What happened to the old Gregor Robertson?

Post by Mike Klassen in


Video: Bombardier streetcar is carried away from Vancouver to a dock in Tacoma, WA

Where is the passionate political candidate who embodied so much hope and creativity for so many? The Gregor Robertson of February 2008 in some ways barely resembles the same man today. It's difficult for those who voted for him to admit it, but Robertson is well into his term and failing to achieve what he set out to do.

That year he spoke with confidence that he knew how to bring together disparate entities, political adversaries, other levels of government and leaders from other cities. Here's what he said in a speech announcing his candidacy:

"My style, whether in business, politics or as an activist, has always been to mobilize the talent and leadership available to create change. To bring balance. To bring leadership without ego. And to get people working together towards solutions...a good idea is a good idea, wherever it comes from...

"We need to reduce our dependence on cars, get focused on being a carbon neutral and fossil fuel free city. We are already ahead of many cities but I want to accelerate that process with a big commitment to future generations from leaders across the city."

You can use any yardstick you want and you see he has not done this. Robertson's office is mired in partisanship, and good ideas & creativity are in short supply.

It is the failure to seize the opportunity presented by the streetcars on the Olympic Line which is probably one of the most poignant symbols that their style of governance has Vision Vancouver stuck in neutral.

Clear signals have been given to the Mayor from many quarters that holding out for a deal with Translink was a non-starter. Just two weeks ago I attended a speaking engagement by Translink CEO Ian Jarvis, who stated categorically "if there is money involved, we're not interested at this time".

Then there is the Province. Both the Premier and the Transportation Minister have provided Robertson with a very wide berth when it comes to presenting an idea – any idea – for the streetcars. Look at it from Victoria's perspective. They're committed to BIG dollars already on the Evergreen line. They need some movement on the Broadway corridor in the short term – most definitely before the 2013 provincial election.

Connecting Main Street's Skytrain station with Canada Line and possibly to the Millennium Skytrain Line presents a huge number of potential scenarios for funding partnerships. Whether it's connecting tenants at the Olympic Village to points beyond, or linking tourists seeking to visit there or Granville Island, or moving workers and customers to and from local businesses, the streetcar line can be a great catalyst.

In today's council meeting the city manager said that no consideration has been given to the potential upside of the streetcar running past the Olympic Village. It boggles the mind to think that in all the years of studies done on this line there isn't a single passage devoted to the impact of the streetcar to that development.

Robertson in Thursday afternoon's city council meeting looked like a kid lost in a shopping mall. He glanced over to the city manager and asked her about funding options. It quite literally appeared that this is the very first conversation the two of them have had about funding the streetcar line, even after the Mayor insisted that he could do nothing without senior government support. Ballem explained that she had had discussions with Bombardier, who indicated to her that to run the line for another six months would cost roughly $3.5 million, but otherwise seemed unprepared for the discussion.

Looking on was former city councillor and now Planning Commissioner Alan Herbert. Herbert gave a very articulate presentation to council, where he practically begged them to consider a more aggressive option on the streetcar. Yet, it would be a waste of time.

Robertson, who has an irritating habit of speaking on subjects he knows nothing about, commented that he knew of no example of private partnership in urban transit, therefore he didn't think it was worth exploring. He then went on to suggest that any discussion about the streetcar would "derail" the focus on the Broadway corridor. For those who understand how government works, it was complete and utter malarkey.

Gregor Robertson only 2 years ago seemed very fired up about the future of Vancouver. He had ideas, and a lot of political capital stored up. After failing to light a fire within himself or his caucus during the Olympic Games, and virtually disappearing from the public spotlight when the world arrived here, the Mayor looks almost like he's given up.

Hopefully a good blast of smelling salts will do the trick, and he'll realize that he's only got 20 more months before the next election. Moving forward, Gregor Robertson can no longer dismiss opportunities like the Olympic Line streetcar out of hand.


What a vile attack Mike. Hardly called for.

Gregor has achieved great success with his homelessness initiatives, and to a lesser degree, the Greenest City plan.

The streetcar costs money - a lot of money. However, it has been proven to more than recoup its expenses, as it stimulates investment and development along its route. The problem is capital costs in excess of $100 million dollars. For a City that's already slashing its budget and has hundred of millions on the line with the Olympic Village, its simply politically untenable to build the streetcar with City money.

