Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says the city has come a long way under his watch, but must address urgent needs in transit, skills training, and access to capital for start-ups to further enhance its global brand.
Mr. Robertson gave a 25-minute speech at a Vancouver Board of Trade event Wednesday, outlining his vision for the city's economy. While the event was cast as a look forward, the juice-mogul-turned-two-term-mayor also took a look back at the city's state when he took its helm.
Mr. Robertson – who has repeatedly been asked whether he's considering federal or provincial politics but maintained he's focused on civic re-election next year – said Vancouver faced a number of challenges when he took office in 2008. He pointed to budget shortfalls and a record number of people living on the street.
"As an entrepreneur, I've known for a long time that a business sensibility could – and should – make a huge difference in our city's government. And no matter how many public hearings I sit through, or how many ribbon-cuttings, or 'your worships' – a title that makes me cringe, by the way – I'm still an entrepreneur at heart," he said.
Before he took the microphone Mr. Robertson was introduced by Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, who called the mayor one of his favourite people and a "benevolent businessman." Mr. Wilson lauded Mr. Robertson for his work on issues such as homelessness and mental health.
But, with a business crowd of a couple hundred people on hand, Mr. Robertson focused primarily on his business record and the local economy.
The mayor said economic success is not assured and the city has decisions to make that will shape its future.
For the city to thrive, transit problems along the Broadway corridor – the busiest bus corridor in North America, he said – must be addressed. Mr. Robertson said building a subway must be a priority.
Mr. Robertson said Vancouver must also do a better job of creating postsecondary education spots that meet the needs of local technology companies. And companies that do innovate need more funding to succeed, he said.
Mr. Robertson said he sees Vancouver's economy advancing in three areas, the first being its location, and the tourism and quality of life that yields. The second key area, he said, is natural resources. He said the resource economy is part of the city's DNA and called renewable energy perhaps the defining market opportunity of this generation.
The third key area, he said, was innovation, from software, to digital and social media, to film and television.
Mr. Robertson was in New York last week for a mayoral summit and will next month lead a delegation of business leaders to China. After the speech he told reporters he'll look for opportunities to partner with Chinese companies and attract investment into Vancouver.
He also, after again being asked, insisted he's not interested in the B.C. NDP leadership.
Though Mr. Robertson – naturally – praised his time in office, a poll released late last month said his Vision Vancouver party's popularity has slipped. The Justason Market Intelligence poll said Vision dropped seven per cent over the last year, to 40 per cent. However, the poll noted that still puts Vision well ahead of the other civic parties.