Vancouver’s mayor-elect will lead a divided city council whose most pressing job, he says, will be to create affordable housing in Canada’s most expensive city.
Kennedy Stewart, the former NDP MP who won Saturday’s election with a margin of fewer than 1,000 votes, said accomplishing that goal will mean moving away from some of the priorities of outgoing Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver party, which has been all but wiped out.
Mr. Stewart, who ran as an independent, said voters have clearly said they don’t want to continue on the path the city was on with Mr. Robertson. The mayor faced persistent complaints that his government was too cozy with developers and that a push to add density to the city only benefited the very wealthy. Instead, Mr. Stewart has laid out a plan that would use city-owned land to create thousands of units of new housing.
“Housing has to be the absolute priority," Mr. Stewart said on Sunday. "The electorate said they want change.”
His main competitor, Ken Sim of the Non-Partisan Association, hasn’t yet conceded the election and has raised the possibility of a recount. However, there are no provisions in the laws governing local elections that allow for recounts in close races.
City council will now be evenly divided between five from the city’s centre-right party, and five from three of the parties on the left of the spectrum, each of which has different approaches to solving the city’s housing crisis. Unlike in most Canadian provinces, municipalities in B.C. do not have a ward system and councillors are elected at-large.
It’s clear to Mr. Stewart that, in spite of what might seem like contradictory results, Vancouver voters were interested most in seeing the emphasis shift in their cities to producing lower-cost housing that more people can afford, instead of letting the private market control everything. That change of heart was echoed around the region, he said, with voters in the neighbouring city of Burnaby saying much the same.
As a result, Mr. Stewart said Vision’s emphasis on creating a greener city and massively expanding the bike-lane network are not things he will be spending a lot of time on.
Mr. Stewart’s plan is to use city-owned land for new housing, as well as adding government money and new incentives for developers to create thousands of units of housing that can be rented for below the usual market rates in the city.
He said an initiative to speed up city hall’s byzantine and time-consuming building-approvals process would likely get unanimous approval from council. He also said he’s willing to go along with some parties’ desire to create a citywide housing plan for Vancouver.
In addition, he plans to move forward with his promise to triple the empty-homes tax in Vancouver, which is now set at 1 per cent of appraised value, on top of the existing property tax.
But an idea such as a rent freeze that was touted by Coalition of Progressive Electors candidate Jean Swanson would likely have less traction. Both Mr. Stewart and Green Party councillor-elect Pete Fry said they don’t think it’s doable.
Mr. Stewart will be looking for funding help for his housing plans from the provincial and federal governments, both of which have promised money for subsidized and rental housing.
“My job will be to catch as much money as I can while the window’s open,” he said.
Mr. Stewart promised the council is going to operate very differently than it did under the Vision Vancouver regime, where the mayor had a majority and could push through whatever his party wanted. He plans to consult and negotiate more with all parties on council.
The NPA’s Melissa De Genova said she’ll be focused on getting more family housing in the city, as well as expediting building permits and cutting fees for construction.
The Green Party’s Mr. Fry said his party’s desire for a citywide plan is likely a priority, as is finding ways to provide more kinds of housing in the city.
“It’s not a matter of if we’re adding new housing choices. It’s how,” he said.
And OneCity’s Christine Boyle said her top priority will be getting housing for the city’s homeless as soon as possible with winter approaching.