“It’s been a real privilege to serve as your mayor, and I’m humbled to have that honour for three more years,” a relieved and jubilant Gregor Robertson told an equally buoyant crowd at the Sheraton Wall Centre as he claimed a resounding 19,000-vote victory over NPA rival Suzanne Anton to secure a second tenure in the mayor’s seat.
In the days leading up to the Nov 19 election, Robertson seemed to have a battle on his hands in the face of Anton’s constant charge that he was displaying weakness in dealing with the Occupy Vancouver encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Polls seemed to show a growing majority of people losing patience with the more than one-month-old local incarnation of the global movement.
But just before 11pm on Nov 19, Robertson took to the stage to thank a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd for electing “every single candidate” Vision fielded for Vancouver’s city council, school and parks boards.
“Tonight you’ve shown that Vancouver is a city that cares, a city that works together to lift everyone up,” he said. “We aren’t always perfect, but we learn from our mistakes; we are stronger and better for it. That’s what you’ve told us.”
“You wanted leaders to tackle tough questions, to listen to you and to take thoughtful action,” Robertson told the cheering crowd.
“You want us to continue that work that we started three years ago, starting with ending street homelessness and making it more affordable to live here in Vancouver, making our neighbourhoods safer, more vibrant, more fun,” he continued.
“Tonight we celebrate a hard-fought victory. Tomorrow we get back to work.”
Robertson thanked Anton for her many years of public service, saying she “deserves both our respect and our thanks.”
Gay Councillor Tim Stevenson, who returns to council for a fourth term, says the victory is everything he hoped for — “a complete sweep by Vision.”
He says he feels privileged that people elected him again, admitting that he felt anxious about his chances.
“For me, it’s very exciting; I was one of the founders of Vision. Here we see all the work we’ve done being vindicated by the vote,” Stevenson tells Xtra.
“I think it’s incredible that our whole team got elected, and I came in fifth, which is great,” he adds.
Stevenson says Vision has made city hall “welcoming and open” to the gay community.
“I want to make sure that’s solidified,” he says, pointing in particular to the gay advisory committee, which he says he’ll ensure remains in place so the community’s voice is directly heard by city council.
He says one of his main worries is the Davie Village. He wants to make sure the area continues to be a home and a safe place for the community.
“We’re going to be doing a whole West End planning, and that now has been approved just at the end of this last council,” Stevenson says, when asked what role the city can play in maintaining the area’s gay character.
“I will be making sure that that’s part of the work that’s done, and that comes under the direction of mayor and council,” he promises.
With the defeat of COPE’s Ellen Woodsworth, Stevenson is now the sole gay representative on city council. He says he’s surprised she lost.
“Obviously, COPE did not do well right across the board. It’s just people for whatever reason decided, ‘We’re turning to Vision or we’re turning to the NPA.'”
He praises Woodsworth’s “strong voice,” particularly in the lesbian community, her help liaising with the gay advisory committee, and her advocacy for Pride Week at city hall. “Now it’ll be up to me, and that kind of doubles the work,” he notes.
Over at the parks board, a new gay voice in the person of Vision Vancouver’s 22-year-old Trevor Loke will take his place as a commissioner. Loke says he’s looking forward to being part of a “progressive, pragmatic government.”
Loke says the West End will have a dedicated representative in him. “I’m so thankful that the people of Vancouver trusted a young, gay person, and I want every young person out there to say they can do it — whatever they set their minds to. There’s no barrier to what we can do; work hard, stay dedicated and make it happen.”
Loke says it’s a huge win for the community to have another gay representative in municipal government. “Another advocate is always a good thing. I’m here for everybody; I want them to talk to me about their issues. Nobody should feel they have to stay in the closet anymore. People can come out and you can be successful, no matter how old or young you are, no matter where you live.”
Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, who started on the parks board himself when he was 24, says he’s hopeful the community will continue to engage with its councillors.
“The councillors are only as strong as their community is,” he says. “We in the community need to tell them what we want, because they may have their ideas, but sometimes those ideas may not quite pass muster in the West End, and across Vancouver, and that’s going to be up to us.
“Voting today is just one small step in a functioning democracy,” he points out, “and I hope people don’t think that voting is enough, because in my experience the only way we actually get stuff done is if citizens are pushing for it with their councillors.”
Chandra Herbert says he’s interested in seeing who will pick up the queer rights mantle on the Vancouver School Board since COPE’s Jane Bouey failed in her reelection bid.
He says he’s also watching to see who will emerge as a new champion for freedom of expression now that council has lost Woodsworth. “It’s an area we’ve got to be very careful with because our community depends on freedom of expression, as does every other community, but I know we pay a lot more attention because it affects our lives in a very clear way.”