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18th of January 2018

Canada



Editorial: Gregor Robertson changed the city with his vision

One of the things that Gregor Robertson will be remembered for from his time of mayor is the introduction of bike lanes to Vancouver. Jason Payne / Vancouver Sun

Long before Canada embraced a youthful, handsome, selfie-solicitous, sunny-ways prime minister, Vancouver had elected a photogenic, two-wheeling, happy planet politician who vowed to lead the city to a greener sustainable future. And he did.

Mayor Gregor Robertson led his Vision Vancouver party to three consecutive election victories — 2008, 2011 and 2014 — and will become the city’s longest serving mayor by the time he bows out. And that time has come: Robertson announced this week that he will not seek a fourth term as mayor.

Since eight months remain in the current term, it may be premature to talk about legacy, however changes to the city over past decade have been profound and a review of the mayor’s successes and failures seems in order.

Robertson is an ideologue who has a vision for the kind of city he wants Vancouver to be. Not everyone shares that vision. The expansion of cycling infrastructure has been, perhaps, the most polarizing item in his agenda. Many see the proliferation of bike lanes as a declaration of war on the car, which continues to be the preferred mode of transportation  for the majority. But the mayor and his cohorts persevered in nurturing a cycling culture that continues to grow. 

Robertson’s advocacy of the Greenest City 2020 placed Vancouver amongst the leaders of those global cities addressing greenhouse gas emissions, plastic bags, clean water, zero waste and local food. But proposed restrictions on natural gas alarmed the city’s chefs and Fortis BC said the move would cost a family of four an extra $1,500 a year. 

Some accused Robertson of being too chummy with developers, permitting them to build pricey condos for sale to foreign buyers rather than family homes for local residents. Certainly, the city’s new housing strategy has arrived too late for many in desperate search of affordable homes.

He expanded shelters and supportive housing, laudable achievements, but homelessness still worsened under his stewardship because ultimately provincial and federal governments held most of the tools to address the problem

Although some industries have flourished during Robertson’s rule — high-tech and film and video production come to mind — the small business community was never a top priority on his agenda. Ever-increasing spending, well above the benchmark of inflation plus population growth, led to tax increases and, for those businesses that rented space, to rent increases, forcing some to shut their doors. This was surprising given Robertson’s support as an NDP MLA of the independent businesses on Cambie Street during construction of the Canada Line.

Like every other mayor, Robertson has had hits and misses. But his grand vision has set Vancouver on a path from which there will be no turning back. 

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