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Indigenous mayoral candidate may not have profile but there’s always the Vision Vancouver brand

Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about civic affairs

Squamish hereditary chief and elected councillor Ian Campbell is considering a run to be Vancouver's next mayor.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

For Vancouverites who believe Vision Vancouver with its green agenda, social policies and bike lanes has made the city a better place, the party’s mayoral candidate Ian Campbell might be the right choice. He’s certainly got the party mantra down pat.

When asked how to address the housing affordability crisis, he talks about expanding the number of housing co-ops, social housing and affordable rental buildings and adding density in all neighbourhoods. He supports Vancouver’s current harm reduction efforts to address the opioid overdose deaths and would like to add more treatment into the mix. He would look for opportunities to grow the city’s tech industry and says transportation should be seen through a regional lens.

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But when asked what he would change when it comes to Vision Vancouver or its policies, he doesn’t have a ready answer. Instead, he praises the party for changing the “narrative” of the city to emphasize sustainability, diversity and reconciliation. “I wanted to run because I didn’t want to see that come to a grinding halt.” The other parties don’t have a good track record on these issues, he says.

Yes, but what would he do better or differently? When pressed, he points to his leadership and lineage. “The city has never seen an Indigenous person from this land, my homelands here. We have that opportunity.”

Mr. Campbell is a hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation and has been elected as a councillor for the First Nation for four consecutive terms. But so far, all his political and business efforts – he worked for the First Nation as a land development negotiator – have been aimed at furthering the interests of Indigenous people. As mayor of Vancouver, his constituency would be larger and he would have to serve all citizens. Mr. Campbell says he’s ready. “I feel it’s time to move on to bigger challenges.”

He is attempting the transition at a challenging time. Vision Vancouver’s popularity is waning, which is natural for any party after a decade in power. However, rightly or wrongly, Vision is wearing the city’s most pressing problem – the lack of affordable housing. And that makes it tough for anyone trying to run for mayor or council under the Vision banner this time around.

Adding to the challenge are the number of competitors vying for the centre-left vote. After Mayor Gregor Robertson announced he would not seek re-election, Vision insiders, in an implicit acknowledgment of the party’s weakened position, promoted the idea of all left-of-centre parties uniting around an independent mayoral candidate. The name floated was Shauna Sylvester, who became the first to step forward to run as an independent. After Ms. Sylvester launched her campaign, however, the party did an about-face and decided to run someone against her to keep the brand alive.

Mr. Campbell was living in North Vancouver and working for the Squamish Nation at the time. He has since rented an apartment in Vancouver. Although he has lived in the city on and off over the years, his experience in Vancouver has been mostly about business. Should he win, his past involvement in the Jericho and Heather land development negotiations within the city limits would force him to recuse himself from planning decisions on both large projects. His line of work has also led opponents to label him as a property developer, an occupation always under attack from those on the left, but which is now being blamed along with government for high housing prices by all political sides.

From the left, the greatest challenge to Mr. Campbell and Ms. Sylvester comes from Burnaby MP Kennedy Stewart, who is also running as an independent and has both political experience and an NDP-linked political machine. There are many candidates on the centre-right as well, so this race is up for grabs. Even though Mr. Campbell has the advantage of Vision’s solid party organization behind him, he’s not a well-known name in Vancouver. The campaign will help raise his profile outside of his own First Nation. He may not turn out to be a political superstar. But as Jody Wilson-Raybould proved in the last federal election, there are opportunities for First Nations politicians. Mr. Campbell is ambitious, and if he does not succeed this time, he may very well try again.

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