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Municipal Politics

Slower Development, New Transit Plans in Post-Election Metro Vancouver

Eight things we learned from the region’s municipal elections.

Christopher Cheung 25 Oct

Christopher Cheung reports on urban issues for The Tyee. Follow him on Twitter at @bychrischeung.

It’s a new political landscape for Metro Vancouver municipalities after an election night of surprises, upsets and much nail-biting.

Thirteen mayors out of 21 in the region decided not to run for re-election this time around — including Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, Surrey’s Linda Hepner and the three mayors on the North Shore.

“There was a level of animosity towards incumbents,” said pollster Mario Canseco, president of Research Co. Three of eight incumbent mayors and many incumbent councillors lost their seats.

The result is 16 rookie mayors in Metro Vancouver’s 21 municipalities, though a number have experience sitting on city councils.

So what will change?

A shake-up in Surrey signalled changes for regional transit, and a number of new mayors and councils are calling for a slower pace of urban development.

What happened in Surrey?

Crime, especially gang-related violence, has given Surrey a bleak reputation over the years. There have been 33 shootings in the city this year, 10 of them fatal. Last year, there were 59, down from 61 in 2016 and 88 in 2015. Respondents in a July poll by Research Co. named crime as the top issue for the fast-growing municipality of over 550,000 people.

Voters elected a mayor and council who put crime and public safety front and centre in their campaigns.

Doug McCallum, who served two terms as Surrey mayor from 1996 to 2005, returns to the role after his party was elected in a near sweep, booting out a majority Surrey First council under former mayor Hepner.

Considering McCallum’s priorities, his party is aptly named the Safe Surrey Coalition. The lone opposition voice to Safe Surrey elected was Linda Annis, the executive director of Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers. (Annis ran with Surrey First.)

“A lot of people from Safe Surrey plus the candidate from Crime Stoppers — that tells you the kind of concerns that residents have,” said Canseco. “It wasn’t the transportation candidate elected or education or anything of that sort: people voted for safety.”

Canseco added that the splintering of the Surrey First party – which won elections thanks to the personalities of mayoral candidates Dianne Watts and Linda Hepner — also helped hand McCallum victory.

McCallum’s big promise was to create a municipal police force. The city currently has Canada’s largest RCMP detachment at 835 officers. It would be expensive to create a municipal force, but McCallum claims it would give the city, as opposed to Ottawa, more autonomy over management.

“Surrey’s gonna shine,” said McCallum in a post-election interview with the Surrey Now-Leader.

One prominent Safe Surrey endorsement came from BC Liberal MLA Rich Coleman of Langley East.

A SkyTrain named Desire

McCallum’s other big proposal made a big splash on the campaign trail and is already shaking up the region’s new guard. He wants to do away with the plan for light-rail transit in Surrey and push for SkyTrain service instead.

Canseco believes only a small “core group” of Surrey residents voted for McCallum based on the SkyTrain promise. But his stance on crime and safety handed him the victory needed to lobby for SkyTrain.

The plan for light-rail transit has already been approved by TransLink’s Mayor’s Council (the region’s 21 mayors sit on it) and federal funds have already been committed. But McCallum doesn’t think the switch will be of “too much concern.”

“Surrey’s waited for 30 years in the region to do it and all the other cities in the region have SkyTrain and I think they recognize it’s Surrey’s turn to have a SkyTrain along the Fraser Highway,” McCallum told CTV News on Tuesday.

As for lobbying the federal government for a switch in funding, McCallum may already have an ally in Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart, who wants the Broadway subway in Vancouver to reach UBC, further than Arbutus Street already approved.

A break from building booms

Voters in a number of municipalities elected politicians who pledged to slow the pace of market housing development, though they said they were not anti-development.

This featured prominently in the Burnaby race, which ended Derek Corrigan’s political dynasty. Corrigan sat on city council for 15 years before serving 16 years as Burnaby mayor.

Corrigan’s Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA) party has controlled city council for decades, and observers cited Corrigan’s recent record on housing as the main reason for his loss. His council created a density bonus policy that encouraged the rapid redevelopment of old rental apartment buildings around Metrotown, leaving many low-income renters to seek housing elsewhere. Corrigan has also been accused over the years of not doing enough on the city’s homelessness issue.

Burnaby voters elected independent Mike Hurley, who ran on a platform of “time for change.” Hurley, a former Burnaby firefighter who retired as acting assistant fire chief earlier this year, received backing from the New West and District Labour Council that had endorsed Corrigan in the past. He promised to stop the Metrotown “demovictions” in his campaign.

Hurley sits on a council that remains dominated by BCA councillors. Longtime Coun. Colleen Jordan told The Tyee on election weekend that she expected “growing pains” as mayor and council began working together.

However, a major policy shift by Burnaby Citizens Association in July aligned them with Hurley’s stance on demovictions.

The BCA politicians stopped two developments they believed could have included more non-ownership options and announced that going forward they’d try to have a one-to-one replacement of units destroyed, work with developers to bring displaced renters back into the new buildings and be the first municipality in the province to implement rental zoning.

“We’re very proud of it,” said Paul McDonell. McDonell is returning to council for his fourth term with the BCA.

He doesn’t have worries about having an independent as mayor.

“I think it’ll be OK,” said McDonell. “[Hurley’s] on a steep learning curve, but I think he’ll pick it up.”

McDonell is also a former firefighter, but in Vancouver, and has known Hurley for 25 years.

“I’ve worked close with him on different things at fire halls, regional meetings and we got to know each other and become friends.”

Hurley has mentioned in interviews that many BCA councillors are “personal friends.”

Returning BCA councillor Nick Volkow is another optimist about the prospect of an independent mayor, especially since Hurley is a fellow progressive, he told the Burnaby Now.

The demoviction issues goes beyond Burnaby.

In the District of North Vancouver, Mayor-elect Mike Little wants to avoid the destruction of existing affordable rental buildings while encouraging the construction of new rental units.

And in Port Moody, incoming mayor Rob Vagramov ran on a pledge to avoid what he called the “Metrotownification” of his city.

“The Metrotown model might work for Burnaby or Coquitlam, but Port Moody can do better,” proclaimed campaign materials for Vagramov, who ran for mayor after completing a term on council. “Growth is easy. Retaining what makes your town amazing as it grows requires a fresh approach.”

Vagramov’s approach is in contrast to that of his rival, mayoral incumbent Mike Clay. Clay, like other politicians such as Corrigan who advocated for a faster pace of urban development, often cited population projections. Vagramov has said that he won’t plan for more housing supply than necessary.

Vagramov hopes to achieve his vision of more moderate development by updating Port Moody’s official community plan, with public consultation. He also wants more park space for the city.

Port Moody voters elected enough councillors to support Vagramov’s vision.

Further south in White Rock, the Democracy Direct party that won a council majority also wants to “slow down development” via a new official community plan.

“We want to make sure it works for developers and make sure it works for people,” councillor-elect Scott Kristjanson told the Peace Arch News.

In Surrey, McCallum wants to keep it slow too, and concentrate development on major corridors. He calls this “smart” development.

Other highlights from the region’s elections


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