Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says people who don’t like him as mayor want to create a “fortress Vancouver” and “pull up the drawbridge” to shut out newcomers.
But, in a campaign-style speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on Tuesday, the mayor said he’s proud of how he has brought in a billion dollars of new money for low-cost housing during his three years at the helm.
He added the city under his watch now has 100,000 approvals for new homes in the pipeline for the next decade and has established a streamlined system for housing permits to speed up their construction.
“We’re the beating heart of one of the most desirable regions in the world, and residents are demanding we start acting like it,” said Mr. Stewart to a crowd of about 300 at the downtown event.
“Some are critical of how I see the future and instead want to pull up the drawbridge to create fortress Vancouver. I hate to break it to them, but growth is happening. We are a global city and we’ve got to start acting like it.”
The mayor, who has said he’ll run for a second term in next year’s October civic election, boasted that Vancouver’s economy is poised to boom because of how well it handled the pandemic and the growth of tech companies, among them the rapidly growing biotech firm AbCellera.
That kind of economic boom is going to require much more housing in the city to accommodate the people moving in for jobs, he said.
Mr. Stewart said it’s important to have a city council that will support the new Broadway Plan, which envisages housing for about 50,000 more people along the corridor of the subway extension being built there, along with the Vancouver Plan and the mayor’s own proposal to allow up to six homes per lot in Vancouver’s current detached-housing zones.
That last proposal is coming to council for a vote in January and Mr. Stewart said, “What happens will tell you everything you need to know about who supports real climate action and actually building 15-minute cities.”
Mr. Stewart delivered his speech at a time when there is a lot of frustration with the current council, which has no single party in charge and a track record of erratic votes on housing. It also has held record-setting lengthy meetings that sometimes have hours of debate on well-meaning recommendations that have no real effect because they are about issues beyond the city’s control.
The mayor has come under fire from some groups for what is seen as a noticeable rise in public disorder – window-smashing, graffiti and crime in downtown neighbourhoods such as Yaletown, Gastown, and Davie Street in the West End.
There are already three declared candidates challenging Mr. Stewart for the mayor’s job – former NPA candidate Ken Sim, who lost to him by less than 1,000 votes last time and is running with a new party called A Better City; park board commissioner John Coupar, with the NPA; and political consultant Mark Marissen, with a party called Progress Vancouver.
Current independent councillor Colleen Hardwick, formerly with the NPA, is also expected to be a mayoral contender with a new party called TEAM for a Livable Vancouver.
Mr. Stewart made no references to policing or crime in his speech, keeping his focus on housing and its role in supporting the economy and tackling climate change, and on the opioid crisis.
On the drug crisis, he said he is part of a group of mayors that support a different approach to people severely affected by both drug use and mental health.
“We all see how COVID, out of control housing costs, and the ongoing poisoned drug crisis is impacting communities. We all know that the only way forward is by rapidly expanding ‘complex care,’” he said.
“It’s a comprehensive approach that includes access to safe supply and bringing in decriminalization so that we can treat substance use as a health issue, not a criminal one.”
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