Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart already knows what he’ll be doing on New Years Eve this year.
After all, it’s a tradition he and his wife have held for a long time.
“We’ll make lists of what we want to do and accomplish in the upcoming year,” he said. “We’ll also check off what what we’ve done over the past year on our previous list, and [it’s] pretty cool to look back and see how many things you check off.”
And it’s that tradition, he said, that helped set things in motion for his mayoral run and ultimate election this fall.
During a year-end, sit-down interview with Daily Hive, Stewart – the former NDP MP for Burnaby-South – said that while specifically becoming mayor of Vancouver wasn’t on his list, the wheels were already turning.
“I think moving careers definitely was on the list, and I think there was a question mark beside that,” he said. “I knew that it was in the air, because Gregor [Robertson] had just announced he wasn’t going to run again, so there was conversation.”
That conversation would turn to announcing his mayoral campaign in early summer, and now just over a month into his new role, Stewart is encouraged by what has happened, and the potential for what can happen in the future.
From MP to Mayor: First impressions
While being a mayor or an MP means functioning within certain political arenas, it’s fair to say those venues are vastly different.
And for Stewart, the first impressions around the environment of his new role have, by a large account, been positive.
“I really like not having party whips,” he said. “I think it actually allows you to discuss things.”
Stewart said he also likes “the tone that’s been set on council – that’s been really good.”
He admitted he’s been “jarred” slightly by just how casual things are “in terms of procedures because that doesn’t happen in the House of Commons.”
He noted that Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung has “brought forward a motion where we’ll be reviewing our procedural bylaws and I think it will make the hashing out of things on the floor a little easier.”
This, he furthered, will result in “a more defined way of running through things and I think that’s where my seven years as a parliamentarian will add a lot – I’ve been through this before.”
Stewart said the other thing that struck him is “just how much attention we pay to the people that come in and speak” at City Hall.
Stewart said that when members of the public do come and speak, “it does have an influence. I’m not sure if that was the case with the last council, but I think there’s a new reality here at City Hall and that is that you should be coming in.”
Plans for 2019
Looking forward to what excites him the most about his job looking into the new year, Stewart said some his plans were admittedly “geeky.”
On his list, Stewart said he’d like to have tougher conflict-of-interest rules, a lobbyist registry electronic petitioning, and the procedural bylaws cleaned up.
He said there’s also a need to look at changing bylaws “to make it more convenient for people to speak abut a motion when it’s introduced, so that they’re not waiting all day.”
Outside of City Hall’s walls, he has big plans as well. Specifically, “to really put a dent in the housing situation, reduce the homelessness, and keep working on the affordable housing side of things.”
Asked if there was anything that stood out unexpectedly, or that has shocked him since he took office, Stewart responded simply: “It’s the opioid stuff.”
He recalled a recent meeting where he was expecting about 20 people to show up and speak on the subject, and instead, around 100 turned out.
“The stories were unbelievable,” he said. “We’ve got to front-and-centre focus on this thing. We can’t have another 350 people needlessly die. That’s been the biggest thing.”
Message to Vancouverites
When it comes to a message to Vancouverites at this time of year, Stewart said that overall, he’d like the city “to be less stressed,” particularly when it comes to frontline emergency workers
“They’re so stressed by this opioid situation, it really affects their minds because that’s not really what they’re trained for and it’s kind of an unimaginable thing that they’re doing,” he said.
Stewart said he would like to find a way to help alleviate some of this pressure, noting that “we have to do that as a group.”
Finally, Vancouver’s new mayor has a simple request for residents: “Just say ‘hi’ to people walking down the street; it makes a big difference. I try to do that and if we could just be a little more neighbourly, I think that would really help the city.”