One of the most interesting alliances to arise from October’s civic elections is the budding friendship between Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and his Surrey counterpart, Mayor Doug McCallum.
On the face of it, the two couldn’t be more different. Mr. Stewart is a left-leaning, academic turned politician and Mr. McCallum is a former business consultant and long-time civic politician who leans right. Mr. Stewart was a New Democratic Party MP before becoming mayor of Vancouver; Mr. McCallum once tried for a Tory nomination, although he hasn’t been a member of any political party for 20 years.
Despite their disparate backgrounds, the two mayors support each other’s political initiatives at every turn. So, where is the common ground?
As Mr. Stewart tells it, the goodwill was kindled on election night, when a reporter thrust a microphone at him and asked if he supported Mr. McCallum’s plan to jettison a planned light-rail line in Surrey and push for a new SkyTrain line to neighbouring Langley.
“It was a split-second decision,” Mr. Stewart says. He answered yes. Mr. McCallum had campaigned on the switch and won a solid majority, so in Mr. Stewart’s mind, the train line and Mr. McCallum’s promise to ditch the RCMP in favour of a municipal police force reflect the will of Surrey residents.
But there was pragmatism behind Mr. Stewart’s endorsement as well. Mr. Stewart subscribes to a “one-beer, two-beer philosophy,” which says if you buy someone a beer first, they’ll likely buy you two down the road.
In a vote on the SkyTrain plan in December, Mr. Stewart supported Mr. McCallum even though it meant burning some political capital with others on the Translink mayors’ council. The pair used their prerogative to demand a weighted vote, which gives larger municipalities such as Vancouver and Surrey more sway. They squeaked out a win, but dissenting mayors such as Richard Stewart of Coquitlam were mad as hornets. Richard Stewart says he gave his Vancouver counterpart a dressing down and came away believing Kennedy Stewart’s willingness to embrace a weighted vote might have been due in part to inexperience. “I suspect he wasn’t fully aware of how that procedure can be perceived as completely unfair.”
Others saw it as a pact cooked up by mayors of the Lower Mainland’s two largest cities hell-bent on getting their own way. Kennedy Stewart had his own transit agenda and wanted support from the mayors’ council to extend Vancouver’s train line all the way to the University of British Columbia, instead of partway to Arbutus Street.
That payback beer came quickly. In February, in the vote on the Vancouver train proposal, Mr. McCallum sided with Vancouver and the motion passed. Perhaps he was chastened, or simply knew he would win, but Mr. Stewart did not call a weighted vote.
Since then, Mr. Stewart has encouraged the Vancouver Police Department to help Surrey with a transition report for the shift to a municipal force. And the two mayors are pushing the province for a regional economic development initiative.
Mr. McCallum says he likes Mr. Stewart because they have a similar approach to their role as mayor. “I come from a strong belief of trying to help the people of Surrey, and he’s trying to help the people of Vancouver. When you are a mayor, it’s not about party politics.”
And even if it was, the two are not so far apart.
Mr. Stewart was never aligned with the far left, and when he ran federally, some NDP insiders were surprised he didn’t choose the Liberals. Similarly, Mr. McCallum is not on the far right. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative, but “left-of-centre on the social issues.” So, even if the friendship is more like a marriage of convenience than a love match, both believe it will serve them well.
It’s difficult for one municipality, regardless of its size, to push other levels of government for change. But when it’s B.C.’s two largest cities, other politicians tend to pay attention. Together, these two mayors have a lot of political clout.
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