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Vision Vancouver will need to form alliances with other parties to win in 2018, says mayor

Metro sits down with Gregor Robertson, the longest-serving mayor in Vancouver's history, to ask why he's leaving politics — and where that leaves his party.

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

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

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

Gregor Robertson sighs in exaggerated frustration as he looks around council chambers from the vantage point of the balcony. With its dark wood-panelled walls and high, always-curtained windows, the room has a reputation for gloom.

Robertson says when he first took office, back in 2008, he asked whether the curtains could be pulled aside to let some light in, but was told that wasn’t possible. “I’m going to try and do that again,” he says with renewed determination.

The entrepreneur-turned-politician has exactly nine months left to let the light in to city hall. He’s the longest-serving mayor in Vancouver’s history, winning elections in 2008, 2011 and 2014, but announced this week he will not run for office in October 2018.

Robertson said he's proud of his party's record on reconciliation with Indigenous people, action on climate change and pushing for more shelters and modular housing for the homeless.

But Robertson’s party, Vision Vancouver, has faltered recently: the party has come under fire for its slow response to the housing crisis. Diego Cardona, the party’s council candidate for an October 2017 by-election, came in a dismal fifth. The centre-right Non-Partisan Association won the by-election, while the left-wing vote was split between OneCity, independent candidate Jean Swanson, and the Vancouver Greens.

Robertson maintained that Vision is still a strong, cohesive political party — but he said the party will likely have to form an alliance with OneCity, the Greens or Swanson in order to win the next election. Talks have not yet started, he said.

“In 2008 when I ran for mayor and we worked out a cooperative agreement with the Greens and COPE at the time and didn’t overlap candidates and agreed to share priorities and won power,” said Robertson.

Gregor Robertson, who has been mayor for the past nine years, spoke to Metro on Jan. 11.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Gregor Robertson, who has been mayor for the past nine years, spoke to Metro on Jan. 11.

“We did the same thing in 2011…the 2014 election we didn’t have an agreement and the NPA picked up seats because the votes were split between Vision, Green and COPE.”

Vision will elect a new executive council next week.

“I expect the parties will start talking in the weeks ahead, now that my situation’s clear and there’s new leadership within the parties,” Robertson said.

Other than bike lanes — a perennial irritation for some in Vancouver — Robertson has been most criticized for his council’s response to housing affordability.

“It’s tricky because for two terms, people said we’re moving too fast, too much development, too much density,” Robertson said.

"All that shifted this term a few years ago and we hit a tipping point and now a majority of people are more concerned about affordability than too much density."

This fall the city approved a “housing reset” strategy, which emphasizes matching housing with income levels. The city has also faced pressure to densify single-family home neighbourhoods, where population has been stagnant or falling.

Robertson placed much of the blame for the housing crisis on the provincial and federal governments.

“I’m hopeful that the new Horgan and Trudeau governments take more action next year,” he said.

“But we need to see much more action on this, and for many it’s too late. The prices went through the roof for houses and many apartments, so unfortunately the ship sailed for Vancouverites who don’t own property and are on lower incomes.”

As for what’s next, Robertson said he’s not quite sure, but he’s interested in going back into business (Robertson is the co-founder of Happy Planet, a local juice company.)

Asked what about the job he found most surprising — in a good way — about the job, Robertson said, “I’ve loved being invited to practice with the White Caps or sit in with a band or DJ an event as ‘the mayor.’

“I didn’t expect the opportunity to do things that I love as mayor… That’s been a fun perk to the job.”

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