News / Vancouver

Vancouver mayor's exit creates 'potential for a shake-up' in city politics

Observers weigh in on what's next after Gregor Robertson revealing he'll leave politics this fall.

Mayor Gregor Robertson in the city of Vancouver's Council Chambers on Jan. 11, 2018.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

Mayor Gregor Robertson in the city of Vancouver's Council Chambers on Jan. 11, 2018.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson's exit from politics during this fall's municipal elections could create a "shake-up" in the city's tumultuous political landscape, according to a political scientist.

But for Simon Fraser University's David Moscrop, Robertson's departure was not entirely unexpected — anyone in office 10 years has a limited shelf life and a decade of baggage — even if the timing came as a surprise.

"He'd said he was running and thought, 'Good luck with that, he's probably in trouble,'" Moscrop told Metro in a phone interview. "Plainly he knows it was going to be tough; he was going to get shellacked."

Accolades for Robertson flowed in from B.C. Premier John Horgan — with whom the mayor once served in the NDP opposition caucus — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and others.

Of course, one sign of how controversial and divisive a figure Robertson has become, consider that one local private liquor store posted news of his departure while hawking celebratory bubbly: "Get your champagne or sparkling wine from our cooler," St. Regis Fine Wines tweeted.

Moscrop said the confluence during Robertson's term of unaffordable housing, the opioid crisis, and heated debate over the "role of dodgy money" in the city's real estate "add up" to hurt whoever is behind the wheel at the time.

"To some extent it's unfair he gets blamed for all of those, it's certainly not his fault entirely," Moscrop noted, "but when voters get upset about something they're looking to blame somebody. That's one of the costs of incumbency."

The Globe and Mail's Gary Mason opined that, "If you accept the notion that speculators and others have been able to move into the city and make off like bandits in broad daylight, then you also accept it happened on Mr. Robertson's watch."

The columnist noted that if he'd run for election again, he would have been "dogged by the one issue that will cast a long and ominous shadow over his record: housing."

That populist sentiment was echoed in the Georgia Straight, which published an op/ed by left organizers Derrick O'Keefe and Tristan Markle on Thursday expressing little surprise at Robertson's departure.

"People have lost patience with a mayor who cozied up to developers while the city’s affordability crisis spiralled out of control," the pair wrote. "… The recent by-election showed how truly unpopular the Vision brand has become."

They believe that even though the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) would "handily" defeat Robertson's replacement as a Vision mayoral candidate, Vancouverites could be ready for a left-wing shake-up at City Hall.

"A strong, grassroots-powered progressive mayoral campaign could stop the NPA from returning to the mayor’s seat," they argued, "and also help elect councillors from COPE, the Greens, and OneCity."

Meanwhile, former NPA council candidate Mike Klassen, who long criticized the mayor through his former blog City Caucus, warned on Twitter that, "When we talk about the 'legacy' of Vancouver mayors, we have to consider that time is usually not very kind to these folks."

"In years to come Gregor Robertson's time as mayor will be remembered for two pivotal events," Klassen continued. "Securing the Arbutus Line as a public asset, and his responsibility for the Stanley Cup riot."

The future of the mayor's party, Vision Vancouver, is now in flux in the wake of one of Robertson's closest allies on council — Andrea Reimer, who helped recruit Robertson in 2008 — announcing she too would leave politics this fall, the resignation of fellow Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs to become Premier Horgan's Chief of Staff, and Vision Vancouver's resounding defeat in a recent by-election.

Moscrop said 10 months is still a long time to make predictions about Vision's fate in the municipal elections soon after the string of high-profile departures.

"It is possible to turn this sort of thing around, and it will be affected by who the other parties choose to run," he told Metro. "But right now they're on their back heel, there's no doubt about it. If the election were held soon they'd probably lose it.

"It is true that the field is more open than it has been in well over a decade — there's potential for a shake-up. Which would be good for the city."

Klassen reminded anyone rushing to write Robertson's political obituary that he's still in City Hall until November's election.

"Write Robertson's epitaph if you want," he tweeted, "but he's apparently on the job for another nine months."

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