Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about city affairs.
In the vast sea of unknowns surrounding the next Vancouver civic election, one thing is clear: The next council will likely be a disparate bunch, cobbled together from many parties, none of which will consistently be able to call the shots.
To be effective, the next mayor will have to be a conciliator of the highest order – think labour mediator Vince Ready. Whoever wins won’t have the latitude afforded outgoing Mayor Gregor Robertson, whose successes have been advanced by majority councils for the past eight years.
And that may sit well with Vancouverites who are concerned first and foremost with housing affordability and feel that Mr. Robertson has been overly focused on his green-city project while housing prices soared unabated.
It will take a smart council and a lot of co-operative goodwill to move the dial on Vancouver’s vexing affordability file. So maybe Vancouver’s next mayor should be less like Mr. Robertson and more like Art Eggleton, Toronto’s longest-serving mayor, from 1980 to 1991.
Toronto’s non-partisan ward system makes deal-making essential, and Mr. Eggleton leveraged his negotiating skills to shepherd development under a city plan, build social housing and create new parks. He summed up his leadership style in a 2012 Globe and Mail opinion piece: “I had the privilege of serving 11 years as mayor of Toronto. I learned very quickly that the job is to bring people together, not drive them apart.”
Who among the contenders for the mayor’s chair fits that bill? If the predictions are correct and financial analyst Glen Chernen is the Non-Partisan Association’s (NPA) front-runner, beware. He is quick to anger and prone to demonizing those with whom he disagrees. John Coupar, who currently sits on the park board and is favoured by some in the NPA old guard, is considered staunchly partisan by fellow park-board members. He’s been caught up in infighting that led to a defection of one NPA park-board member.
Hector Bremner, who was gaining traction as the NPA front-runner until the NPA Board unceremoniously turfed him earlier this month, looks to be plotting a run with a new party. His track record as a councillor is too short to be conclusive, but he’s successfully gathering a team to run with him, promises to work with everyone and notes that he voted with Vision on some social and green initiatives.
Adriane Carr, the civic Green Party’s Leader and only councillor, has sided with both Vision and the NPA, and is still mulling a run for mayor as a centre-left unity candidate. She’s polling well, but with the race on that side of the spectrum growing increasingly crowded, it is less likely that she will risk losing her council seat. She might be willing to endorse either Kennedy Stewart, who has announced that he will resign as MP for Burnaby South to run for mayor as an independent, and Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell, who is angling for the Vision nomination.
Mr. Stewart is proud of his ability to collaborate and points to his federal private member’s bill on electronic petitioning as evidence of his persuasive powers. It was the only vote former prime minister Stephen Harper ever lost, and Mr. Stewart pulled it off with support from all parties, including Conservatives. But he’s been vigorously partisan in opposition to the Kinder Morgan project. Mr. Campbell, for his part, has drawn together the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam First Nations to pursue common economic-development goals.
Vision’s other candidate, tech entrepreneur Taleeb Noormohamed, is a federal Liberal who might have trouble making common cause with parties further to the left. Shauna Sylvester, who was a founding member of Vision but is running as an independent, positions herself as a centre-left collaborator. But she has not won any endorsements from the other parties to date.
The candidate field will narrow as nomination meetings are held. It is probably too early to judge who would make the best leader. But when election time comes, now more than ever, the choice will be important.
The current housing crisis might be the toughest problem this city has ever faced and to get anywhere, the next council will have to be able to work with the other two levels of government. It could be disastrous if a highly partisan mayor and warring council stalled all progress.