Written for Daily Hive by Stephen Smart, Vice President with Citizen Relations in Vancouver. He is also a former journalist and political staffer.
Vancouver Mayor-Elect Kennedy Stewart was sworn into office Monday with a lot of promises to keep. Election commitments such as building 60,000 new homes, stopping the scourge of deaths from Fentanyl, or expanding the yet to be built Broadway SkyTrain Line all the way out to UBC. These are just three items in a long list of promises detailed in Stewart’s election platform.
Here’s the challenge. At Vancouver City Hall, the Mayor is just one vote out of 11 people – one Mayor, 10 City Councillors – and a majority of votes is needed. This with a City Council that is split amongst four different political parties. To actually get anything of any substance done, Stewart will need to convince a majority of Councillors from other parties to vote his way on an issue-by-issue basis. So the new Mayor is facing the civic equivalent of a minority government.
This is a very different environment than the one Gregor Robertson operated in with Vision Vancouver holding the majority of council seats. Take the recent mass rezoning to allow construction of more duplexes or other buildings in single-family neighbourhoods. Robertson and his colleagues decided as a caucus or party what they wanted to do and it made zero difference what the others on council thought because they had the majority of votes.
Fortunately for Stewart, the three Green Party Councillors recently elected have already said that they are keen to work alongside him. The lone COPE Councillor-elect, as well as Christine Boyle from One City, are also politically aligned with Stewart on a variety of issues. But the five NPA Councillors heading to city hall will likely be another story.
So what does this all mean for you if you supported Stewart because of what he promised to do? As a starter, it means you will probably have to expect some of his election promises will go unfulfilled. Frankly, this is the case at the best of times even in majority Mayor/Council situations (take a look back at old Gregor Robertson platforms and see how much hasn’t been done there, for example), but because so much of Stewart’s agenda will have to be negotiated point-by-point to ensure he has the votes to pass it, compromise will likely be necessary along with some patience on the part of voters.
The situation is further impacted by how split Vancouver voters were this time around. Stewart himself etched out a victory by just over half a percentage point (28.72 per cent versus 28.15 per cent support for the NPA’s Ken Sim), not to mention the more than 57,000 votes that went to Shauna Sylvester, Wai Young, and Hector Bremner instead of the two front-runners. Not exactly overwhelming support for anyone.
So Kennedy Stewart assumes the Mayor’s office not only with a divided City Council, but a divided city. His challenge will go far beyond just keeping his election promises, he will need to try and unite a majority of the electorate behind his leadership as well. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very long four years.