Vancouver’s October 20 civic election can’t come soon enough.
Vancouverites will choose a successor to Gregor Robertson, who revealed Jan. 10 that he will not seek a fourth term as mayor, disappointing many who wanted to see him defeated.
If it’s any consolation, Robertson will not see his 10th anniversary in office. The new mayor will be sworn-in before mid-November, several weeks short of the anniversary of Robertson’s Dec. 8, 2008 swearing-in.
Robertson had been showing signs of disinterest in the job for years, as he trotted the globe to elite conferences to sell his brand on the taxpayer dime or that of various nebulous foundations and lobby groups. When he wasn’t doing that, he was in a fling with singer Wanting Qu, the daughter of a corrupt municipal official in China. That ended last spring.
He even made a secret trip to meet government officials in Beijing and Shanghai in September that his staff only acknowledged the day before his return.
He claimed in his “bittersweet” announcement that he had consulted unnamed family members and friends over the Christmas holidays. Could one of those friends have been longtime Stratcom pollster Bob Penner?
Surely Penner’s polling data would show that the electorate is in a throw-the-bum-out mood because of Robertson’s failure in the categories of housing affordability and inequality. The empty homes tax and a trial balloon to limit foreign buying of condos came too little, too late for fatigued Vancouverites overwhelmed by the buying power of 10-year visa holders from China.
Those issues helped the NDP defeat the BC Liberals in the Lower Mainland last spring. Robertson, like the rest of us, witnessed the slow motion train wreck that was the end of Christy Clark’s premiership. He had only two choices: go down like Clark or out on his own.
He will ride one of the bike lanes he imposed on you, into the sunset.
His talking points claimed he made the city more “livable, green, prosperous and innovative.” But the one word that applies to Robertson’s legacy is higher.
Page three of Vision’s 2008 platform stated that “we will end street homelessness by 2015.”
That year, Vancouver had an estimated 1,576 homeless.
In 2017, it was 2,138.
Affordability was a buzzword of the 2008 Vision platform. Frugality was not a party hallmark.
A funny thing happened on the way to the city’s 2018 budget vote last Dec. 12. Staff recommended a 3.9% property tax hike. Instead of rubber-stamping that, Vision Coun. Raymond Louie got up and proposed a further 0.34% hike, without a chance for the public to weigh-in. The rest of the Robertson-led Vision caucus lined-up behind Louie. NPA Coun. George Affleck wondered why Vision couldn’t cut back spending.
The most-obvious legacy of Robertson’s mayoralty is on the Vancouver skyline, which earned him the nickname “Highrise Robertson.” Developers that poured money into Vision Vancouver’s pockets at glitzy cash-for-access events got council approval to build higher. Particularly Westbank’s Ian Gillespie. His Telus Garden was a Robertson campaign stop in 2014. His Vancouver House is under construction near the Granville Bridge. Federal tax officials are looking at Gillespie’s luxury projects, which were sold primarily ot offshore buyers. Robertson and Gillespie had a myserious meeting on a Saturday afternoon in May 2015 at Gillespie’s Shaw Tower headquarters, as reported by theBreaker. Neither explained what it was about.
Too many politicians promise transparency and don’t deliver. But Robertson convinced Vancouver voters he was different.
“When the city uses your money, you have a right to know where it’s being spent, and what it’s being used for. When leaders fall short of that standard, public confidence is shaken,” Robertson said in his Dec. 8, 2008 swearing-in speech. “Politicians do not always live up to that responsibility, I know. But I also know that there were literally thousands of people voting last November for the very first time. My commitment to them, on behalf of every member of my team, is that I will not let you down on making City Hall more open and accountable.”
Robertson burned bridges with Vision supporters and media alike, turning Vancouver city hall into one of the most-secretive governments in Canada. His original chief of staff, Mike Magee, was caught purging email and Robertson resorted to GMail, years after B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner said that was not allowed.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham audited city hall, and found Vision caused “inappropriate delays, failure to meet legislated timelines, missing documentation, incomplete responses, and adversarial communication with applicants.”
“Of particular concern to me is evidence that the City is treating media applicants differently than other applicants. The principle in FOI requests is that all applicants be treated equally, and should not be distinguished by their employment status. It is in the public interest to protect the ability of media applicants to identify issues, obtain records and disseminate information in a timely manner.”
By summer 2015, there were 60 marijuana stores operating illegally in the city. They outnumbered Tim Hortons coffee shops. Robertson, the police board chair, used his clout to foster the budding industry. His party also began to award some of those stores with business licences, rather than protect citizens from the risk of organized criminals selling specious products under the guise of “medicine” or wait until the federal government gets its house in order.