British Columbia·Q&A

Gregor Robertson discusses housing, fentanyl and pot in year-end interview

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson sat down with On The Coast host Stephen Quinn for a discussion of the big issues of 2016.

Vancouver Mayor sat down with On The Coast host Stephen Quinn for discussion of 2016's big issues

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson sat down with On The Coast host Stephen Quinn to discuss the big issues the city faced in 2016. (CBC)

Between the ongoing fentanyl and housing affordability crises, it has been a challenging year for Vancouver.

These crises have seen Mayor Gregor Robertson and his council forced to deal with issues normally reserved for their provincial counterparts.

To expand on those issues and the city's handling of them, Robertson sat down for a year-end interview with On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

What's your take on the newly announced tax-free loans for down payments for first-time homebuyers?

I think it'll be a positive for the next generation of buyers. Hopefully shifts some people from rental to the condo stock that's being built. It's a good next step to help people buy into a market that's been really challenging.

As a city, our goal is to end homelessness. However we can [accomplish] it across the three levels of government. We need to have enough of a tax base to have enough affordable housing that nobody's sleeping outside.

Council approved a property tax increase, including 0.5 percent for resources to fight the fentanyl crisis. What do you say to homeowners who say any increase in tax is another hit to affordability and it's not the city's responsibility to be doing this, that you're accepting a download from the province, which is in charge of health?

The money that we're raising with that extra half percent is for first responders, primarily. It's for our firefighters. They're saving lives. Police, fire, public safety, that is our responsibility.

A portion of a recent property tax increase will go toward funding the City of Vancouver's handling of the ongoing fentanyl crisis. (CBC)

We've been very careful with tax increases. In Vancouver, our property taxes are considerably lower than most other cities in North America.

Where there are strategic moves where we can get dollars into transit, where we can get dollars into affordable housing, if it takes a little bit of that to get other levels of government into the game, then I've been for that to make sure we're taking these next important steps.

A federal tax force released recommendations on how recreational marijuana ought to be regulated and produced and distributed. It suggested the final decision on marijuana retail ought to be left up to the provinces and municipalities. How do you see these recommendations fitting into Vancouver's current regime?

City staff is still digesting what the implications are for Vancouver. At least we've got a start on what that is and how best to manage it. It's not been easy, given the lack of appropriate federal law. I hesitate to weigh in with exactly how we're going to go with it and how it's going to be. We can do our part on the ground with the retail and the land use which is a fairly minor role.

Housing, fentanyl, marijuana regulations; it does sound like your council is taking on issues that are federal and provincial issues. Do you worry that by taking on more the province and federal governments see that as an indication you will continue to take on more?

The trend from federal and provincial governments has been to download to the cities and communities to pick up the pieces. This is where people live, and they don't necessarily care which level of government's responsible. They just want to see things dealt with.

Vancouver already has a regime for storefront sales of medical marijuana. How will this mesh with upcoming federal rules? (Jim Young/Reuters)

As a city, we've repeatedly seen ourselves in that situation. We have to make sure child care's being built. If we don't, it's a problem for the economy of the city, for quality of life. It's the problem of having three levels of government and an antiquated system that does not see much updating or innovation.

It's definitely not perfect, but I think we've got pretty good working relationships with the province and federal government. There's still gaps and areas we can improve, but it's on the upswing, I would say.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Gregor Roberston discusses housing, fentanyl and pot in year-end interview