Mayor Kennedy Stewart said that he will strive to make Vancouver a more globalist city, but he doesn’t plan on being a globetrotting mayor.
Stewart and the new city council, featuring just two incumbents, were sworn-in Nov. 5 at Creekside Community Centre in the Olympic Village. In his nearly nine-minute speech, Stewart cited his mentor, Simon Fraser University political science professor Patrick Smith, who suggested a city could either be globalized or globalist. Stewart said he chooses the latter.
“People are in despair around the world about what’s happening, even in our own country there is division, there is hatred, but that’s not here in Vancouver,” Stewart told reporters. “This council can show the way forward and say not only are we not going to tolerate that in our city, we’re going to show you how it can be done. We’re going to show you you how we will spread goodwill and love rather than hatred.”
Stewart told the crowd in the gymnasium that the city’s single-greatest challenge facing the city and the new council is the lack of affordable housing. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where in the city go, the stress of affordability hangs over Vancouver, stifling our creativity, our energy, our promise of opportunity.”
Stewart takes over from Gregor Robertson, who was elected in 2008 and won two more majorities on city council with Vision Vancouver. Robertson spent the equivalent of a year of his mayoralty traveling outside Vancouver, including trips to speaking engagements at conferences in Singapore, South Africa, the Vatican City, White House and United Nations, and multiple trips to China.
As an NDP Member of Parliament for seven years, Stewart said he took only one work-related trip, to Washington, D.C. He said he paid for it himself.
“I know my work is right here, we have a housing crisis that we have to solve,” he said. “I don’t intend to go away unless it’s going to get us something, and it can’t just be discussion, it has to be something that is concrete, and I would discuss with my caucus colleagues before I did that.”
In his speech, Stewart acknowledged mayoral opponents Ken Sim, Shauna Sylvester, Hector Bremner and Wai Young (though he omitted Fred Harding or David Chen). He said they presented bold ideas, but stayed away from divisive politics. He thanked Robertson and the previous council for tackling climate change and building the city’s international reputation. As an independent mayor, Stewart said he would be guided by the key word, respect.
“I pledge here today to put respect at the centre of my approach, to inform residents and council members of my intentions and to listen to your ideas before making decisions,” he said in the speech. “I will strive to foster an environment of openness and transparency with a goal of building trust right across the city, and I’ll do my best to live by these words.”
To that end, he said sought advice from ex-mayor Mike Harcourt, who was the city’s last independent mayor from 1981 to 1986.
In the speech, he acknowledged the record eight women elected to the 11-member council, but called the lack of Asian councillors in a city with large Chinese, Filipino and South Asian populations a “deep structural problem.”
“We really have to look at ourselves and say okay, what went wrong?” Stewart told reporters.
Ironically, had the NPA’s runner-up Sim tallied 958 more votes, Vancouver would have had its first ethnic Chinese mayor, instead of Nova Scotia-born Stewart.
Green Corn. Adriane Carr and NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova are the most-senior members of the new council. They flanked Stewart at the news conference and said there is hope for a less-political city council after the end of Vision Vancouver’s party discipline and domination. The NPA’s five members are one short of a majority. The Greens elected three councillors and OneCity and COPE one each.
“I think more than anything this election was about people feeling like they weren’t being listened to, that’s why there was change,” said Carr, who is starting her third term on city council after leading the ballot with 69,730 votes.
De Genova, along with other councillors elected Oct. 20, is optimistic about Stewart’s approach because she had been invited to meet with Stewart quickly after the election. De Genova said she was only invited to meet Robertson once, when he censured her after a media interview.
“All councillors here bring a lot of experience in different areas,” said second-term councillor De Genova. “I’d like to start by trying something new, something that Vision Vancouver never did, let’s be respectful, let’s take down that partisanship and see what we can get accomplished. We never had that opportunity.”
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