If you think I’m relieved at the Nov 15 municipal election results, you should meet the mayor.
“It’s bittersweet,” Gregor Robertson admits, as he ushers me into his office almost two weeks later. “We knew it would be a close election.”
Certainly Robertson is thrilled with Vision Vancouver’s continued majority on council and his own reelection, albeit by a slimmer margin than three years ago. But he’s sad to see that some of his slate lost their seats or never got the chance to serve on the school or park board, both of which Vision dominated prior to this election. “Some important victories and some sad losses,” he says. “But onward we go.”
My own relief, palpable as I watched Robertson widen his lead over Non-Partisan Association (NPA) opponent Kirk LaPointe, recrystallized as my eyes lingered on the “Office of the Mayor” letters stencilled into his door. As I realized that a new NPA regime could be setting up shop right now, possibly preparing to roll back the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee, its civic designation for the Pride parade, its incredibly gay West End community plan, or its $7 million commitment to a new community centre. I’m not saying an NPA-led council would have actively rolled back the unprecedented access we’ve achieved, but the party’s track record while in the majority on council suggests it would have grudgingly tolerated some of our gains and, more likely, allowed others to languish.
“There was so much at stake in this reelection,” Robertson says. “It was disturbing to think of a new mayor undoing the work we’ve accomplished.”
With Vision, fortunately, still at the helm in city council, Robertson says the party’s commitment to its LGBT policies won’t waver. The city will continue to implement the West End plan, he promises, “focused on revitalizing Davie Village and seeing the community centre built and ensuring the LGBT community is deeply integrated into the actions of the West End plan.”
The city will also maintain its LGBTQ advisory committee, its civic status for Pride, and ensure that the city’s homeless count includes LGBT people to ensure their presence is accurately reflected, he says.
City council can also advocate for ongoing leadership in the now NPA-dominated park board and the evenly split school board, Robertson says. He’s hopeful that the new park board will continue to make parks and recreation centres more welcoming to trans people. “We’ll all need to keep advocating for the standards to improve, rather than seeing things slide.”
NPA park commissioner John Coupar tells Xtra he supports the work done by the Trans and Gender-Variant Working Group, whose 77 recommendations the board approved unanimously in April. “It’s something I can throw my support behind. We have a very inclusive group of candidates, and there is no issue there at all.”
April’s unanimous vote is reassuring, but back then Vision held five of the seven seats on park board, the NPA only two. The NPA now holds four and a majority. I’m not the only one with doubts.
“I’m concerned,” Robertson says, “and I’ll be communicating that to the incoming chair. There’s work council can do to ensure these issues are still front and centre. There’s opportunity for collaboration.”
It’s not that I’m opposed to a healthy mix of views on our city’s decision-making bodies. I’m just happiest when that mix predominantly features people from parties with strong track records supporting our community.
At least the voters decisively rejected fear-mongering candidates like disgraced former NPA school trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, who, to be fair, were kicked out of the NPA caucus in June after more than two years of opposing and even publicly misrepresenting the school board’s anti-homophobia policy.
For their willingness to stoke ignorance and spread distrust for their own electoral gain, Denike and Woo came in 18th and 19th in the school board election standings, though they still won more than 66,000 votes between them.
Like Coupar, returning NPA trustee Fraser Ballantyne says the school board will move forward with the measures it added, under Vision’s guidance, to better support trans students.
With Vision’s distressing losses on the school and park boards, Robertson is grateful for every vote his party received and takes special note of his LGBT supporters. They were a “big, positive force for Vision,” he says, “making sure the gains we’ve made together were highlighted in the campaign.”
“And now,” as Robertson says, “we need to get back in gear and keep making progress together.”