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Squamish Nation chief Ian Campbell to run for mayor of Vancouver

Squamish hereditary chief and elected councillor Ian Campbell speaks at the Skwachays Lodge in Vancouver on Sunday, May 13, 2018.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A hereditary chief who helped negotiate First Nations’ participation in Vancouver land development, an LNG plant in Howe Sound, and the 2010 Olympics is running to become the city’s first Indigenous mayor.

Ian Campbell, a hereditary chief in the Squamish Nation, has filed papers to enter the nomination race for Vision Vancouver, the city’s current ruling political party. He said he plans to carry on the party’s policies to improve housing and the economy in the city that has been his family’s home for thousands of years.

“I have a love for this land because I was raised understanding the historic context,” said Mr. Campbell, in an interview with The Globe and Mail the day before his formal announcement.

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Mr. Campbell has been seen as a rising local power player by many as his nation has grappled with whether to give conditional approval to an LNG plant (it did), what stand to take on the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline (it’s in court challenging aspects of that), and how to approach development of a couple of billion dollars’ worth of land in Vancouver (it formed a coalition with other local bands to do that).

Besides being a hereditary chief, Mr. Campbell, who has an MBA from Simon Fraser University, has been elected to the Squamish Nation council twice.

He is one of an unknown number of candidates who filed papers to run for the Vision Vancouver nomination by last Friday’s deadline. Councillor Raymond Louie, long touted as a possible contender, has said he is not one of them.

Mr. Campbell, who will turn 45 in June, is the latest mayoral candidate in what is proving to be one of Vancouver’s most tumultuous civic elections, as candidates and parties struggle with a dramatically changed playing field.

Corporation, union and large donations have been banned for the first time, depriving the two previously dominant political parties of millions of dollars for organizing and advertising. As well, the city’s extreme housing crisis, which has seen sale prices soar far past local incomes, has divided residents over possible solutions.

Partly as a result of those dynamics, the city’s centre-right party NPA has found itself embroiled in a bitter debate after its board of directors refused to allow a candidate who has signed up the most members to run as a mayoral candidate. That candidate, Hector Bremner, was seen as too compromised by his ties to developers by some, while his supporters saw him as a fresh voice willing to take new approaches to the city’s housing problems by supporting more density in the city’s single-family neighbourhoods.

On the left, there’s equal confusion because the city’s four centre-to-left parties can’t agree on whether to work together or support a common mayoral candidate.

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So far, two independent candidates, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart and environmentalist Shauna Sylvester, have declared they are running for the mayoral spot. But both have shied away from running for Vision Vancouver, the party that’s been in power for 10 years and that some see as at the end of its life. As well, two candidates for the Green Party, including sitting councillor Adriane Carr, have indicated a possible interest in running.

On both the right and left, populist candidates have focused on ideas like limiting or banning investors while advocating for subsidized housing and rent control as mechanisms to reduce costs. On the other side, another group of candidates has focused more on how to increase housing supply.

Mr. Campbell falls into the second category.

Asked what he would do about the city’s housing crisis, his first response was to talk about the problems created by over-regulation and red tape that slow down housing supply.

Mr. Campbell said he wants to see a city that allows young people to stay by providing both good jobs and a city that is well planned and affordable.

“It’s important to look at city planning with the lens of growth and transit, with more mixed use,” he said.

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Mr. Campbell has an intimate connection with that part of city planning.

He helped convince the three Indigenous groups with traditional claims to land in Vancouver – the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh – agree to work together to develop three key parcels that will be worth billions when built out: the Jericho lands in the west, the former RCMP land in central Vancouver, and the current B.C. liquor-distribution plant in the east.

Mr. Campbell acknowledged he will need to resign from the board of the MST Development Corporation and recuse himself from votes on those developments as they move forward.

He is also a renter in North Vancouver but said he and his family are looking for a place to rent in the city.

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