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Vancouver’s housing crisis priced Gregor Robertson out of bidding for mayor

The mayor had become unelectable.

Despite his best intentions, and a list of worthy accomplishments, Vancouver's Gregor Robertson – who said on Wednesday he will not stand for re-election – would have gone into the next civic vote dogged by the one issue that will cast a long and ominous shadow over his record: housing. And while he lectured the former BC Liberal government about not doing enough to stifle the unseemly rise in house prices in his city, it was a finger-wagging that came too little, too late. It was also tough to swallow.

This was his city after all. He was the one who, in the opinion of many, was far too cozy with developers. He was the one who, initially anyway, resented any suggestion that it was offshore Chinese buyers who were bidding up the cost of homes and creating an upward-spiral effect on prices across the region. When he lamented in a speech that the city was in danger of losing its soul, those listening couldn't help but shake their heads in disbelief.

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Dude, who's been in charge?

If you accept the notion that speculators and others have been able to move into the city and make off like bandits in broad daylight, then you also accept it happened on Mr. Robertson's watch. And for that, there has to be a price to pay. This should serve as a cautionary tale for any mayor facing similar circumstances – your worship John Tory in Toronto, are you paying attention?

Yes, the mayor would have had the mighty political machine that is Vision Vancouver behind him had he run again. But it would be operating under new, much stricter campaign-finance laws; no longer would it enjoy an enormous financial advantage over its competitors – a cash edge that was greatly needed to get the mayor re-elected the last time around. Few saw Vision maintaining its majority in council with Mr. Robertson fronting the party.

Mr. Robertson also suffered a recent blow when the Metro Mayors' Council decided not to return him as co-chair.

The idea that he would have to sit around the table listening to Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan call the shots – with his evident disdain for the ambitions of the City of Vancouver – would also have played into the mayor's decision to make this term his last.

While the "greening" of Vancouver will likely top the list of what Mr. Robertson is most proud of, it's also something that became fashionable to trash him over.

While many cities are now installing the bike lanes for which the city has become famous, the frantic pace at which they were put in needlessly irritated many people who accused the mayor of operating a dictatorship – albeit a hipper, mellower version of one.

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When I checked in with a few people who know the mayor well to gauge their reaction, not one was surprised. In the past year, a couple of them told me, they'd noticed that Mr. Robertson's enthusiasm for the job had waned noticeably.

Mr. Robertson will have been in office 10 years this fall – the longest consecutive stint by a mayor in the city's history, which is quite an achievement in itself.

He knows that had he run and lost, his legacy would have been tarnished. (Although some would argue it already is.) All politicians want to go out on their terms, not someone else's. No one likes to get thrown out of office. It sullies the picture one keeps of you, the way history regards you.

The housing fiasco aside, Mr. Robertson did some good as well. He inherited the mess that was the Olympic Village controversy and made the best he could of it.

Now the condominium development the city had to take over is a much-desired housing destination. While he fell short of his pledge to end homelessness in the city – a promise that was naive to begin with – he went further than any mayor before him to address the problem.

He got out in front of the opioid crisis, which his city bore the brunt of – piloting projects that have since become crucial in dealing with arguably the greatest drug crisis the city and country have ever known.

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At 53, Mr. Robertson has many useful working years in front of him. He will land somewhere. Maybe his good friend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will find him something to do. It was suggested to me he may run federally.

He demonstrated a good sense of judgment by making the choice he did on Monday. It can often be the hardest decision a politician makes.

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