The party of former mayor Gregor Robertson was resoundingly rebuked by city residents in October’s election, losing the mayor’s chair and every single position on council. But the new council, a mix of representatives from four different parties, is mostly continuing along the path that the former Vision Vancouver council set forth, with few sharp changes in direction.
The new council, in which no party holds a majority, opted for close to the status quo on two crucial issues: whether to go ahead with a big tax increase to support a $1.5-billion budget and whether to reverse the decision to allow duplexes in every zone for single-family homes.
“I think there are going to be some definitely disappointed who saw this as a change election. This is a council that is going to be cautious,” said Simon Fraser University political-science professor Stewart Prest.
As well, he said, it’s clear that the council is not going to be clearly divided, between left and right.
Nor will it be a council dominated by a solid alliance between the five centre-right Non-Partisan Association members and the three Greens: Both parties have similar positions on giving neighbourhoods more of a say on development.
Not only did the Greens and NPA not vote together on the two major issues, but councillors within each party disagreed with each other.
NPA Councillor Colleen Hardwick was unsuccessful in getting even her four party colleagues to support her in the move to rescind the duplex bylaw, while NPA Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung got support from two other NPA members on a motion to defer decisions on the budget for 90 days to allow councillors to find new ways to trim the budget and reduce the tax increase.
Instead, a mix of councillors voted to allow the duplex bylaw to stand, with a proviso that if there is a rush of applications, the concept will come back to council for another hearing.
The initiative for a compromise motion came from OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle, who sent out a Twitter message after it passed expressing relief.
“We can now head right into a #CityPlan process, where we can have real, difficult and important conversation about affordability and the future of our city,” she wrote.
The city’s chief planner, Gil Kelley, had told councillors that his department had received only 11 applications for duplexes since they became legal at the end of October, while it got 161 applications in the same period to tear down and replace existing single-family houses with other single-family houses.
Ms. Hardwick had wanted to simply reverse the duplex bylaw that the Vision Vancouver-dominated council had passed in the week before its term ended.
A staff report indicated that it would cost anywhere between $65,000 and $175,000 to do new public consultations and risked sending the message to the public that council wouldn’t consider some housing options.
As well, Mr. Kelley warned that it would take time and money away from the efforts to do a citywide plan, a major initiative that all councillors had agreed on.
The majority of councillors also opposed the idea of holding off on approving the city’s $1.5-billion 2019 budget, something that Ms. Kirby-Yung, Ms. Hardwick and NPA Councillor Rebecca Bligh supported.
Green Party Councillor Pete Fry said there was just too much other pressing work to do.
“We don’t have the luxury of pressing pause.”
Instead, different council members suggested taking money from the city’s contingency reserve and innovation fund so that the total budget could be reduced by $3-million.
That means the tax increase will be only 4.5 per cent, instead of 4.9 per cent, with another 1.4 per cent for utilities, bringing the total to almost 6 per cent.
Special to The Globe and Mail