British Columbia·Analysis

What now for Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver?

Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver team keep their grip on Vancouver city council, but lose majorities on the park and school boards.

Loss of majorities on park and school boards, a wake-up call

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson blows kisses to his family as he addresses supporters after being elected for a third term during a civic election in Vancouver on Nov. 15. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The music that piped Gregor Robertson onto the stage for his victory speech on Saturday night after a securing his third term as Vancouver's mayor said it all.

The mega-hit Happy by Pharrell Williams speaks to a boundless, simple joy despite the challenges ahead:

Here come bad news talking this and that
Yeah, give me all you got, don't hold back
Yeah, well I should probably warn you I'll be just fine
Yeah, no offence to you don't waste your time

Make no mistake, there is certainly a lot Robertson and his Vision Vancouver team should be happy about.

They fought a good fight. They faced a virtually unknown challenger from political obscurity who gave them a run for their money.

They had an army that was organized, tight and focused — financed with millions of dollars from an unlikely coalition of supporters: big business, big unions, interest groups and thousands of individuals.

But this time around, it wasn't a walk in the park.

As with any political party that's held power for any length of time, Vision has made some enemies over the last six years.

Most notably, citizens who say there hasn't been enough consultation as Vision pushes forward with its progressive agenda of tackling homelessness and climate change, and increasing density in neighbourhoods that used to be primarily single-family homes.

Game-changing apology

In the last week of the campaign, Robertson acknowledged his critics with a game-changing and simple, "I'm sorry" at the beginning of the CBC Vancouver mayoral debate.

Vancouver mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe gestures to supporters after losing to incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson on Saturday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

It caught pundits and his opponents off guard.

Some saw it as a sign that Vision was losing ground. That point was driven home even further when Robertson begged Coalition of Progressive Electors voters to throw their support behind him and to help prevent a right-wing sweep.

But it worked.

Robertson beat Kirk LaPointe's Non-Partisan Association by more than 10,000 votes.

He was contrite in his victory speech.

"I've also heard loud and clear that there things that we can do better, and we will, over these next four years. We've committed to that," Robertson pledged.

But there are lessons to be learned from this campaign.

The far left is leery of Robertson's ties to the city's developers. More than 16,000 COPE voters ignored his plea and stuck to their party.

And the most popular councillor by vote count is not a Vision candidate, but Adriane Carr of the Green Party. Clearly there are thousands who believe Vision's "greenest city" goals aren't green enough.

Then there are the 70,000 voters who wanted Robertson out — people who don't like the direction their city is headed.

What about them?

Apologies aside, Robertson's victory speech is clear on where things are headed over the next four years.

Unfinished business

Voter turnout was up, more people are engaged in the political process and Vision Vancouver believes it has a mandate for more of the same.

Climate change is a pressing issue and Robertson says Vancouver can lead the way.

But there are also other priorities and some unfinished business to attend to.

"Here at home, as the weather gets colder and colder, we need a new partnership on homelessness, mental health and addictions," Robertson said.

"And a very pressing issue — that can unite our city and our region and can benefit us on affordability, the economy and climate change — is public transit."

Big issues that need the deep pockets of other levels of government.

LaPointe and the NPA campaigned on the premise that they had a better chance of getting deals done with Victoria and Ottawa. However, the Vision victory has turned the tables.

Vancouverites have re-elected a progressive slate. That means the roll-out of controversial national and provincial plans for pipelines, energy and trade will have to be more delicate and nuanced — especially if federal and provincial parties want support from the Lower Mainland in future campaigns.

Maybe other levels of government will have to win over Vancouver voters by supporting transit and housing initiatives to see their projects' agendas through.

And that would make Robertson and Vision very happy indeed. But it's far from a sure thing.

Vision's survival depends not only on fostering better ties with other levels of government, but also with the mundane but important day-to-day priorities of running a city — and listening to the people who live in it.