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Municipal Politics

Shauna Sylvester Wants to Be Vancouver’s Mayor: A Tyee Q&A

The independent ‘bridge builder’ candidate answers our five burning questions.

Geoff Dembicki 15 Oct

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee. His work also appears in Vice, Foreign Policy and the New York Times. His 2018 municipal election reporting is supported by Tyee Builders.

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Shauna Sylvester says she has ‘the skills to move us beyond partisan politics and to implement solutions to our city’s challenges.’

This is a not normal election in Vancouver. But neither are these normal times. Campaign finance laws have blasted open the competition. The traditional parties are fragmenting. New parties are forming. And independents are rising. There are five major candidates for mayor. Whoever wins has to immediately take action on the worst housing crisis in Vancouver’s history, confront a deadly opioid epidemic and prepare for a dangerously warming climate.

With so much at stake, we reached out to the frontrunners and asked them the same five questions about their plans in office. We’ll be running these Q&As unfiltered as they appear. Second up is Shauna Sylvester, the executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue who is running as an independent. Here’s how she would transform the city.

1. What do you bring to city hall that is completely different from your opponents?

I am a bridge builder. For over 30 years my work has involved bringing together people from different, often opposing, backgrounds to work together to find solutions on complex issues — whether it’s working to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan, advancing a transition plan for electrification in Canada or resolving transportation and housing issues in Metro Vancouver. Following this election, Vancouver will have the most diverse city council in our history. We will need a mayor who is a leader, who understands good government and who has the experience to bridge across political divides, to help council members to find common ground and advance solutions that benefit the people of Vancouver. I am that leader and with 18 years of corporate governance experience, 20 years of non-profit board experience and 30 years as a facilitator and mediator, I have the skills Vancouver needs to move us beyond partisan politics and to implement solutions to our city’s challenges.

Furthermore, I was the first candidate to release a comprehensive platform addressing a number of issues at the top of people’s minds. This brought all other candidates to task and changed the conversation to one of ideas; I look forward to creating similar conversations at city hall in service of the people.

2. Do you think that part of the solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis is to build non-market affordable housing? If so, what percentage should the city be aiming for? If not, what do you advocate instead?

Yes. In my housing platform, I have already committed to building affordable, purpose-built rental. I am also looking to shift the conversation on housing away from simple supply to one that focuses on the housing that the people need. I am working towards a 3 per cent rental vacancy rate where the cost of housing amounts to no more than 30 per cent of income. I will also be working with the community housing sector as equal partners in building affordable purpose-built housing that includes multigenerational, supportive, co-operative and seniors’ housing.

3. Assuming that the money needed to fix Vancouver’s housing crisis exceeds what the B.C. and federal government is willing to provide, what municipal revenue source would you tap?

I will leverage city land and assets and work with the community housing sector to create purpose-built affordable rental housing. As land across the city has been up-zoned, those homeowners who create affordable rental will be fast-tracked through the permitting process and will pay less in development fees and levies. Homeowners opting to build market rental on their properties will pay a community amenity like contribution that captures some of the value created through the upzoning. This fee will be used to create more affordable rental housing.

4. Many Vancouverites support decriminalization of drug possession and outgoing mayor Gregor Robertson has endorsed it as a way to address the opioid crisis. Do you agree with this, and if so, what would you do as mayor to support it? If not, how come?

I do support the decriminalization of drug possession as a method to shift our approach on drug use. When we stop treating users as criminals and start looking at them as human beings in need of support and medical assistance, we can finally address the opioid poisoning crisis. I have also advocated for a return to a strong four pillars approach in dealing with this crisis, along with the creation of supportive housing units for those who are homeless. I will work with the federal government, the Big City Mayors’ Caucus, and stakeholders to formalize a plan with a path to decriminalization and treating the opioid poisoning crisis as a public health emergency. With cities taking leadership in addressing the issue at a federal level, we can see some progress in shifting the conversation.

5. Vision promised to make Vancouver the “greenest city in the world.” Would you continue towards this goal? And if not, what would you do instead?

Ensuring that this city is taking steps to mitigate its environmental impact while preparing for a shifting climate is extremely important. I do support the Greenest City Action Plan and the Renewable City Strategy. This strategy has been key to positioning Vancouver as a leader in urban sustainability and resilience. While we have made considerable progress towards our goal, we have more work to do. We need to continue to build the infrastructure to support the electrification of transportation vehicles, enhance transit including ensuring that the Millennium extension under Broadway is built in a single phase out to UBC, advance active transportation, improve land-use planning to create complete walkable communities, implement zero waste programs, green building and passive house construction and develop adaptation strategies like storm management, building water recapture, green shorelines and other strategies to address rising sea levels.

Stay tuned to The Tyee in coming days for more Q&A responses from other mayoral candidates.  [Tyee]

Read more: Municipal Politics

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