Outgoing Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson reflects on 10 years in office

Whatever the outgoing mayor set out to achieve for Vancouver has largely been overshadowed by his role piloting the city through some of its greatest trials.

After 10 years leading British Columbia’s largest city, Gregor Robertson is preparing to step away from the helm.

Whatever the outgoing mayor set out to achieve for Vancouver has largely been overshadowed by his role piloting the city through some of its greatest trials.

Sitting in the ceremonial room where he has hosted countless meetings, Robertson said he’s comfortable with any lens people choose to view his performance.

“Collectively we’ve achieved a lot of great successes. But generally in politics and particularly being the mayor, you end up being in the blame game for when things do go wrong. And when there are global challenges, like affordability, that are hitting every big city in the world and hitting us particularly hard, people want to blame me for that,” Robertson, 54, said.

“That’s OK, I can handle it.”

A decade ago, Robertson had a clear vision for achievement: Make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020, end homelessness by 2015, increase affordable housing and strengthen the economy.

In fact, Robertson and his council managed to achieve, or at least make dents in, many of those goals.

The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country at 4.5 per cent. Robertson said more than half of residents use transportation other than cars, an objective that he said was reached five years ahead of schedule in 2015.

Gordon Price, who was a Vancouver councillor for six terms and is the former director for The City Program at Simon Fraser University, said when a political promise is checked off the list it doesn’t often come with gold stars from voters.

“In a sense, when you were elected to do something and you actually do it, the big response is ’yawn,’ ” Price said.

What Robertson didn’t anticipate was the scale of multiple crises that would knock some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable down and change the very character of the city.

The year he took office, the global economic recession hit. Four years ago, people began dying from overdoses in unprecedented numbers. In the last decade, rising property values made the city unaffordable for many.

Each presented an obstacle, taken together, they have overwhelmed the city, Robertson said.

“People are dying in unprecedented numbers, that’s been really difficult. You know the bigger, longer crisis of affordable housing was decades in the making and then we got walloped with the biggest influx of global capital really that any city had seen all at once.”

Political scientist David Moscrop, who recently left B.C. for the department of communications at the University of Ottawa, said Robertson promised too much in certain areas like homelessness.

In 2018, the number of Vancouverites facing homelessness was pegged at 2,181, over 1,500 were living in shelters or other centres and 659 were living on the street. In 2010, just over 1,700 homeless were counted in the city.

Moscrop said it’s unfair to put all of the blame for such problems on local governments when they require a co-ordinated response from their provincial and federal counterparts.

On balance, Moscrop said Robertson did “fine” and given the challenges, he’s not sure anyone could have done better.

“I think he’s about as good as he could be within the context he was operating,” Moscrop said.

Moscrop predicted another tough few years for the city.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s leaving it in worse shape than he found it. But I’m not convinced the next mayor will necessarily be able to address these problems either,” he said.

However, Moscrop said the next council will have the benefit of working with other levels of government that are now “willing to play ball.”

Financially, Robertson said Vancouver is in better shape than its ever been.

Rental housing accounted for more than half of the developments approved this year, he said, compared with 10 years ago when it made up five per cent of the supply.

“The new council and mayor, they’re going to have to keep going. This is going to take years,” Robertson said.

The city also has a history of ”bouncing back,” he said, pointing to the way the community came together to clean up after the Stanley Cup riots in 2011.

“I think as a city we’ve gotten a lot more resilient and closer in terms of dealing with these challenges.”

As for what’s on the horizon, Robertson plans to take his first long vacation in about 20 years this winter.

“I’m ready for a break from politics,” he said. “Basically, I won’t be responsible for the city anymore so I need to transition out of that mindset and open my eyes to what I want to do next.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Fraser Valley Labour Council endorses four Chilliwack school board candidates

Union group endorses three for city council, pulls endorsement for mayoral hopeful Sam Waddington

Man accused of killing Belgian tourist along Highway 1 appears in court

Sean McKenzie, 27, made second court appearance since his arrest in connection with the murder of Amelie Sakkalis

Driver assaulted near Agassiz following road rage incident

RCMP ask for public’s help identifying suspects involved in Highway 9 incident

Sto:lo leaders look at reclaiming jurisdiction for children and families

Resurrecting the ancestral roles of warriors and matriarchs is part of the plan

Jordyn Huitema and Canadian nationals second at 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship

The Chilliwack teenager was among the tournament’s scoring leaders with four goals.

Singer k.d. lang receives Alberta’s highest honour

Celebrated singer-songwriter k.d. lang received the Alberta Order of Excellence in Edmonton

B.C. jury finds man guilty of Japanese exchange student’s murder

Natsumi Kogawa was found at empty heritage mansion shortly after she was reported missing in 2016

Colourfully named cannabis products appeal to youth, Tory health critic says

Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu says the Liberal government needs to do more to ensure cannabis products available online are not enticing to young people

Trial set for man charged with decades-old murder of B.C. girl

Garry Handlen accused of killing Merritt girl; also charged with Abbotsford murder

Bernardo-like sexual deviancy poorly understood, expert says

What exactly causes such deviance is not known but some evidence exists of physical brain damage to the front part of the brain

Disney on Ice returns to Vancouver with Moana in starring role

Eight shows at Pacific Coliseum in late November

B.C. high school teacher faces sexual assault charges

A Mt. Boucherie teacher has been charged with child luring, sexual exploitation and sexual assault.

Fashion Fridays: You can never have enough shoes

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Ex-B.C. cop caught in Creep Catchers sting gets house arrest

Dario Devic pleaded guilty after getting caught up in Surrey Creep Catcher sting in Whalley in 2016

Most Read