Opinion: Congratulations Kennedy Stewart on winning 2022 mayoral re-election

Feb 24 2022, 12:23 am

This is a three-part Daily Hive Urbanized series on the State of Vancouver’s municipal political landscape ahead of the October 2022 civic election.

Part 1 (this article) provides an overview of the potential outcome of the upcoming civic election, based on the current makeup of major parties and candidates. Part 2 compares the scope, mandate, and workforce size of the City of Vancouver and its bureaucracy with other major Canadian cities, while Part 3 highlights the need for the City of Vancouver to achieve a better balance with its core basic responsibilities of a municipal government.

Eight months out from the October 15, 2022 civic election, Kennedy Stewart is on a trajectory of securing his re-election as the mayor of the City of Vancouver, but not necessarily a path that is solely his own making.

The reason? The same conditions that led to his 2018 electoral success are not only on the verge of being repeated, but they are on steroids.

In 2018, Stewart won with 49,705 votes — narrowly ahead of then-NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim by only 957 votes.

The large segment of Vancouver residents who have political dispositions as a centrist/moderate or right-leaning found themselves split amongst Sim, centrist Hector Bremner of YES Vancouver, and right-leaning Wai Young of Coalition Vancouver.

Wai secured 11,872 votes, a fourth place finish in her mayoral bid — but considerably behind centrist/centre-left independent Shauna Sylvester with 35,457 votes.

Bremner came in at a disappointing fifth with 9,924 votes.

There is little doubt that had either Wai or Bremner not put their foot into the race, Sim would have been Vancouver’s mayor for the past three years. And if both or at least one of their parties had not fielded city councillor candidates, the NPA would likely have breezed into a majority.

As of February 2022, the makeup for the centrist/moderate and right-leaning side of the political spectrum is even more split.

Sim has long divorced his previous ties to the NPA, and is the mayoral candidate for a new moderate party, A Better City Vancouver.

The NPA has chosen John Coupar, who is currently a Vancouver Park Board commissioner.

Political strategist Mark Marissen will lead the charge of a rebooted YES Vancouver, now renamed Progress Vancouver.

And city councillor Colleen Hardwick, who previously represented the NPA, is now the face of the reincarnation of The Electors’ Action Movement (TEAM), but she has yet to confirm her mayoral bid.

For both the politically engaged and disengaged, in layman’s terms, here is a rundown of confirmed and unconfirmed serious 2022 mayoral contenders to date, and where they roughly lie on the political spectrum (the parties and candidates may dispute their placement on the spectrum, but it is all relative to one’s disposition):

  • Left wing to Centre-left: Kennedy Stewart (confirmed; incumbent)
  • Centrist to Centre-right: Mark Marissen, Progress Vancouver (confirmed; previously known as YES Vancouver)
  • Centrist to Centre-right: Ken Sim, A Better City Vancouver (confirmed)
  • Centre-right to Right wing: John Coupar, NPA (confirmed)
  • Right wing: Colleen Hardwick, TEAM for a Livable Vancouver (unconfirmed)

As it currently stands, Stewart is the only serious “go-to guy” for Vancouver residents who are anywhere remotely left of centre on the political spectrum. And he would probably want to keep it that way.

So far, left of centre parties have not indicated they will be running a mayoral candidate; OneCity Vancouver and Vision Vancouver have to date publicly only stated that they will field candidates for city council, park board, and school board. COPE is expected to follow suit.

But there has been some high-level speculation that city councillor Adriane Carr could put her name in the ballot for mayor for the Green Party, and former Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould could be considering running, too. It is still very early in the race.

Former Vision city councillor Andrea Reimer has said she will not be running.

However, the left of centre segment of the spectrum will have at least two more political parties.

The newcomer Democratic Socialists of Vancouver, a far left-wing party, has indicated they will be endorsing candidates for not only city council, park board, and school board, but also mayor. But their electability remains to be seen.

The mayor is also changing his game in a very big way; Stewart is ditching his strategy to date of running as a one-man independent show, and instead he is creating his own political party of progressives — competing with OneCity, COPE, Green Party, and Vision.

The party is expected to focus on securing a majority in city council, which changes the political calculus for the potential makeup of the next city councillors. In Vancouver municipal politics, the mayor is only as strong as the party he is backed by.

A divided city council

It was clear after the dust settled on election night in 2018 that this would be an extremely divided city council — something Vancouver was not used to seeing after a decade of being governed by Vision’s public image of a unified tight ship. No party had any majority, and the mayor, who ran as an independent, was unable to find consistent allies to implement policy.

Housing affordability is at the top of mind for residents. But this city council did not approve its first actual housing policy until January 2022 — just over three years into their term — when they finally green lighted the Secured Rental Policy permitting six-storey rental buildings along major arterial streets.

Most of the housing projects that have come before this city council for consideration were actually proposed under frameworks and policies made by the previous Vision-led city council.

Also in January 2022, city council approved Mayor Stewart’s Making Home motion of a strategy of allowing an incremental increase in density in single-family neighbourhoods. But the actual approval of a yet-to-be-made detailed policy framework outlined by city staff — the same milestone achieved by the Secured Rental Policy — is likely at least half a year away, if not something to be considered by the next city council.

City council also had their training wheels on for most of the first year, as the vast majority of its members had no prior experience in elected office. There were few incumbents in the race from the last Vision-led city council, but the political field for the October 2022 election will be the opposite of that, as all 11 members of the current city council have announced their intention to run again.

Although the training wheels are now long off, much of the time in city council’s public meetings continues to be spent on squabbling over minor amendments and insignificant policies that are often merely symbolic.

The lack of a direction shown by this city council is also evident by its overeagerness on submitting member motions, often on matters that are well under the jurisdiction and purviews of the municipal level of government.

During the first five months of their term after the October 2018 election, this city council submitted 51 member motions — nearly three times more than the 18 member motions submitted by the last Vision-led city council over the first five months after the November 2014 election.

The pace of new member motions eventually slowed, but remained relatively high throughout their term. Late last year during the 2022 budget planning process, city staff outlined 48 member motions put forward and approved by city council between November 2020 and October 2021.

These member motions have been putting a strain on city finances, not only from the cost of implementation, but the additional city staff needed to research and develop potential policy, which takes away from staffing resources on matters that are directly within the city’s purview.

But the member motions also serve a political benefit for city council members: symbolic, intangible measures help build up their personal brand, reaffirms their narrow base of supporters, and gives them broad public attention through media coverage and social media.

In June 2019, there was a member motion by Green Party councillor Pete Fry on having the City of Vancouver update its policy on nuclear weapons, just to be absolutely sure that everyone knows Vancouver’s stance against nuclear weapons.

In May 2021, COPE councillor Jean Swanson put together a motion that called on the city to ask the federal government to request the World Trade Organization waive patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Earlier this month, city council rejected Swanson’s motion on sending $10,000 to support the legal challenge on Quebec’s controversial law that bans government workers from wearing religious symbols.

This article directly continues in Part 2, which highlights how the City of Vancouver’s bureaucracy scope, mandate, and workforce size is increasingly problematic. While Vancouver City Council receives much of the attention on the governance of the city, the profound impact of the bureaucracy on everyday life and the long-term direction is often overlooked.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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