Vancouver municipal election 2011: I do not know and have never met Gregor Robertson, and I have never gotten involved in municipal politics and wasn’t planning to this time, either. But a string of emails changed my mind.
Going back to September, I started getting email messages from a senior member of the Vancouver business establishment who had assumed a volunteer role with the NPA and Susan Anton campaign. The emails almost without exception featured personally derogatory comments about Gregor Robertson, including one that called him, “Mayor Moonbeam”.
That caught my attention because I saw the makings of a personal smear campaign directed at an individual who had dedicated himself to trying to serve the common good through elected public office. I had seen these very same tactics used against another good man, Michael Ignatieff.
Robertson was a businessman with a social and community conscience before that idea became fashionable. He served in the provincial legislature and has been a competent manager at City Hall throughout his first term. The mayor has always struck me as a political moderate and consensus-builder.
In the case of the Occupy movement, he showed understanding and empathy for the protesters and their cause. Leaders must provide an opportunity for the responsible venting of grievances and be sensitive to what those are. Robertson never allowed himself to be baited into making imprudent and precipitous judgments (like storming the site, as Susan Anton suggested) by the inflammatory rhetoric of his political opponents. His actions and statements have been measured and careful, and clearly aimed at taking down the temperature, not pouring gas on the fire. He has listened to his police and fire officials and initiated incremental action to peacefully contain the situation at the art gallery. Robertson’s use of the court process is the right way to go. This approach carefully balances the desire to end this “occupation” safely and peacefully and the right of other citizens to enjoy this public space, with the right of citizens to have ample room to express their views on matters they are deeply concerned about.
At the heart of the Occupy movement in our city is the blight of homelessness, drug addiction, joblessness, and a troubling lack of equality of opportunity in our society. These are not issues any mayor can deal with alone, but Occupy has highlighted them for many of us on a global basis. For that, they deserve our thanks. Robertson didn’t need Occupy for that, however. He has made these issues the cornerstone of his time in public life.
Like most of us, I thought he and his administration was AWOL on the Stanley Cup riot. But then again, we are all geniuses with the benefit of hindsight. No mayor should micro-manage the work of the police. At the same time, a competent leader would insist on knowing that all necessary precautions are being taken to safeguard the public good. If the mayor failed to ask the appropriate questions of police officials, or if he refused to provide them with the resources they needed to protect the public, then he should have been held accountable for that. However, there’s no evidence that Robertson exercised poor judgment or did not heed the advice of police officials.
The bike lane issue is another that his opponents attack him for. I cross the Burrard Bridge and drive along Hornby everyday. I have never once found bike lanes to be inconvenient, although I do think they are an eye sore. But a major litmus test for Robertson’s stewardship? I think not.
There are far more important issues to be discussing than these in Vancouver, and Robertson has made a serious attempt to do that. He has governed responsibly and has refrained from the divisive wedge politics and personal attacks that Mrs. Anton has engaged in. On balance, he has shown himself to be a sensitive leader who has effectively balanced the sometimes-complex task of managing competing interests. To me, that demonstrates a maturity and seriousness that I can respect. And he has tried to bring the community together, not deliberately engaged in a toxic and polarizing form of politics and governance.
That is why Gregor Robertson has earned my vote.
Mr. Veniez is a Vancouver businessman and former Liberal Party of Canada candidate. His book “What I Hate About Politics is the Politics” will be published next year.