British Columbia

Call him 'coach': Vancouver mayor looks to 2019 as head of mixed council

Kennedy Stewart explains rising property taxes, collaborating with councillors, the potential for a new ward system for the city and developing a electronic petition system for residents.

Kennedy Stewart explains rising taxes, collaborating with councillors and a desire for electronic petitions

Kennedy Stewart says that residents like the collaborative approach the city's new council has had to adopt with representation from across the political spectrum. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has been in office for a little more than two months after being elected on Oct. 20 as the first independent mayor in the city in three decades.

Since his victory speech, he has been busy deliberating over his first budget as mayor, delivering on campaign promises such as speeding up the city's building permit process and chairing a council with representation from across the political spectrum.

'I'm more of a coach'

On council, five of the 10 seats are held by the centre-right Non-Partisan Association (NPA), three by the Green Party, one by the centre-left OneCity Party and one by the decidedly left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE). 

Stewart says he views his role managing a "minority" council as an exercise in collaboration.

"In a way, I'm more of a coach," he said.

Stewart says he takes inspiration from Jack Layton, the former federal NDP leader under whom Stewart was elected MP in the 2011 election. 

"Working with him is to always have respect as your starting point for every relationship," he said.

"When you can have [the NPA's] Colleen Hardwick and [COPE's] Jean Swanson voting together on numerous issues, having unanimous votes on a lot of things that people thought we'd fail on, I think that's great and I'm really proud of that."

Kennedy Stewart was elected mayor as an independent candidate on Oct. 20, 2018. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Property taxes increasing

In December, council came together to approve an 4.5-per-cent property tax increase for 2019, which adds to a trend of higher than inflation annual property tax increases in Vancouver.

Stewart defends the hike, however, as "modest."

"People focus on the percentage, but I always focus on the actual raw dollar figures," he said. The increase will cost home-owners between $40 and $100 extra next year.

"When you put it that way, doesn't sound like a lot. In an expensive city like Vancouver .. [it] will allow us to do some things citizens have asked for."

Neighbourhood constituencies

After voting for proportional representation in the failed provincial referendum on electoral reform, Stewart said he will push ahead in 2019 to move Vancouver toward a ward system for councillors.

He said he's never believed that Vancouver's at-large electoral system is a good one for municipalities.

"At political scientist conferences in my old life as a professor, I would hold it up as the least proportional system — one of the most biased systems that you can have," he said.

If the PR referendum had passed, Stewart said he would have taken steps toward a municipal PR system.

Electronic petitions

Stewart says he wants to improve civic engagement in 2019, and hopes one idea he helped shepherd into law as an MP in Ottawa will work in Vancouver.

In 2015, the federal government enabled citizens to submit petitions electronically, something that could only be done on paper before.

E-petitions that garner at least 500 signatures and are sponsored by an MP can be tabled in Parliament.

"I think petitioning is a very good way to reflect what's going on in neighbourhoods," Stewart said.

He said a certain number of signatures would get a response from the city, while larger numbers could result in a public hearing.

Stewart argues that the system allows citizens' voices to be better heard, especially for those who cannot show up at council meetings.

"We have to look at new ways to engage citizens," he said as he enters his first full year as mayor.

With files from Justin McElroy.

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