British Columbia

One year out from election, Mayor Kennedy Stewart's pitch to Vancouver voters is still murky

Stewart points to what he believes are accomplishments under his tenure: a focus on building more supply in the city, securing a billion dollars for affordable housing, 10,000 below-market rental units either built or under construction, tent encampments at Strathcona and Oppenheimer parks removed.  

Safe supply, UBC SkyTrain promises depend on other levels of government, fractious housing votes still to come

Mayor Kennedy Stewart during the announcement of the name of the Broadway Skytrain project in 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

What does Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart say when asked if the city is in a worse place today then when he became mayor three years ago?

"Well, I guess the thing we left out of the conversation is COVID," said Stewart in an interview with CBC News to mark one year until his 2022 bid for re-election. 

"I mean, that has had a huge impact on all cities … [and] put a dent in a lot of progress."

After mentioning the pandemic, Stewart pointed to what he believes are accomplishments under his tenure: a focus on building more supply in the city, securing a billion dollars for affordable housing, 10,000 below-market rental units either built or under construction, tent encampments at Strathcona and Oppenheimer Park ended.

But with one year left in his first term, there are several parts of Stewart's re-election pitch that are still to be determined. 

Safe supply, housing and SkyTrain

Two years ago, Stewart was very clear what his goals as mayor were: more affordable housing, a SkyTrain line to UBC, and an overhauled drug policy that allows a safe supply of opioids to addicts. 

"There's a lot of other things going on in the city," he said at the time. "But ... every morning, when I wake up, those are the three things I think about."

On safe supply, the City of Vancouver has applied for an exemption to federal laws and is awaiting a decision from Ottawa. 

On transit, whether or not a SkyTrain Line to UBC happens depends on funding from higher levels of government, and support from other Metro Vancouver leaders to make it a priority in the next 10-year plan by the TransLink Mayors' Council. 

And on housing? Since Stewart took office, the benchmark price of an average property is up seven per cent on the city's West Side and 17 per cent on the East Side, with average rents up about six per cent, according to figures from the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. 

Not the explosion of home prices that helped usher Vision Vancouver out of power. But still increasing. 

"I would agree that it's pretty tough to buy a place in Vancouver," said Stewart. "And so I've got some ideas I'm going to bring to council within the next few weeks that will, I hope, start to turn that around."

Kennedy Stewart leads a minority council where no one party has the majority of seats, the first time Vancouver has experienced such a political dynamic since 1986. (City of Vancouver)

Minority council

Stewart's idea, announced at a press conference on Wednesday, centres around allowing homeowners the opportunity to subdivide their lots into six units, with much of the potential profits heading back to the city through a land-value tax. 

But like any other proposal, it would need to pass through a city council that has gained a reputation for endless meetings with unpredictable voting patterns. 

"There's a lot of chatter around that," admitted Stewart, before bringing up council's vote supporting safe supply, and approving dozens of rezonings for new rental housing. 

"We've approved together a record amount of rental housing … I do think on the big stuff that Vancouver really cares about, we actually have put in the time and made things happen."

Voters will ultimately judge that in the next election 51 weeks from now.

In the meantime, Stewart says he is recruiting candidates to run with him on council, while focusing on a number of big topics — including housing plans for South False Creek and the Jericho Lands, along with the city-wide Vancouver Plan — that will help determine the number of accomplishments he can point to when he seeks re-election. 

"What I'm focused on right now is the job at hand," he said.

"We still have to recover from COVID. We still have housing to work on … but I think voters will have a clear case to make between whether they keep going forward with me working on a city that's built for everybody or one that isn't." 

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