Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson will not run for mayor again, ending 10 tumultuous years as a frequently controversial leader steering a city engulfed in a crisis of affordable housing.
During his tenure, Mr. Robertson battled homelessness and, more recently, the devastating opioid crisis and he initiated a bold plan to make the city the world's greenest.
But the problem of housing costs soaring to stratospheric levels, where solutions involved tough policy choices of all kinds, became the city's consuming issue. The mayor faced angry protesters on one side, unhappy with decisions to put temporary housing for the homeless in their neighbourhoods and impatient residents who thought he wasn't doing enough to either reduce foreign demand for housing or facilitate more supply.
"Ten years is a long time in politics," Mr. Robertson said in a Facebook post and direct e-mail to party members announcing his decision not to run in October's civic election. "An important part of leadership is recognizing when to step aside to make space for new leaders."
In an interview, he said that one of his regrets is about the housing issue. "In hindsight, I wish we'd figured out how to get more citywide consensus on solutions before affordability hammered the city."
He cited his party's record in making Vancouver a city of reconciliation for Indigenous people, as well as a city with a strong economy. And he promised to keep the Vision Vancouver municipal party going.
"I will work hard to elect a renewed Vision team that is open to co-operate with anyone on an ambitious, progressive agenda."
Talk of Mr. Robertson's departure has been circulating since he was elected to a third term in 2014, after a difficult campaign where he ended up apologizing to residents for not having done a better job. Although Mr. Robertson always asserted he was running again, his visibility and interest in his role seemed to fluctuate over the past three years.
The former owner of an organic-juice company and a one-time NDP MLA swept in with a massive victory in 2008 on a promise to end street homelessness by 2015 and to push aggressively on a green agenda.
He and the party won control of council twice more, in part by heavily emphasizing their opposition to an expanded oil pipeline and increased tanker traffic – an issue that Vancouver had little control over but that appealed to young, environmentally minded voters. But the mayor faced mounting criticism and disappointment from city residents in recent years.
In an October by-election for a vacant council seat, the party's candidate came in fifth.
It was clear to campaigners on the phones and doorsteps that Mr. Robertson had become an object of dislike for many voters, who blame him for everything from being in the pockets of developers to forcing bike lanes on neighbourhoods to not ensuring city roads got plowed fast enough during last year's snowstorms.
In spite of that, internal polling showed he could win again as mayor. But it was unclear what kind of mixed bag of parties on council he would be leading. The mayor said he made his decision after a long Christmas vacation with family.
Many still admire the accomplishments of a mayor who set out a list of goals in his first election and doggedly pursued them. "What Gregor and Vision Vancouver have done is pretty remarkable. They transformed a city with their green agenda," said Metro Vancouver chairman Greg Moore, also the mayor of Port Coquitlam. "They put Vancouver on the map as a leader on climate change, not waiting for the province or federal government."
But many more say it was time for Mr. Robertson to go because he had failed to address Vancouver's most challenging problems – homelessness and increasingly unaffordable housing for residents at all levels.
Newly elected Non-Partisan Association Councillor Hector Bremner, whose party aims to win council back this fall, acknowledged the mayor "was on the right side of history in terms of his perspective and values on climate change."
But, he said, Mr. Robertson just wasn't as bold when it came to addressing the city's housing crisis. "Over the last 10 years, there were lots of opportunities to address it. We've not been keeping up with the demand. The action didn't happen."
Vision Vancouver had been set to begin a leadership review and nomination contests in the coming months. Those preparations will now kick into high gear.
The NPA has set its contest for its mayoral slot for late February.