Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver have good reasons to feel confident about next election
It's easy to get cynical watching local politics in Vancouver.
And the man on the receiving end of some of the voters' contempt and derision is Mayor Gregor Robertson.
There are homeowners who don't like the pace of development, particularly when it means more multifamily units in their neighbourhoods.
If these projects drive up surrounding land values, that leads to higher taxes. Plus, they can result in more traffic, overcrowded community centres and libraries, and longer waits for transit.
Then there are those noisy activists in the Downtown Eastside, who are irate over any displacement of the poor.
Urban areas created before the Second World War have become prized destinations for aging baby boomers, who don't want to get in their cars every time they need a litre of milk.
These aging boomers recognize that cities—with their film festivals and wide selection of restaurants—are far more interesting than those rows of single-family homes in municipalities like Richmond and Port Moody.
They want to move in, and the antipoverty campaigners go berserk.
Urban, walkable neighbourhoods with short city blocks are also highly desirable for upscale younger people.
Many of the Generation X and Y set, as well as the millennials, loathed growing up in the suburbs.
Younger folks don't drive nearly as much as older generations, according to driver's-licence statistics from across North America. And if they can't afford to live downtown, their next choice is near a rapid-transit stop, so they can easily make it into the urban core.
Controversial projects such as the Rize tower in Mount Pleasant, Marine Gateway near the Fraser River, and the massive redevelopment of the Oakridge mall are simply meeting this market demand.
Those who fight these rezonings face not only an intransigent Vision Vancouver council, but also inexorable market forces.
That's why community activists will likely keep losing as long as Robertson remains mayor.
Hence, the cynicism, which was reflected in recent articles by two City Hall watchers, Jeff Lee of the Vancouver Sun and Allen Garr of the Vancouver Courier. Both veteran journalists zeroed in on opposition in various neighbourhoods. Lee also pointed to Robertson's sliding approval rating in a Justason Market Intelligence poll.
These columns have raised the spectre whether or not the mayor and his party might be out of touch with Vancouver voters.
Don't believe it for a second.
Vision Vancouver's political machine is too well-entrenched and too well-financed to be cast aside by some neighbourhood activists whose votes will splinter between several parties.
As for that Justasen poll, Vision is still clobbering its opponents across the city. Plus, Vision has the advantage of years of collecting information on voting patterns, so nobody can match it in terms of getting its supporters out to the polls.
It doesn't even matter how well Robertson is polling on his own; the real issue is how he would fare against an identified opponent. And so far, there isn't one.
Besides that, who trusts polls anymore anyway, given what we saw in the last provincial election?
Vision understands a diversity of communities
Keep in mind that Vancouver is so much more than a group of disparate neighbourhoods.
It's also a collection of ethnicities, sexual orientations and genders, occupations, areas of interest, religious backgrounds, and language groups.
Community means many things in our city.
There are geographic communities. It's true that some of those living in the West End, Mount Pleasant, and Marpole are upset with Vision Vancouver.
But Vision has also been planting its seeds in different communities, including those who trace their roots back to Taiwan, the Philippines, South Asia, and mainland China.
Councillors Raymond Louie, Kerry Jang, Tony Tang, and Andrea Reimer, and park commissioners Constance Barnes and Niki Sharma have been at the forefront of these efforts.
The mayor's office has benefited from the wisdom of one of Robertson's aides, Lara Honrado, who's a specialist in diversity issues.
Another Vision politician, Heather Deal, has been an ambassador to the arts community. The city has never before held so many major cultural events on city property, including the Khatsahlano Music & Arts Festival on West 4th Avenue, jazz events at David Lam Park, and concerts in Stanley Park. These are all vote getters.
Vision's Geoff Meggs has performed a similar role with organized labour.
Then there are all those cyclists who appreciate Vision's efforts to expand grade-separated bike lanes. The cynics will refer to this as boutique environmentalism, but it has branded Vision as a progressive party in the minds of some.
Meanwhile, the rainbow-coloured sidewalk on Davie Street and the Pride parade's civic status reflect how Vision Coun. Tim Stevenson has supported the LGBT community.
Vision partners with universities
Keep in mind that Vision has also worked closely with UBC and SFU, which are two of the city's most important economic engines.
UBC was looking for an ally to lobby for rapid transit to the Point Grey campus. Robertson and Meggs stepped up to do this.
SFU wanted support in its effort to become the most engaged research university in Canada. The city, under Vision's leadership, has offered numerous opportunities for SFU students to get involved in doing this.
The city also partnered with SFU on its first community summit, which was of vital importance to the president, Andrew Petter.
In addition, Robertson has gone out of his way to bring high-tech and environmentally friendly businesses under the broad Vision tent.
Today, he's in New York City at the invitation of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to participate in a glitzy conference called CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges.
He's the only Canadian mayor at the event, which was organized by the Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Many of North America's urban hotshots will be there, such as author and cultural-economy advocate Richard Florida, as well as former vice president Al Gore.
Robertson's presence among this crowd reminds me of how a former mayor, Gordon Campbell, used to create distance between himself and his opponents by getting photographed with famous international figures.
It was a way for Campbell to enlarge his stature and diminish his opponents in the eyes of voters.
Robertson sometimes doesn't seem like a very passionate mayor, except when it comes to trying to lure environmentally friendly businesses to Vancouver. His presence at the CityLab conference is another manifestation of this.
When you look at how far Vision has extended its tentacles across the spectrum of Vancouver communities, it's difficult to see how it could lose control of city hall in 2014.
Of course, there's always a chance of a major unexpected scandal or a massive economic implosion (which helped seal the NPA's fate in 2008). But for now, the Vision machine won't easily be shoved aside.
In the meantime, don't be convinced by placard-bearing activists converging on Vancouver City Hall. They like to portray Vision as the developers' party, but that only tells part of the story.
Members of many of the communities mentioned above—such as cyclists, artists, gays and lesbians, and people of colour—also feel pretty good about their mayor.
That's why you're not seeing any political heavyweights rushing forward to challenge him with only a year to go before the next election.