British Columbia

Why a Liberal minority government could be good news for cities like Vancouver

In the week before the election, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart repeatedly attacked Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, saying he would be "worse than Stephen Harper" when it came to municipal issues. 

Affordable housing, drug reform, and SkyTrain extensions look set to be key priorities for city hall

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speak to the media before sitting down for a meeting prior to the election. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

In a muddled federal election that resulted in a minority government for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, at least one group seemed to be a clear winner: cities.

"I see a lot of opportunity for urban issues to get attention in this new minority Parliament," said University of British Columbia political scientist Carey Doberstein.

Doberstein said the common ground shared by the Liberals, NDP and Green Party could cause the Liberals to move on urban issues where they could get the required votes to pass legislation. 

In addition, it's in big cities where the Liberals are most heavily represented in Parliament: of the 65 electoral districts in Canada with at least 2,500 people per square kilometre, the Liberals won 54, while the Conservatives won zero. 

"It comes down to the campaign the Conservatives ran ... motivating their own largely rural and suburban supporters, rather than producing a platform, an agenda that would have appeal to voters in urban environments," said Doberstein.

"The Conservative Party ought to be strategically thinking about how to speak to urban voters."

Vancouver city councillor Christine Boyle is hopeful a minority government moves faster on providing funding for housing and infrastructure than the Liberals have in the past four years. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Housing, drug policy, transportation

In the week before the election, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart repeatedly attacked Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, saying he would be "worse than Stephen Harper" when it came to municipal issues. 

Stewart's decision to be so critical — unusual for a Metro Vancouver mayor in the middle of a federal election — sparked some criticism, but Doberstein said that in the short-to-medium term it could now pay off, given the Liberal minority. 

"Stewart made a bit of a gamble and I think that will not go unnoticed by the new government," he said. 

Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle said she was hopeful that a minority government would move quickly on building more affordable housing, providing more funding for transportation infrastructure, and changing the country's drug policies to allow a safe supply of opioids for addicts. 

"There have been a lot of nice promises over the years, and I think a lot of good is possible out of a minority government," Boyle said.

Vancouver city councillor Colleen Hardwick argues a SkyTrain extension to UBC wouldn't foster affordable housing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

SkyTrain to UBC timeline?  

The Liberal Party's victory means Stewart remains optimistic in his most oft-stated priority in dealing with higher levels of government: gaining the necessary funding for a SkyTrain extension that goes all the way to the University of British Columbia, instead of the currently proposed terminus at Arbutus Street.

But while provincial and federal funding for a UBC Line is still hypothetical, very real opposition has begun to form along the west side neighbourhoods a line would go through.

"I do see a huge problem with the subway as really a mechanism for fostering high-rise development and density along the corridor," said Vancouver councillor Colleen Hardwick.

"This is a real estate play."

However, Boyle was more positive about a full extension, putting funding for infrastructure in the context of other policies she was hopeful would be delivered in the Liberal government's second term.

"I'd like to see us move forward on the train, but also have the housing plan and infrastructure priorities be connected to an ambitious climate emergency response," she said. 

"And I do hope that the NDP and the Greens federally pressure the Liberals to deliver more quickly on all of these priorities."

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