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Swinging at Mayor Sam

At debate, Vision candidates play to rowdy crowd.

Tom Barrett 22 May

Tom Barrett is a contributing editor to The Tyee with a focus on global warming policy and politics. You can reach him here.

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Caption: Robertson, Louie, De Genova at last night's event. Photo: 24 Hours.

The three men running to be Vision Vancouver's candidate for mayor took turns Wednesday pummelling Mayor Sam Sullivan in the first debate of the election campaign.

Allan De Genova, Gregor Robertson and Raymond Louie were almost unfailingly cordial towards each other, saving their attacks for Mayor Sullivan.

And although Sullivan faces his own battle for the Non-Partisan Association mayoral nomination, there was no mention Wednesday night of the mayor's challenger, Coun. Peter Ladner.

The debate, hosted by The Tyee and 24 Hours/Vancouver was the first time the three candidates had faced off in person, following a heated campaign to sign up supporters.

'Sam needs a new job'

At one point in the evening Robertson playfully indicated his willingness to take on Sullivan by putting up his dukes and miming a boxer's shuffle across the stage. But -- aside from a comment from Louie that his opponents had not read the fine print in a report on property taxation -- there were no punches thrown between any of the Vision candidates.

De Genova, a long-time NPA member who quit the party after a dispute with Sullivan, said the mayor is "fearful" that De Genova will be his opponent in the November election.

"I know Sam better than anyone and Sam needs a new job," De Genova told a boisterous audience that packed the Norman Rothstein Theatre at the Jewish Community Centre.

The three candidates blamed Sullivan for making the city less affordable for renters, for a rising crime rate and for increasing homelessness.

De Genova, a member of the parks board since the early 1990s, stressed his experience in civic politics and his history with Sullivan.

Louie, a Vancouver city councillor since 2002, mentioned his tenure on council at every opportunity.

Robertson, co-founder of the Happy Planet juice company and the New Democratic Party MLA for Vancouver-Fairview, repeatedly stressed sustainability.

The city, fast forward

Each candidate outlined his vision of the Vancouver of the future.

De Genova talked about a sustainable city with more injection sites, more community centres, more centres for active seniors and more affordable housing.

Louie talked about an affordable, environmentally friendly city, "a more compassionate city, one where we all have a chance to succeed."

Robertson talked about a city that will "show the world how people live sustainably in urban centres."

"It'll be a city that takes care of its own," Robertson said. "It'll be the most green city on the planet."

These visions contrasted with the current state of the city, as portrayed Wednesday night.

An audience of crime victims

When a media questioner asked how many people in the theatre had been victims of property crime, most of the audience -- as well as Louie and Robertson -- put up their hands.

Louie and De Genova both attacked the city's Ambassador program, which Louie called "public money for private security."

"We should not have to be paying for private policing in the city of Vancouver," De Genova said.

Both called for more police.

"You can paint your living room quicker than the response time" of the Vancouver Police Department, De Genova complained.

Robertson said Metro Vancouver has to look at a single amalgamated police force. Echoing a campaign slogan used by Britain's Tony Blair and former B.C. premier Glen Clark, Robertson said the city must be tough on crime and tough on the sources of crime.

Much of the crime in the city flows from the Downtown Eastside drug trade, said Robertson. The area needs "detox and treatment, education and prevention."

Olympics and homelessness

Robertson said this is a "pivotal time" for addressing homelessness and vowed to make ending homelessness his number one priority.

The story that the city tells the world during the 2010 Olympics can be one of either the tragedy of homelessness or the triumph of a problem eradicated, he said.

Louie suggested that it may be too late to solve homelessness by 2010.

"What can we say" in 2010, he asked. "Mostly we'll say we're sorry."

Like De Genova, Louie favoured allowing additional secondary suites in houses as a way to ease housing pressures.

De Genova promised to "take 20 of our worst buildings on the Downtown Eastside and turn them into 20 of our best" through the creative use of density bonuses for developers.

Having developers pay for increased densities in appropriate areas would leverage hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

Robertson countered that the city needs to leverage its property development fund. "It's a rainy day fund and folks, it's pouring."

Vision member rolls swelling

The debate came at the end of an intense membership drive that saw the three candidates sign up more than 11,000 new members over two months.

Added to the 2,000 members the party had at the beginning of the campaign, the new members make Vision the largest party in Vancouver civic history.

The party will choose its mayoral candidate June 15.

At the beginning of Wednesday's debate, 24 Hours editor-in-chief Dean Broughton told the audience that his paper and The Tyee had offered to host a debate between the NPA candidates. The party declined, he said.

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Read more: Politics, Housing, Elections

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