Vancouver’s mayor says he feels as though the major issues facing his city – transit, drug-overdose prevention, and housing – will see significant progress with the re-elected federal Liberal government.
Kennedy Stewart, who was in Ottawa last week to meet with newly appointed cabinet ministers, said he was “exuberant” after talking with the key departments. He said he got positive responses on all three files, although he acknowledged there were no signed commitments.
“But I know what a ‘No’ looks like,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Stewart said he believes it’s likely the Liberals will go ahead with providing a safe supply of drugs for opioid addicts, make a new major commitment on the local transit plan that needs another $8- to $10-billion, and add new housing commitments to the $184-million the Liberals announced for Vancouver just before the Oct. 21 election.
Mr. Stewart was also dismissive of disputes over pipelines, complaints of Western alienation, threats of separation, or arguments that the equalization system is unfair. Last week, he drew the ire of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney after saying the Prairie provinces should “get over themselves."
“I have a person a day dying in Vancouver,” said Mr. Stewart. “I don’t need to talk about equalization.”
Mr. Kenney has accused the Vancouver mayor of being ungrateful for Alberta’s energy wealth and how it has helped the broader Canadian economy.
Mr. Stewart said he’s had enough of Alberta and Saskatchewan’s exit or “Wexit” talk, adding that people who focus too much on it are “doing the West a disservice.”
Instead, Mr. Stewart focused on the positive meetings he had with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and with new ministers who, he believes, have special understanding of Vancouver’s issues.
He noted that Patty Hajdu, the Ontario MP who has become the new health minister, is a harm-reduction expert. She was on the drug-awareness committee of the Thunder Bay regional health unit for years.
“I feel good about her knowledge and commitment,” he said.
Regional health authority Vancouver Coastal Health has applied for $6-million from Health Canada to fund a program to safely distribute diamorphine, the official drug name for heroin, and is still awaiting approval.
The housing file also looks promising to the mayor.
Ahmed Hussen, a lawyer who won an award from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, is now the minister in charge of housing. Mr. Stewart is specifically looking for money for more temporary modular housing and a resolution to the thorny issue of lease renewal for co-op housing projects in the city.
And the new infrastructure minister, who will head the department that oversees transit funding, is Catherine McKenna, a strong environmental advocate and former environment minister.
“I told her the biggest thing we need is $8- to $10-billion for the mayors’ transit plan.”
Mr. Stewart said that doesn’t necessarily mean money for the SkyTrain all the way to Langley for which Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is lobbying hard.
He said he’s simply going to push, as the designated advocate from the TransLink mayors’ council for Ottawa, to get the rest of the plan completed, including significant new spending on buses.
The Vancouver mayor visited Ottawa at the same time as Calgary counterpart Naheed Nenshi.
Mr. Nenshi’s conversation with the Prime Minister revolved around concerns over Bill C-69, the federal law passed in June that says infrastructure projects of all kinds have to be evaluated based on their impact on the environment and human health. It’s widely seen in Alberta as a mechanism to stall or kill any new pipeline construction.
He got no clear answer on that, he said, but noted he thought the Prime Minister understood the potential dangers of alienating the Prairies.
The Calgary mayor warned about the fragility of national unity and that “careless words and careless thoughts,” if left unchecked, “could easily rend asunder what has taken generations to put together in this country.”
“Those of us who believe in the promise of this country, who believe in the promise of diversity and inclusion and pluralism here in this country, have real work to do. We’ve got to use our voices and we’ve got to use our actions to speak out for what’s best for this country.”
With a report from The Canadian Press