The NDP member of parliament for Burnaby-South announced Thursday he will resign his seat in the House of Commons to run for mayor of Vancouver as an independent candidate in this fall’s municipal election.
Kennedy Stewart, who recently got arrested in his riding for defying a court order related to Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline, said his goal is to unite the so-called progressive parties in Vancouver and keep the Non-Partisan Association from taking back city hall.
“I’m running as an independent candidate but I’m open to endorsements from all progressives in the city,” said Stewart in kicking off his campaign at Harbour Centre on West Hastings, the same building that includes Simon Fraser University, where he has been on leave as a professor of public policy since becoming an MP in 2011. "I've spoken with all the parties and I've just decided this is the best way forward. Their processes are unclear to me and they keep changing."
Getting those endorsements could be difficult for Stewart since he will face at least two mayoral candidates from the centre-left of the political spectrum: independent candidate Shauna Sylvester and a yet-to-be chosen Vision Vancouver candidate, possibly longtime councillor Raymond Louie, who has expressed interest in a run.
Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr, who has led recent opinion polls as the favourite to become the city’s next mayor, is also still mulling a run for city hall’s top job.
If Carr runs, that would create a four-way race on the centre-left, which would most certainly lead to vote-splitting and an advantage for the NPA and other candidates on the centre-right.
Stewart said he has spoken to Sylvester, Louie and Carr, whom he described as good friends, about his intentions to run for mayor.
He’s aware of the vote-splitting in last October’s byelection that led to victory for the NPA’s Hector Bremner, but was confident Thursday such a scenario won’t be in play come election day on Oct. 20.
“I think we’ll all eventually pull together and that’s what I’ll be working on 100 per cent to make that happen,” he said, noting the progressive parties haven’t officially nominated anyone for mayor. “We’re only six months out from an election, and I thought I had to get going to try to unite the progressives and to put a firm set of policy options in front of voters for the October election.”
Stewart is expected to roll out those policy options in the months ahead but was clear in his opening remarks that housing affordability will be a top priority.
He supports the city’s current housing strategy to build 17,000 units over the next 10 years but said the plan has to be more ambitious.
“Rent-to-own, stand-alone rental buildings, co-ops — I do think we should use a regional approach, as well, and try to cooperate more with municipalities to see if we can ease some of the pressure on workers,” he responded when pressed by reporters on what more the plan should include. “Of course, this is my launch today. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers on every policy issue, but I know where to get the answers and that’s what I’m working on until we go to the election in October.”
Addressing the opioid crisis, ensuring the big money is kept out of civic politics, getting lobbyists "out of the backrooms of city hall, creating a strong economy and a commitment to protecting the environment were other priorities Stewart mentioned.
"Cities are not just for billionaires, they're for everyone and we have to get back to this," he said.
His arrest in March on Burnaby Mountain in protest of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline project is in the hands of a special prosecutor, who is expected to provide more details next week.
“They’re trying to decide between civil and criminal contempt, but my lawyer said I probably shouldn’t talk about details,” said Stewart, who believes his arrest won’t affect his chances at the polls. “It shows that I’m genuine, perhaps different than other politicians.”
Stewart said his decision to run for mayor is supported by federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who is without a seat in Ottawa. Singh could conceivably run in a byelection in Stewart’s riding.
“If Jagmeet decided to run in a byelection there, he’d be a great candidate,” he said. “I mean the guy is so nice right down to his toes. And I think once you meet him, you love him. So he’s going to win wherever he runs.”
Stewart's resignation from Parliament will not be immediate but he did not give a timeframe for his last day, saying he has more than 1,000 open case files and order questions to complete.
"This will be my last session," said Stewart, who is originally from Wolfeville, N.S. and came to Vancouver in the late 1980s.
He said he has lived in Burnaby but now lives in Vancouver his wife, where they have rented a downtown apartment for almost three years.
Asked how much he pays for rent, he said: “Too much, just like everybody else.”
Stewart is not new to running a campaign in Vancouver, having been the NDP's candidate in Vancouver-Centre in the 2004 federal race when he lost to Liberal incumbent Hedy Fry. He won more than 16,000 votes in defeat.