In the most active day Vancouver has seen so far during this year's civic election, Mayor Gregor Robertson went to the city's left-wing heart near Commercial Drive to announce "family friendly" policies for free swimming lessons, low-cost housing and child care.
His main challenger, Non-Partisan Association candidate Kirk LaPointe, made his way to the right-wing heart, in the Kerrisdale village, to promise reduced parking-meter costs.
The contrasting announcements set off a round of criticism, claims and counter-claims the rest of the day.
The NPA and other political parties jumped on Mr. Robertson's assertion that Vision Vancouver has created low-cost housing during its six years in power, or will be able to in the future. And several critics noted that community centres are already crowded and underfunded, so free swimming lessons will only make things worse.
On the other hand, Vision attacked the NPA parking promise, saying it was a sad sign of priorities that the party was more concerned about affordable parking than affordable housing.
In addition, according to Vision councillor Raymond Louie, it will cost the city $7.5-million in revenue from the $45-million now collected in parking fees.The day began with the mayor's promise that only his party would continue to pour efforts into creating affordable family housing.
"We have people coming here from all over the world and that drives the cost of living here up significantly," acknowledged the mayor, who doesn't support the proposals from COPE and the Vancouver Green Party to initiate a vacancy or luxury tax. "We need to do more to make sure local citizens can make a go of it here."
Mr. Robertson said Vision would push, though not require, developers to make a third of the units in any of their large projects family oriented – with two or more bedrooms. In the past, the city has aimed for 25-per-cent family housing at most in large projects. And he said Vision will continue with its commitment to create 4,000 new rental units during the coming four-year term – a form of housing that he says gives families more options for living in Vancouver because renting is cheaper than owning.
Vision has been offering incentives to developers who build rental apartments that remain as rentals for 60 years. That has produced about 1,000 rental units a year in the past three years.
But critics have said those units are being rented at high rates and aren't affordable for middle-income families. The city's median family income was about $71,000 in 2012.
Mr. Robertson argued Wednesday that those new units, by increasing supply, ensure that older units and basement suites stay cheap.
The mayor said the NPA has voted against several rental projects in the past and is not prepared to do anything except let the market rule when it comes to trying to create affordable housing.
"They say 'You're on your own,' " Mr. Robertson said. "Affordability is our number-one issue in this city and we're hearing nothing from the NPA."
In contrast, Mr. LaPointe accused Vision of being anti-business and anti-motorist as he promised free parking on Sundays, evenings and holidays outside the downtown.
"In the six years it's been in power, [Vision's] done nothing for the motor vehicle except to gouge the motorist," he said. He added that providing free parking at least on Sundays and in the evenings helps support the city's many small businesses.
Mr. LaPointe pooh-poohed Vision's plans for affordable housing, commenting sarcastically: "Let's get another four years of not meeting the targets."
COPE's mayoral candidate Meena Wong said the Vision promises of affordable housing are all about giving developers tax breaks to create units with exceptionally high rents. Mr. Robertson's policies are "all style and no substance," she said in a news release.