Shauna Sylvester leaves other Vancouver mayoral candidates in the dust on policy development

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      Canada's first female big-city mayor, Charlotte Whitton, once famously said that whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought of as half as good.

      "Luckily, this is not difficult," quipped Whitton, who held the top civic job in Ottawa from 1951 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1964.

      I was reminded of this quote as I've watched the Vancouver mayoral campaign of SFU public practice professor Shauna Sylvester.

      While her high-profile male competitors are issuing the occasional and often relatively banal pronouncements, Sylvester has been releasing detailed policy statements that attempt to grapple with the most serious issues facing local residents.

      She's doing twice as well as the better-known men in the race, but she's often thought to be half as good, judging by the amount of media coverage she receives.

      This week, I wrote an article on her six-part housing policy.

      Sylvester talked about making Vancouver the North American capital of co-ops and cohousing.

      She highlighted the importance of mapping all community assets, including community centres and schools, to consider how they can be mobilized to address the issue.

      The platform includes other clever ideas, like allowing for modest densification of single-family properties, with the homeowner paying a community amenity contribution. This would share the profits with the city to help it cover additional costs.

      When I tweeted this article, I was surprised by the number of shares it received. Clearly, there's a hunger in Vancouver for thoughtful solutions to the monumental housing problem.

      In comparison to what Sylvester has outlined, the male candidates' offerings can only be described as feeble.

      Kennedy Stewart's website simply says he will "fight for housing affordability and take bold new measures to build the right kind of housing—homes for regular people that are being pushed out of Vancouver because they can't afford to pay their rent or get a mortgage".

      There's nothing specific. And this is from a professor of public policy? Give me a break.

      The NPA's Ken Sim offers platitudes like saying he's running for mayor because he's tired of hearing so many people leaving the city—or because he's worried his children won't be able to afford to stay here. As if a businessman who employs 5,000 people can't afford to find housing for his four sons. Who's he trying to kid with this nonsense?

      Ask Sim a specific question, like what he's going to do with city-owned land at False Creek Flats, and he waffles.

      Vision Vancouver's Ian Campbell has offered two specific policies: he will triple the empty-homes tax and speed up permits for new housing. But there's nothing in his housing platform that comes close to the detail of Sylvester's.

      Another mayoral candidate, Yes Vancouver's Hector Bremner, is trying to claim that he's the man to address this issue. After all, his slogan is "Let's Fix Housing".

      But go to the Yes Vancouver website and you won't find many details, apart from promising citywide zoning and streamlining the building-approval process.

      He's going to offer 99-year leases on city-owned land. Whoop de doo! The city's already doing that.

      This round goes to Sylvester, hands down.

      The same is true with transportation, which is another crucial issue. She's proposed a long list of ideas, including:

      * developing centralized infrastructure for electric vehicles;

      * updating Transportation 2040 to accommodate new transportation technologies and increase the cycling target from 12 percent to 25 percent by 2040;

      * electrifying all city-owned vehicle fleets;

      * and advocating for extending the Millennium Line SkyTrain Extension to UBC if she's elected mayor.

      "We can't create a choke hold in our transit system at Arbutus," Sylvester said.

      Compare these specific offerings to what's on Bremner's website. He criticizes Vision Vancouver for its plan for mobility pricing, then says "that's just another tax on its way."

      Does this mean Bremner opposes mobility pricing? If so, say so. Be honest with voters, for Christ sake, then we can have a debate.

      Vision Vancouver's website is next to useless on transportation and other public policies. It's too busy trying to harvest people's email addresses so they can be contacted on election day and urged to vote.

      The NPA website doesn't even have a section outlining its policies. Instead, people get a video of Ken Sim saying his friends are leaving Vancouver. Like billionaire Chip Wilson?

      Apart from Shauna Sylvester, ProVancouver's David Chen is the only other Vancouver mayoral candidate who's made public policy a cornerstone of his campaign.
      Charlie Smith

      Meanwhile, Stewart is running a classic frontrunner's "bubble campaign". He's offering bromides like ending big money influence, adding a lobbyist registry, and stopping the revolving door of senior civil servants immediately hopping over to work for developers.

      He's providing monthly financial disclosure of donations, but don't be fooled by that. It's nothing too grandiose after the province has already cut maximum personal contributions to $1,200 per candidate.

      It generates media coverage and makes Stewart look like he's more transparent than his competitors. These are the types of policies that sound good on paper and might actually do some good. But let's get serious: they're also designed not to offend anyone and they're a bit gimmicky.

      This doesn't come close to Sylvester's tremendous effort on policy development in this campaign. She's outworking her opponents, just like Charlotte Whitton did when she became mayor of Ottawa in the 1950s.

      It's a similar story when it comes to Sylvester's policies regarding seniors, helping small businesses survive, and creating a more inclusive city government.

      Sylvester is creaming the opposition. The only other mayoral candidate demonstrating real initiative on policy development is ProVancouver's David Chen.

      Another mayoral candidate is former Conservative MP Wai Young. She's promised lower taxes while offering more free parking, which will also reduce revenue. She's intent on keeping the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts and ending the "ideological war on transportation with NO new bike lanes".

      Financial contradictions, not to mention more gridlock, are going to result from what Young is offering.

      The media and the public must demand better of their Vancouver mayoral candidates.

      A civic election is not simply a high-school popularity contest determined by who has the most pictures of their smiling faces plastered around town.

      Elections should also be contests of ideas. These ideas make a real difference in the lives of city residents.

      Council candidates with the Greens, COPE, OneCity, and Vision Vancouver are highlighting things they will do if they're elected, as are independents like Sarah Blyth, Rob McDowell, Erin Shum, and Wade Grant. But the public is being short-changed by the mostly male group of mayoral candidates. 

      On the policy front, Sylvester is like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes—at this point in the race, she's 31 lengths ahead of her opponents.

      If she's going to work this much harder than the other candidates during a campaign, what does that say about who will be the best mayor for Vancouver?

      There's still time for her opponents to catch up. But they better get into high gear—and quickly—or else the momentum is going to change in this campaign toward the one horse in the race who's offering real solutions for Vancouver residents.

      Watch Secretariat leave the field in the dust in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
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