City faces major mayoral leadership deficit in dangerous times

By any objective measure, the pandemic has been a political test and opportunity Kennedy Stewart has done nothing but squandered.

One need not align with his politics to, in a pandemic of consequence and unprecedence, align with the bipartisan purpose required by his office to lead the community through its largest threat in memory. On that score the first-term Vancouver mayor has been consistently ineffective in the face of the large challenge.

Other political leaders at national, provincial and municipal levels have risen to the occasion in their jurisdictions; Stewart has been indiscernible and the city has had no representative face in these tumultuous months. There is a lengthy list of exhibits in his trial of error:

•Overblowing the financial crisis of the city initially.

•Creating, then killing, a business advisory group to help the city’s economy recover.

•Participating belatedly and skimpily in making a personal salary sacrifice.

•Calling the early provincial measures to assist civic financial navigation a “poisoned chalice.”

•Failing to understand the city’s spending capacity.

•Sharing a meal outdoors at a restaurant with seven others, a pandemic no-no.

His 2018 election was a matter of a relative known defeating unknowns, with no particular concept put forward of the city’s necessary direction. He has neither coalesced his council into reliable allies of resolve nor jettisoned the previous Vision Vancouver regime’s administrative stronghold. His relationship to the economic engines of the city is negligible. And then, perhaps most seriously for the long term, there is the police thing.

The horror of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis was a catalyst for the examination of institutional systems across North America, particularly our policing.

In declaring systemic racism in the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), Stewart positioned himself as passive spectator rather than responsible participant. He has been the police board chair for nearly three years, yet neither campaigned on this important issue nor raised it until the rising tide of calls for reform hit our shores. In breaking his silence of any systemic faults among those he oversees, he lacked the spine to acknowledge his own situated position.

The problem was someone else’s – to bear and to fix.

Why, if the VPD were systemically racist, would he not have declared this long ago as the principal official in its governance? But no, this is how Stewart has rolled in his term. He is the city’s petitioner-in-chief, a delegator of difficult tasks up the line: the financing of shelter for the growing homelessness, the infrastructure to combat opioid tragedies, the delivery of anything approaching affordable housing, the financial crisis management, and in this case, the review of his own police force. Trouble is, he is perfectly capable of reviewing the system himself; the province, his ideological ally, has said so.

As an act of hubris, he declared his 2022 re-election campaign in the first of four years of his mandate, even asking people to choose to donate to his perpetuation over that of shopping locally.

The city’s payroll has grown by more than 1,100 since he assumed office. Property taxes have risen at multiples of inflation. The population density along Hastings Street and the population density along our beaches in the coronavirus are outdoor objects of his futility in grasping what other mayors in similar circumstances would tackle as a day-and-night emergencies upon which there would be no rest until addressed.

Apart from showing up for council, where is he to guide the city in its extended moment of need?

The flank for the mayoralty has been opened. If conservatives or progressives can avoid congesting the race, he is one and done. His best hope is that a lot of good people want to replace him. •

Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and the vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.