Housing dominates first Vancouver mayoral debate

As expected, housing loomed large in the first Vancouver mayoral debate before the province's municipalities go to the ballot box on October 20.

Credit: Nathan Caddell

(From left): Hector Bremner, Golok Buday, David Chen, Fred Harding, Ken Sim, Kennedy Stewart, Shauna Sylvester and Wai Young

Marijuana, bike lanes and #NoFunCity also addressed at packed gathering

As expected, housing loomed large in the first Vancouver mayoral debate before the province’s municipalities go to the ballot box on October 20.

Eight candidates took the stage at the SFU Harbour Centre’s Fletcher Theatre in an event hosted by several Glacier Media publications and emceed by former Non-Partisan Association (NPA) mayoral candidate Kirk Lapointe.

Lapointe said he didn’t formulate the questions, though, as Glacier journalists peppered the candidates.

Housing looms large

The early part of the debate centred on housing, and it was a common theme throughout, with candidates returning to the issue whenever they saw fit.

The format of the evening (a question for two or three candidates that they each got a minute to answer, then an open two minutes for them to challenge each other) meant that not every mayoral hopeful could speak on the same topics at the same time.

But it didn’t take long for things to get contentious around housing. Independent candidate Kennedy Stewart wasted no time challenging Yes Vancouver’s Hector Bremner’s plan: “He wants 75,000 new units in three years; that’s building a new Coal Harbour every three months.

Bremner fought back, touting his 49-page plan. “The issue here isn’t dividing people and throwing in the word ‘foreigner’ and ‘speculator’ just to scare you up,” he said.

For the record, Stewart plans to build 85,000 units over 10 years, with 60 percent of the total for renters and 25,000 units operated by not-for-profits charging below-market rent.

The NPA’s Ken Sim was less decisive on housing, insisting that his party would “talk to all the residents and engage the residents, and they’re going to tell us what they want to build in their communities.”

Another independent candidate, Shauna Sylvester, was paired with Sim. She rejected his idea, insisting that an “affordability mechanism” is needed. “We’re increasing supply and not ensuring that the affordability is there,” Sylvester said. We have a housing crisis; we can’t wait years for every resident to have a decision on what kind of housing we want.”

Smoke em out

The question of what Vancouver should do about marijuana dispensaries—municipalities will have control of how theyre licensed—when legalization hits three days before the election was also raised.

“The city, by ignoring these businesses when they’re looking for licences, has created a morass,” said former police officer and Vancouver First candidate Fred Harding.

ProVancouver’s David Chen took a hard line toward dispensaries, arguing that any not following the city’s rules should be shut down. “What we need is regulation,” Chen said. “The funny thing about profiteers and crooks is they’re always a step ahead of you.”

Go for a ride

Bike lanes were again a subject of contention, as the panel’s moderators asked noted cycling killjoy Wai Young of Coalition Vancouver not one but two questions about them.

The panel did itself a disservice here by not pairing Young with a progressive candidate who would have gladly reiterated the many statistics showing how cycling can benefit cities. Instead, she got independent candidate and libertarian Golok Buday, who mostly agreed with her.

Young said she would keep the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts alive (and not pay towards bulldozing them) in order to pay for the gutting of separated bike paths across the city.

She also told a story about a senior who couldn’t get access to Vancouver General Hospital because the 10th Avenue bike lane was in the way.


The two candidates leading in the polls, Stewart and Sim, were paired to debate what they’d do about Vancouver’s reputation as #NoFunCity.

It gave Stewart a chance to mention, for the umpteenth time, how he came to Vancouver in 1989 and lived in a basement suite. His point: housing must be affordable for young people to have fun and create art.

Sim then talked about “patios and outdoor events”, adding, “I think it’s ridiculous you can’t buy a bottle of beer or wine in our corner stores.”

Sensing a momentum swing, Stewart told Sim that the NPAs plan is about cutting services, and the two tried to talk over each other for 30 seconds.

With still more than a month left in the campaign, we haven’t heard the last of the mayoral candidates on these issues.