A well-choreographed Twitter exchange on Monday afternoon between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mayor Kennedy Stewart served to reinforce the latter’s claim that important people take his calls.
It is those connections, Stewart argues, that will help resolve the city’s biggest political challenges around housing, rapid transit and the opioid crisis.
These things need federal funding — lots of it.
Thank you Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau for the warm conversation. Whether it's investing in transit & affordable housing or tackling overdoses and addressing poverty – I know we can continue to showcase how the power of partnerships delivers for all Canadians. #cdnpoli #vanpoli https://t.co/I0TTJdOAoP— Kennedy Stewart (@kennedystewart) November 4, 2019
The tweets were also a kiss off to critics — including yours truly — that argued criticizing the Conservative leader during an election campaign was unwise. The PMO obviously has no issues with it.
I looked at the PM’s Twitter feed, and Stewart was the only exchange with another Canadian political figure since he was re-elected Oct. 21, which elevates its significance.
Trudeau has strong roots on the West Coast, as most know, and if the PM had his druthers, I bet on some days he would happily govern the country from here if he could. It certainly would give him better access to the Grouse Grind year-round.
Vancouver is fertile ground for the federal Liberals. In fact, you could give a kid only two coloured crayons — red and orange — to draw the city’s political map. If you splurged on a green and blue crayon too the kid could then draw Stanley Park and False Creek respectively.
Knowing Vancouver’s political primary colours goes some way to understanding why candidates on the far left and right margins cannot get elected here.
Getting a shout out from the PM to his four-and-a-half-million Twitter followers is about as good as a first anniversary card the mayor could ask for. It also puts Stewart in good stead with many Liberal voters here, which, barring a political cataclysm, practically guarantees him a second term as mayor.
By now, most will have observed how Stewart likes to govern. Touting his “independent” status, the mayor has limited ability to flex his muscle on council because of the balance of power there between the NPA and Green councillors. It has resulted in Stewart emphasizing his collaborative approach, something most voters are probably pleased with.
Nor is he a traditional politician who revels in glad handing his constituents. Stewart was not known for this as a Burnaby Member of Parliament, either.
While largely symbolic, the mayor recently showed a pragmatic side when he walked back a campaign promise to triple the city’s empty homes tax.
Where Stewart has struggled is the unwillingness to get his hands dirty on the Oppenheimer Park encampment. Yes, the mayor has floated the idea of legislating control of the site away from the park board to the city, but quickly realized it was a political non-starter and withdrew the plan.
What will be interesting to watch is the city’s collective bargaining process with its major unions, which is happening quietly under the radar. Existing contracts for both inside and outside staff conclude in 2019.
Stewart has always been clear about the need for labour peace, and has nothing to gain by inserting himself into the bargaining process. He also owes his mayoralty to the Vancouver District Labour Council that campaigned hard to get him elected.
Vancouver has not had a major labour disruption since the disastrous 2007 strike that closed community centres, libraries and left garbage piled up around the city.
Many of B.C.’s public sector unions are lately showing they are not shy about challenging B.C.’s labour-friendly NDP government. Job action is happening in a number of communities across the province, and back home Coast Mountain Bus Company looks to be on a collision course with their unionized workforce.
While it seems pretty unlikely that Stewart’s labour allies could disrupt his time in office, it remains a risk.
As with previous mayors, the most vocal opposition to Stewart will likely come from communities and individuals impacted by new development. But as most of council is strongly aligned with creating more rental housing in the city, once again the mayor just has to ride these conflicts out.
I’ll test my theory in his second and third year in office, but as long as Kennedy Stewart maintains the support of the red team and the orange team, he will hold the chain of office until he’s ready to let it go.