After 100 days in office as mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart gives himself a grade of B+, adding he still has work to do and a lot to learn about leading at the municipal level.
Stewart spoke to Vancouver media at a press conference Wednesday morning, a little more than three months after he went from independent candidate to elected mayor.
He credits the progress to the goodwill shown by his fellow council members.
“This is all about negotiation all the time,” Stewart said, adding their success lies in their willingness to compromise. He ranked council’s performance as an A-.
“Immediately following the election, many thought a council with no majority party would quickly grind to a halt, but the reality has proven to be quite the opposite,” he said.
WATCH: Sit-down interview with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart
“In my view the new cooperative approach at city council is the only way we can succeed. It’s not going to be easy–in my experience, goodwill is hard to maintain over the long term, but I’m very hopeful.”
During the campaign, Stewart pledged to address six problems within his first 100 days in office: clearing the building permit backlog, hiring a renters’ advocate, launching an emergency overdose task force, launching a small business review, introducing new conflict of interest rules and creating a new lobbyist registry.
On some fronts, Stewart said progress has been made. Steps are being taken to cut down on the permitting backlog, including the hiring of an additional 43 full-time staff, which was included in the 2019 budget. Recommendations from the promised emergency overdose task force have been released. Stewart also said invitations have been sent to small businesses for a round table discussion next week.
While a renters’ advocate still hasn’t been hired, council passed a motion brought forward by Green Party Coun. Pete Fry directing staff to report back to council on the steps to create a renter’s office. Stewart is hopeful an advocate will eventually be hired.
“If I have my way there will be,” Stewart said, acknowledging he’s only one vote on council and Fry’s motion is a step in the right direction.
There is still a lot of work to be done surrounding the promised conflict-of-interest rules and the creation of a new lobbyist registry. Stewart said staff are working on how they can implement these changes, which include discussions with the office of the minister of municipal affairs.
And then there’s the delicate matters of density and development, without displacement. Stewart said they are learning from other municipalities. He also praised Coun. Jean Swanson’s dedication to ensuring housing for the most vulnerable is a priority for council.
“It’s one thing to talk to a neighbourhood about how things might change in order to encourage density, but it’s another when you’re displacing people from their neighbourhoods when they’ve lived there for 15 or 20 years,” he said.
“That really is our number one challenge is how do we move forward with providing new, mostly rental housing for folks living in the city without pushing people from their existing homes?”
Stewart said they are learning from other municipalities, but they’re also finding others are learning from Vancouver.
WATCH: Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart talks housing affordability, money laundering
Biggest disappointment, test
Relations have improved between the city of Vancouver and the province, but Stewart said he would like to see more financial help from the federal government.
“We’ve made it very clear what our priorities are here. I do sense some movement, but I think that in terms of Ottawa, sometimes it’s hard to be heard here on the west coast,” he said.
“I’ve met with the prime minister in depth twice, I’ve met with many senior ministers to try to emphasize that the housing crisis here is our number one priority, even though it may not be in the rest of the country, we still need a lot of help here.”
Provincially, the city is awaiting movement on the lobbyist registry and help with their request for 600 new modular homes.
His biggest test as mayor? Understanding the burden people in Vancouver face.
“Biggest test is, how are we going to tackle this in a way that hasn’t been done before?” he said.