SFU professor of public practice Shauna Sylvester has a résumé that would be the envy of most municipal political candidates.
She’s the founding executive director of Carbon Talks and Renewable Cities, which have helped cities make the transition to a low-carbon economy. She’s the director of SFU’s Centre for Dialogue and has hosted countless public discussions on housing, transportation, renewable energy, the economy, and other issues.
In addition, Sylvester has been on the board of two of Vancouver’s most successful cooperatives, Vancity and MEC. She has distributed indie films. She handed out condoms during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
She has even sat on the board of B.C. Assessment, which does market-based evaluations of buildings that are the basis for the city’s property-tax system. And she graduated from St. Patrick's Regional high school in Mount Pleasant, raised her family near Commercial Drive, and lives in the West End.
Now she wants to be Vancouver’s next mayor. She could become the first female mayor in the city’s 132-year history.
“I’m running as an independent, hoping for the support of those parties on the centre and left,” Sylvester, 53, told the Georgia Straight by phone.
She's been a member of Vision Vancouver and readily acknowledged that this might present a challenge in wooing the support of the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors.
But she has had discussions with Vision, the Vancouver Greens, OneCity Vancouver, and the Vancouver & District Labour Council. And she noted that some pieces still have to come into place for her to be able to present herself as a unity candidate to the electorate.
First off, she stated that each party will come to its own decision. But she said she believes that the Greens are considering only two options: having Coun. Adriane Carr run for mayor or not having anyone run.
The latter choice would open the way for Sylvester to receive an endorsement, given her deep and long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability.
As for Vision, she said it’s unclear what it’s going to do. However, she said she has been told that it may ask the membership if it wants to support an independent candidate or if it wants to run its own mayoral candidate.
She added that OneCity appears to be in the middle of negotiating with Vision and the Greens.
“I can’t speak for any of these political parties,” she emphasized. “I’m announcing to really get going on connecting with people in the city.”
Housing is Sylvester's top priority
She identified housing as the key issue facing voters in the next election, which is scheduled on October 20, and said there is no single solution.
“Our kids can’t live here, so there’s the whole issue of housing for young people [and] rental housing for those who have come to this community,” Sylvester said. “The rental stock here is small and we have got to increase that.”
In addition, she said there need to be more options for seniors who would like to downsize but can’t find decent alternatives. And she also said the future of South False Creek must be addressed because housing co-ops’ leases will be expiring in the coming years.
“This is a multifaceted piece of work,” Sylvester stated. “Anyone who says that they can just go and fix housing is dreaming in Technicolor. This is complex. We’re part of a global system and we’ve got to go and look at what we can do in this context—and really work hard.”
Sylvester has studied the history of Vancouver’s deep attachment to sound environmental planning dating back almost a century, to when Harland Bartholomew was designing a comprehensive layout of streets and Ernest Albert Cleveland was the conservation-minded regional water commissioner.
“It is in the DNA of the city,” she said. “We love our oceans. We love our mountains. We love our green spaces. It’s part of who we are. The natural environment is critical here for citizens. If you don’t know and understand that, I’m not sure you’ll get elected.”
That connection to the environment and deep concern about climate change are reflected in Sylvester's opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. If it’s completed, it would increase tanker traffic by almost seven times in Burrard Inlet. She bluntly stated that from an economic standpoint, the city cannot accept the pipeline.
“We are a tourist-based economy,” Sylvester declared. “We are an economy that depends on our oceans. You look at how many tankers are already out there and the danger that those tankers present in terms of an oil spill.”
Another major concern for her is the lack of connection that many people feel with their city government. When asked about democratic renewal, she replied that this “is core to who I am and what I do”.
“I’m very excited about the idea of connecting with people and getting them back involved in their city,” she said.
This will be her first attempt to be elected to public office, but she sees that as an advantage.
“At this moment, we need a fresh perspective. Right now, we’re fragmented and we need to come together.”