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British Columbia Kennedy Stewart wins razor-thin vote to become Vancouver’s next mayor

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart, left, celebrates with his wife Dr. Jeanette Ashe after addressing supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Kennedy Stewart, a former NDP MP who pledged aggressive measures to tackle Vancouver’s housing crisis by tripling a tax on empty homes and by pushing neighbourhoods to build denser housing, has become Vancouver’s new mayor.

Mr. Stewart was in a back-and-forth battle with his closest competitor, Ken Sim, until the very last of the 133 polls were counted, five hours after voting stopped. Mr. Kennedy won by fewer than 1,000 votes, a margin that prompted Mr. Sim to refuse to concede, saying he would be seeking advice about his options.

But while Mr. Stewart danced with his campaign workers at the music venue where his election night party was held, his work will begin with some challenges: The right-leaning Non-Partisan Association held five of the 10 council seats. As an independent hoping to realize his agenda, Mr. Stewart will have to work with the three Green councillors , anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson and OneCity councilor Christine Boyle.

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“When I launched my campaign back in May, it was a big thing to take on, and all I could hear in my head was Jack Layton’s voice,” Mr. Stewart told the crowd. “Jack Layton always said: Never let them tell you it can’t be done.”

Mr. Stewart thanked the other mayoral candidates, his family, volunteers and supporters, whom he said voted for change on issues including the housing affordability crisis, homelessness and a lack of transit options.

"Today, the people of Vancouver voted to take action on these challenges, he said to cheers. "They voted for a plan that was bold, but achievable."

He pledged “to work with every single person, no matter their political background, no matter their political party, to make sure this city works for everyone.”

Mr. Sim, an entrepreneur and political neophyte who ran for the NPA, said he owed it to the party’s supporters not to concede when the results were so close.

“We’ll let you know what the next step is soon enough,” he told reporters early Sunday morning.

Shauna Sylvester, who ran as an independent, placed third. Vision Vancouver, the party of former mayor Gregor Robertson, was wiped out, winning only a school board seat of the 27 positions on the ballot.

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The NPA’s housing platform was vague, but Mr. Sim had campaigned on leaving the vacancy tax where it is, at one per cent of a property’s assessed taxable value. Mr. Sim also indicated he would not be forcing massive change on neighbourhoods that didn’t want it.

Vancouver implemented the tax on vacant homes last years as a measure to address a near-zero vacancy rate in the city, with the rationale that it would encourage owners to rent homes instead of leaving them empty.

Mr. Stewart said his first order of business would be to hire a renters' advocate to, among other things, offer legal advice to renters. As well, he said he would launch a task force aimed at examining the opioid crisis on the Downtown Eastside.

Former Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies, who was at the Waldorf, said she was “very happy” to see Mr. Stewart elected mayor after a civic election the likes of which she hasn’t seen in a long time.

Ms. Davies said she believed the electorate voted for someone who would keep his promises and work well with others.

“I think he showed in parliament that he’s an easygoing guy, and that he likes engaging with people,” she said. “He’s the kind of guy who can reach across the table and say, 'Let’s get partisanship out of the way.”

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In other races, the longtime mayor of Burnaby was ousted by voters and a provincial MLA won as mayor in Nanaimo, setting the stage for a provincial by-election.

The defeat of Derek Corrigan in Burnaby, a city just east of Vancouver, ends a remarkable career which saw the irascible politician first elected mayor in 2002.

Mr. Corrigan was best known nationally for his steadfast opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline extension. His city is home to the endpoint of the pipeline. Unofficial results show retired firefighter Mike Hurley as winning the mayor’s chair, but Mr. Hurley’s campaign did not deviate from Burnaby’s steadfast opposition to the pipeline.

Mr. Hurley campaigned on housing affordability; Burnaby has been a hot spot for redevelopment in recent years, with high-rise condo towers replacing more affordable rental buildings.

In Surrey, Doug McCallum returns as mayor, a post that he had held from 1996 to 2005. He won on a platform that included a pledge to move toward a municipal police force for the city of just over half a million residents to replace the RCMP.

In Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, unofficial results showed NDP MLA Leonard Krog being declared mayor.

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Mr. Krog’s departure from the provincial government will squeeze an already tight margin for the NDP, which formed government last year through a power-sharing agreement with the provincial Green Party. The Liberals have 42 seats in the house, the New Democrats 41, including Mr. Krog. The Greens have three seats and there is one independent.

Nanaimo is seen as an NDP-friendly riding; Mr. Krog held it since 2005 and it’s been held by predominantly NDP candidates since the 1970s.

The lengthy time for results to be tabulated in Vancouver was a result of a day of long lineups at polling stations, partly the result of a ballot as long as an arm. Voters who waited as much as an hour to vote, then had to take considerable time to sift through the 158 names vying for 27 positions. Then, voters often had to wait in yet another line to hand their ballot to a returning officer for feeding into the tabulating machines.

In some places, returning officers were simply taking people’s ballots in their “secrecy sleeves” – a cardboard folder that hides the vote choices until the ballot is fed into the tabulator – and stacking them to the side to feed through later.

Voters reported problems with machines in Burnaby, Richmond and Vancouver.

At Holy Trinity church in south Granville, one machine had to be pulled out completely in the late afternoon, with voters having to wait up to an hour to ensure their ballots were run through the machine.

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Some places were much quieter, with no problems.

Darren Johner, a 52-year-old tourism worker who walked to the polling station with his young daughter, said he didn’t have too much trouble.

However, he said he had noticed in the days before the election that he wasn't hearing as much discussion or excitement about the election among his friends and social-media contacts as in previous elections.

“I think there was just too many choices,” he said.

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