It seemed more like a victory celebration than the swan song for a mayor and a once-dominant political party that no one is sure will rise again.
The bash for outgoing mayor Gregor Robertson at the Seaforth Armoury on Burrard Street last week had the trademark mix of supporters that Vision Vancouver had become famous for during its 13 years of existence.
There were people from the development world, from unions, young South Asian men, older community leaders from Chinatown, housing advocates, NDP and federal Liberal campaign veterans, loads of millennials.
“We’ve set the new record as the most progressive government elected for the longest time in any Canadian city,” said Mr. Robertson in a lengthy and sometimes emotional speech.
But Vancouver itself may judge Mr. Robertson’s achievements and mistakes differently in the future. And it remains an open question whether the party he headed for so long is all but extinct – and whether that even matters.
Mr. Robertson is convinced that the creation of a somewhat centrist but also activist party such as Vision Vancouver helped the city move on big issues in a way that no other group was able to do in previous years.
“Time will judge our body of work, which is exceptional. We’re very tough on ourselves locally, but we made some of the most bold initiatives,” said Mr. Robertson in an interview during one of his last days in office before he left this week for a travel sabbatical starting in Portugal. “We got 5,000 people off the street. We went beyond what any other lefty government had done in a city.”
Although Mr. Robertson believes it was part of the natural cycle of politics that his party would lose power after 10 dominant years, he doesn’t think Vision Vancouver is dead.
“I’m still optimistic for our party bouncing back,” Mr. Robertson said.
Mr. Robertson, who has said he is out of politics for the near future and would not run in next year’s federal election, said he is worried about the new council, which has an independent mayor, four parties and no clear majority.
“It will be hard to keep them on a common agenda,” Mr. Robertson said.
“I’m hearing good intentions from the incoming council, but they will need to set aside their partisan stands."
He says he worries that “naysayers who don’t want change" will stymie efforts to make housing more affordable. “You can’t have it both ways, to have no change and affordable housing and a thriving economy.”
He also worries that the new council will “backtrack” on issues where Vancouver has achieved global credibility, such as on the environment and sustainability.
Despite Mr. Robertson’s optimism that Vision could rise again, others say that his personal style over the years may have pushed the party’s brand past its best-before date.
Simon Fraser University political science professor Patrick Smith said the idea of an activist but centrist party, as Vision was intended to be, is a good one.
But Prof. Smith said that Mr. Robertson’s habit of pushing things such as bike lanes through in spite of neighbourhood protests in the belief that he was doing it for the good of the city damaged the party’s brand.
“He used a lot of political capital for something that didn’t need to be as controversial,” he said.
As well, he said, the party that was sometimes criticized for being too close to unions ultimately came to be seen as not very left-wing.
“Although they sought to portray themselves as centrists, they came to be seen as more connected to developers.”
Mr. Smith said a new kind of centrist activist group could evolve, possibly around Mayor Kennedy Stewart if things go well during his term. Mr. Stewart showed signs of centrism during the campaign by talking about the need to work with developers on housing, but also the need to build much more social housing.
“I could imagine they could have another team and it would probably involve some of the players at city hall now.”