Housing is a hot-button issue in Vancouver’s civic election campaign, but the law says the incumbent mayor need not tell voters where he lives and his biggest challenger need not be a resident of the city and cannot vote for himself.
Provincial Court Judge Margaret Rae upheld Mayor Gregor Robertson’s nomination Oct. 16 after Cedar Party city council candidate Glen Chernen disputed the address on the Vision Vancouver leader’s nomination and financial disclosure documents. Robertson claimed his residence was the Kitsilano duplex near the Point Grey Road bike lane from which he moved before July.
Gregor and Amy Robertson’s affidavits said they “reached a mutual and amicable decision to separate” in mid-2014.
“I have been staying in an apartment in downtown Vancouver while our family works out what the future holds for us,” said the Mayor’s affidavit, which did not mention the apartment’s address. “Amy continues to stay in the Kitsilano residence, while I keep my belongings there, pay the bills and sometimes eat there.”
“I continue to consider the Kitsilano residence to be Gregor’s home as well while our family considers our future,” said Amy Robertson’s affidavit. “Gregor keeps a key and comes sometimes for meals. His furniture and many of his personal items remain in the home. He also pays bills, including property taxes for the home.”
Lord Blackburn famously said in 1859 that “a man’s residence is where he habitually sleeps,” but Rae agreed with Robertson’s lawyer David Gruber that he met the broad Vancouver Charter definition of residential address as that which “includes an indication of the area in which a person lives if no other specific designation is reasonably available.”
“I find that troubling that somebody that is running for mayor can’t indicate where he lives and more troubling that he can get away with it,” Chernen, a Dunbar resident, said outside the court. “I put where I live, my residence, because that’s what the forms asked for.”
IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis said it is reasonable to wonder who owns the mayor’s apartment and whether he is paying fair market rent.
“If he were to be transparent on that matter, the secondary matter of what his principal residence is would not have come before a judge,” Travis said. “He's creating doubt where doubt may not need to exist.”
Robertson did not take questions from reporters at a Nov. 3 news conference and did not respond to a Courier message on his mobile phone voice mail.
Meanwhile, NPA challenger Kirk LaPointe disclosed his home address at the University of B.C. Point Grey campus on his nomination documents. In B.C., a candidate for local government need only be voting age and a Canadian citizen residing somewhere in the province.
Said Travis: “If you're setting tax rates for ratepayers to pay, you should be paying those tax rates, you should have a vested interest in how fiscal policy in the municipality that you want to lead is being conducted and if you don't live in that municipality, you don't have that vested interest.”
Travis said the best example for reform is fringe candidate David Shebib, who is running for mayor of 13 Victoria-area municipalities.
But, in the 1950s, Vancouverites didn’t seem to mind that their mayor woke up and went to sleep in another municipality. Fred Hume, who had previously spent nine years as mayor of his native New Westminster, was one of the most-popular mayors in Vancouver history. Hume served four two-year terms at 12th and Cambie between 1951 and 1958 -- all as a resident of West Vancouver.
"It's really a non-issue because, in my grandfather's case, he never lived in Vancouver," said his grandson, also named Fred Hume.
LaPointe, the managing editor of the Vancouver Sun from 2003 to 2010, told the Courier that he is committed to moving into Vancouver after the election. LaPointe said he has shopped for a house in the city off-and-on for more than three years with his wife, UBC Associate Dean Mary Lynn Young and have not found a suitable, affordable house for their family. On one occasion, he said they were outbid. LaPointe declared his candidacy July 14 and said it would not have been feasible to campaign for office while trying to sell the UBC house, buy one in the city, pack, move and unpack.
Property records show Robertson bought a house near Douglas Park six weeks after he was elected NDP MLA for Vancouver-Fairview in 2005. Vision spokeswoman Marcella Munro claimed he lived on West 7th Avenue near Ash during that campaign. North Vancouver-raised Robertson was quoted in the June 2004 edition of Cortes Island’s Howling Wolf that Vancouver-Fairview was “no sane place to raise kids and live a balanced life.”
“There are way more important things to talk about than where each of us lives,” LaPointe said. “What each of us believes and thinks and wants for the city, that's what we ought to be discussing in this campaign.”
Note: This story has been revised since first posted.