Apparently love means occasionally having to say you're sorry.
Whether Gregor Robertson's last-minute apology to voters for anything he may have done to offend them over the previous six years in office was the difference-maker in Saturday's civic election we'll never know. But clearly the Vancouver mayor felt he needed an extraordinary gesture to blunt criticism his Vision Vancouver government had stopped listening to people and had become arrogant and blindly ideological in pushing a green agenda that wasn't everyone's cup of tea.
It remains to be seen whether that feedback leads to a change in Mr. Robertson's leadership style. The mayor beat back a surprisingly tough challenge from Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe running on very much the same kind of progressive, centre-left platform that he has in the past. Also, given that municipal terms are now four years instead of three, it's even more unlikely Mr. Robertson will run again after 10 years on the job – which could also impact how aggressive he ends up being in pushing a program that has made its fair share of enemies over the years.
Despite the criticism that he faced, much of it legitimate, the mayor still managed to pull off an impressive victory and that deserves mention. Mr. Robertson is not a natural politician. He doesn't seem to enjoy the conflict that is inherent in election campaigns. In fact, his central challenger, the NPA's Kirk LaPointe – a political rookie – got the better of the mayor at many of the debates.
Still, Mr. Robertson won the day because most of those who voted see him as a decent human being – one with failings as we all have, but generally honourable and earnest in his desire to build a better city.
Mr. LaPointe, it should be said, did an impressive job as a political neophyte. He resurrected the NPA's standing in the city. He put the party on a stronger footing and helped give it a healthier presence on council. Most important, he gave voice to those who have felt bullied by a Vision government that stopped listening while driving a green agenda that at times seemed to please only bike-lane-loving environmentalists and density-loving condo developers.
Mr. Robertson says his first priority is making sure that there are shelter spaces available for the homeless, with winter now descending upon us. And it should be no surprise that tops the mayor's immediate to-do list given that helping the homeless has always been important to him. I think voters respect that, even though much has been made of the fact that he won't have ended street homelessness by January as he once vowed.
But the mayor will soon need to turn his attention to the transit referendum that will likely happen some time this spring. It needs a champion, someone who can advocate for the $7.5-billion plan that includes a new Broadway subway. If it fails, as many predict it will because of a lack of planning, it will be a huge setback not just for the city of Vancouver but the entire Metro Vancouver region.
Mr. Robertson may have to step up to be the leader of the Vote Yes forces.
Another area to watch in the next couple of years is whether the pace of development in the city slows. Vision has been blasted for a lack of consultation with communities being impacted by a desire to create room in the city for newcomers by knocking down single family dwellings to make way for condos.
There isn't much Mr. Robertson will be able to do about a slew of projects already in the works. What he may do is slow the pace of the approval process, something neighbourhoods throughout the city seem to be demanding.
Right now, however, the mayor will likely take a few days to enjoy the scope of his accomplishment. He just survived the most bruising campaign of his political career. That's something he should savour for awhile.