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Ladner, Robertson show differences in first public debate

Peter Ladner and Gregor Robertson met for the first public mayoral debate of the season before a boisterous 300-person crowd last night, many wielding NPA or Vision Vancouver signs as they cheered, booed, or laughed at the candidates on stage at the Vancouver Public Library.

While Ladner and Robertson's similar enthusiasms for cycling, sustainability, and organic living have been widely reported, Wednesday night's debate demonstrated differences that will only intensify as election day gets closer. Robertson was genial, big-picture, and perhaps gentle to a fault. Ladner, true to his presentation style at city council, was detail-oriented and methodical.

Three respected local journalists – Frances Bula, the CBC's Stephen Quinn and the 'Courrier's Mark Hasiuk – fired wide-ranging questions about legalizing prostitution, electoral reform, Project Civil City, and, of course, homelessness.

Before answering the first question of the night about the dubious success of Project Civil City, Ladner asked debate moderator David Berner to introduce the candidates again because they had missed the chance to present opening statements. After some fuss, he launched into his response. "I'm not convinced we've done a great job and I think there's more that needs to be done," he said, adding that everyone should feel safe walking down city streets.

Ladner praised the estimated 3,800 units of social housing being renovated or planned by the province. And he spoke confidently about the city's Homeless Action Plan.

That's where Ladner and Robertson differed the most. While Ladner praised the virtues of creating permanent social housing, he had little to say about temporary solutions.

"[The Homeless Action Plan] says 'don't spend on temporary shelter," Ladner said.

Robertson stressed the importance of getting people off the streets this winter.

"Can we afford to let more people die on our streets in the short term?" he asked, adding that Ladner had voted to cut the budget to the Homeless Action Plan.

When asked to personally define the meaning of affordable housing, Ladner argued it depends on individuals incomes, while Robertson referred to the popular rule of thumb that less than 30 per cent of one's income should be spent on housing.

Both candidates were asked to list three things the city – provincial and federal governments aside – could do for affordable housing:


Create workforce housing for emergency city workers such as police, fire, and ambulance workers, many of whom live outside of Vancouver but work in the city;

Promote density bonuses for builders; and

Protect existing rental housing with rate-of-change by-laws.


Rezone around the SkyTrain stations to encourage high-rise density, for example at Broadway Station;

Laneway housing options; and

Increase the housing supply while being careful about density bonuses.

Wrapping up the night, Robertson emphasized high Vision membership numbers, his provincial experience as an NDP MLA, and the importance of having a city government that holds the province accountable.

Ladner hammered at Robertson's lack of municipal experience and NDP affiliations. When asked how Ladner differed from Sam Sullivan, who he edged out of seeking re-election as NPA mayor, he replied primly, "I'm running for mayor, and he's not."

This was the first of several mayoral debates scheduled for October. Upcoming debates include a Vancouver Courier-sponsored debate at Science World Oct. 8; a debate on homelessness and mental health at St. Andrew's-Wesley Church, Oct. 22; a Dream Vancouver debate at the VPL Oct. 28; and another Langara Dialogues debate at the VPL Oct. 29.

Jackie Wong writes for the Westender

For more about last night's debate, see also:

Frances Bula: The first civic election debate: Experience versus leadership

Irwin Loy: A question of morality?

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