A woman best known for fostering public dialogue and advocating for sustainable cities is announcing her bid to become mayor of Vancouver – without the backing of any civic party.
Shauna Sylvester is the first candidate from the centre-left of the political spectrum to formally declare her candidacy in one of the most wide-open campaigns Vancouver has ever seen. Mayor Gregor Robertson and several seasoned councillors have chosen not to run again – just as the city’s seemingly intractable housing crisis has become the No. 1 issue.
“I think there’s this really unique moment when an independent can make a serious impact,” said Ms. Sylvester, who is well known in environmental and public-policy circles but is not a household name.
So far, the campaign – which will end with the final vote on Oct. 20 – has been marked by a lack of cohesion on both the right and left.
Ms. Sylvester said she believes her collaborative style is what’s needed as the city grapples with its severe housing crisis, as well as its transition to a different kind of economy – less resource-based, more diverse and tech-oriented.
“I think housing is a global issue and I think we’ve come to a crisis, partly because of inactivity by the [previous] provincial and federal governments,” said Ms. Sylvester, who is proposing complex solutions such as creative financing, a housing authority that focuses on homes for first responders such as medical workers and firefighters and expediting processing times for affordable-housing projects.
She facilitated Mr. Robertson’s public consultations on housing in 2012.
But she also said she would withdraw her mayoral bid if any serious contender emerges from the other parties.
The 53-year-old executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Public Dialogue said that, even though she was involved with Vision Vancouver in its early years and is a founder of Women in Vision, a group of female Vision supporters, she declined several requests from Vision members to run with that party.
“I’ve never had a political party that encapsulates who I am. I am not putting my focus and energy on the political parties,” she said. “One of the ways I will be different as a leader is that I’m not as partisan.”
She said she has talked with people from OneCity, the Green Party and COPE to find common ground, which she thinks is possible in some cases.
“I’m not sure I have an alignment of values with COPE any more. I need to learn more,” said Ms. Sylvester, who described herself as a COPE supporter when she was younger.
She said she would not prohibit anyone from donating money to her campaign, including people in the development industry – something the other three parties don’t allow. (Development companies are not allowed to contribute, according to new provincial laws, but individuals can donate as much as $1,200.)
For the moment, the other parties are reserving judgment.
“I don’t think she really can run as an independent,” said Green Party member Pete Fry, who ran for council in 2014. He noted that she attended Mr. Robertson’s announcement two months ago that he would not run again and “she was literally waiting in the wings, standing next to him.”
Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr has hinted she might consider running for mayor if polling shows enough public support, but both she and others in her party are reluctant to risk her all-but-guaranteed spot on council.
Considered formidably organized and a top-notch fundraiser, Ms. Sylvester organized eight focus groups in the past four months to test the idea of her candidacy.