in Kitsilano with a bunch of other guys, and then I could move to basement apartments on my own, but you can’t do that now.”
Back then he said, the city “was more fun because it was more affordable, and I think once we get affordability tackled, that fun will come back.”
Stewart also thinks Vancouver could also “loosen up a bit” in general, calling it “funny” place.
“It’s one of the most radical cities in the world, it’s also one of the most conservative,” he said. “You used to have these rules and a lot of it was about rich, white men maintaining their property advantage, so that stopped the fun.”
These days, he continued, “there’s so much here that’s amazing. There’s all this great culture that’s happening and that’s something we should promote. I mean that makes it fun.”
On Vancouver’s future and “brand”
Stewart said the city’s brand used to be “where resource workers would come and party. Then we started to develop more culturally it became a music centre, then real estate of course.”
However, “for at least for the last 15 years, I think that we’ve been kind of this adolescent city, that wants the fun stuff, but when something big happens, it doesn’t really know what to do.”
Now, he said, “I really feel Vancouver is moving into this more mature phase and that we’re ready to show that we’re not just this kid city that you can push around, we’re a city that’s doing something serious, innovative, and that we can handle the big problems too.”
Stewart said the city’s handling of the opioid crisis is a good example of this, and said the Vancouver has addressed the issue like “no other city.”
He said the city has moved through adolescence, and “we’ve had some things happen that we probably didn’t do a very good job on, but these things will all come again and next time we’ll be ready, and we’ll show the world how to do it.”
He speculated that the 2010 Olympics was “kind of the last ‘look-at-me-and-give-me-a-gold-star’ kind of thing.”
Now, he said, “it’s time to produce some serious stuff and you’re going to want to be here because this is where it’s happening.”
Stewart said there are two concepts that drive a city’s brand: globalized and globalist.
With globalized, “people come in from outside into your city and kind of implant themselves on you, you don’t have much say. I think with all the speculation, Olympics, and Expo, we’ve been globalized.”
With globalist, “they’re coming to look at you because of something unique. We need to move to this globalist thing.”
Stewart offered up safe consumptions sites as an example. “We were the first place to have it, we took a chance, we did something and people copied it,” he said. “Rather than waiting for the world to come to us or being pushed around by global forces being globalized, we can be Globalist and say that’s the Vancouver model.”
Stewart said the city is ready to brag about itself in a different way.
“We don’t need this kind of recognition that Olympics brings,” he said. “It’s more that now, we’re doing super cool stuff.”
On his message to voters
With less than two weeks to go until election day, Stewart said he’s “really proud” of what he’s put out.
“I’ve worked really hard both in consulting with experts and with folks on the ground who have the expertise to put it together,” he said. “If folks want a city that works for everybody I should be the person they vote for; it’s pretty simple.”
Vancouverites head to the polls on Saturday, October 20.