Gregor Robertson’s political peers weigh in on his legacy, as 3-term mayor bows out

Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday December 11, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck.
Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday December 11, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Reaction is pouring in from the political class after Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robetson announced he will effectively leave political life next fall.

Civic leaders are weighing in on the three-term mayor’s legacy on a number of hot-button issues.

READ MORE: Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announces he won’t seek re-election

LISTEN: What is Gregor Robertson’s legacy?
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Homelessness and housing

There’s no bigger issue than housing in Vancouver right now.

And for many, the mayor will be remembered for his high-profile and ultimately unfulfilled pledge to end homelessness by 2015.

That promise was one that was impossible to keep, according to UBC economist Tom Davidoff, who frequently speaks on housing issues.

READ MORE: Homeless advocates create tent city in DTES, demand meeting with Mayor Robertson

“The goal of eliminating homelessness, not attained. But I think that was unrealistic, because if you make Vancouver a great place to be homeless, that’s going to draw a lot of homeless migrants,” he said.

“But every homeless person who’s served by the city of Vancouver, that’s important.”

On the housing file, Davidoff said Robertson seemed to be proactive late into his term, but said he’s become more creative, promoting ideas like rental-only zones, and effectively pulling cash out of developers in exchange for density.

Ultimately, he called affordable housing in the city “unfinished business.”

WATCH: Has Gregor Robertson eliminated homelessness?

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner was more forgiving on the homelessness front, arguing that Robertson’s pledge, if unfulfilled, helped raise the issue’s prominence.

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“I think that brought it to the forefront of every level of government as being significant, no less than his strong position around the need for a national housing strategy,” she said.

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote also had kind words for Robertson on the housing front, suggesting the mayor had done what he could amid market pressures akin to “treading water upstream.”

“Vancouver really has led the way to try and be proactive to address the affordable housing crisis and the homeless challenges we face,” he said.

Overdose crisis

Even though Robertson may have fallen short on his own campaign promise to end homelessness, one Downtown Eastside activist said he came through when it came to addressing the opioid crisis.

Sarah Blyth with the Overdose Prevention Society, and a former Vision Vancouver park board commissioner, has been at the forefront of that effort; operating a harm-reduction site for drug users.

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Blyth said Robertson gave his support to her work when few other political leaders would.

“Getting safe opiate replacement therapy and also getting more safe injection sites and supporting our overdose prevention sites,” she said.

Blyth and Robertson were both voted into office in the same election in 2008.

LISTEN: Bruce Allen shares his thoughts on Gregor Robertson’s plans

Bike lanes

If there’s another issue Robertson will be remembered for, it will be his wholehearted effort to promote bike lanes.

CKNW contributor and regular Robertson critic Bruce Allen said voters won’t remember the mayor through rose-coloured glasses on that issue.

“I mean it’s not a great legacy that he’s going to be remembered for. I mean his biggest legacy is of course his constant war on the car, which failed really. All there is is traffic jams. The cars are still out there. They’re not going away,” Allen said.

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Delta Mayor Lois Jackson seemed to echo those thoughts, saying she usually tries to take transit in the city, thanks to the bike lanes.

“I find it very confusing for the motoring public,” she said.

READ MORE: Vancouver’s Point Grey Road permanently closed to cars for new bike lane

However others argued that Vancouver’s extensive network of bike lanes have made the city an international leader.

“I think his really greatest legacy, the ability to bike into downtown Vancouver as a commuter, is hard to match in cities of our international stature, so that’s really important,” Davidoff said.

“There’s no doubt there have been bike lanes that have been controversial in the Vancouver area, but I think this will come down as, really, one of the big legacies of Gregor Robertson’s time, is really shifting the transportation system in the City of Vancouver,” added New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote.

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LISTEN: NPA Councillor George Affleck weighs in on Robertson’s decision

Service to the city

Premier John Horgan thanked Robertson on Wednesday for his decade of service to the city.

“From transit and transportation, to housing and homelessness, Gregor has been a passionate advocate for people. He can be proud of the work he and council have done to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world,” he said.

“On behalf of British Columbians, I want to thank Gregor for his many years of public service and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

WATCH: Exclusive sit down interview with Mayor Gregor Robertson

Jackson had similar words for Robertson, even if she’s not enthusiastic about bike lanes.

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“The times have changed over 10 years, too, and certainly he needs to be commended for all the time and effort he’s put into the city,” she said. “But it is one of those ever-changing scenes, and certainly we wish him well in whatever endeavour he undertakes.”

READ MORE: Vision Vancouver says it heard people ‘loud and clear’ on housing, but some are skeptical

Non-Partisan Association councillor and frequent city council sparring partner George Affleck also had kind parting words for the mayor.

“It’s a tough job, and I think we have to thank him for 10 years of commitment to the city,” he said. “We don’t always agree on issues, as we all know, but committing to politics and being in the public light is not easy sometimes.”

Kris Sims, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said Robertson did a good job on a personal level, but less so from a political vantage point.

“He’s a very nice person, personally isn’t confrontational,” she said. “It’s the policies where people feel like they’re being made into the villain, they feel like they’re not being heard — it’s the policies, it’s the ideology.”

What’s ahead

With Robertson’s impending departure, his party — Vision Vancouver — has a big vacancy to fill ahead of next October’s civic election.

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One of the party’s co-chair’s said it’s going to be an interesting year.

“One thing for sure, it will look very different than it has the last few years,” said Maria Dobrinskaya.

She said the party was already expecting a new election landscape with new campaign finance rules in place, and Vision councillors Geoff Meggs and Andrea Reimer out of the running.

READ MORE: Andrea Reimer, Vancouver city councillor, won’t seek re-election

The party is now shifting into planning mode, said Dobrinskaya.

“That’s going to need to ramp up significantly in the next couple months for sure. But it’s exciting and it’s a big opportunity for a lot of choosing, a lot energy in the party.”

Vision Vancouver’s annual general meeting is Monday, and Dobrinskaya said the party will make its nomination timeline public by mid-February.

-With files from Kyle Benning, Jeremy Lye, Liza Yuzda, Jon Hall and Emily Lazatin

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