With TransLink broke and the Province unwilling to put any more money into transit, the streetcar remains stuck in a financial deadlock.

Would I love to see the City put up the initial capital, like Portland did? Of course! Is Gregor sidestepping the issue a bit? Yes he is. That said, this tirade is going more than a little overboard.

"The problem is capital costs in excess of $100 million dollars." Paul, with all due respect you are out to lunch. Are you really buying the smelly stuff coming out of the mayor's office. When someone doesn't like something, they always inflate the costs. A city report said the cost would be more like $60 million and thta's without a P3. Mike hit the nail on the head with this one. Let's hope the mayor can "kick it into gear" and get going on what he promised. Otherwise I really will have wasted my vote for vision.

Paul, I would hardly put this into the vile category. But for people who supported him earlier, it's definitely tough medicine. I see what I've written above as more of an intervention, with the feint hope that by using Gregor's old words and present actions that he'll see that it's time to get moving.

I won't debate the homelessness or green achievements here, but needless to say it's not my opinion that they belong in the "great" category yet. By any objective measure, Robertson has been more about green-washing than any true attempt at reducing Vancouver's carbon footprint. You're a very sharp guy, and you know that's true.

The Mayor was unprepared for any discussion on the streetcar? I think it was quite popular with both riders and media for the last couple of months. Maybe he wasn't here.

Also, in the interests of leadership, Robertson missed an opportunity with Alan Herbert's presentation. To dismiss it for the "if I dont know about it, it must not exist" reason, in public, on our dime, is naive at best and inept at worst. Whether or not the plan presented has merit is not the point, our Mayor has indicated that unless something lies within his range of knowledge, forget it.

Stories like this make it very frustrating for citizens wondering how to stay involved in their city.

It is clear that we are in fact seeing the real Gregor Robertson sans spin and makeup. It is difficult to mask one's real persona for too long a time. He is and will be what we see and whom many people voted for. They did get what they asked for.

Come on folks. This street car thing is pie in the sky at this point. No one paid to ride this thing and it ran during the olympics. Big deal! The cost and lack of a plan on this line makes the city bankrolling this endeavour just silly. I think Gregors a quack but he is doing well to stay on the sidelines here.

I don't know where you get your information from, but it's all wrong. Here's a quote from the City report on the streetcar, from 2006 - back when Sullivan was in power. It's available on the City's website with plenty of studies on the streetcar's feasibility: http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/streetcar/update.htm

"To complete Phase 1 (Granville Island to Waterfront Station) will require an investment of $100 million for which no secure outside funding sources have been identified. The consultants indicated that the system as proposed will generate sufficient revenue to cover the operating costs but will have net operating revenues of just $1.2 to $1.6 million per year, sufficient to support capital financing of just $15 to $20 million if financed over 20 years. Even with a city contribution from transportation related DCLs of $30 million, it will be necessary to identify additional funding partners for up to 50% of the anticipated cost for the full Phase 1 from Granville Island to Waterfront or up to 20% for the Phase 0 from Granville Island to Science World. Finally, the success of the system - ridership and financial - will depend on integration with the regional transit system and to date, there is no commitment from Translink on this integration."

Politicians will do anything and give promises to get elected. Once they are elected they have no intentions of fulfilling those promises. They're laughing all the way to the bank with taxpayers money.

Great analysis and contrast Mike. I thought you were being kind to him. I voted for Gregor and agree with your take. It is a bit like dating a really pretty woman that has too often depended on her looks to get noticed. After a few months, you realize you need more than just a pretty face. His lack of interest on the streetcar is very dissapointing - not only because of his commitments on the environment. To me it is a forecast of how he intends to handle tough issues in the future - the path of least resistance and doing whatever the city manager and real Mayor want.

No people deserve the kind of leader they have now than Vancouverites. Trading incompetence and snake oil for a new brand of incompetence and snake oil takes an unusual skill. Buying into Robertson's well crafted, Obama like message wouldn't have been so bad if Robertson hadn't turned incompetent and hollow so quickly.

Lack of consultation over his homeless shelters and just the feeling that this guy doesn't have what it takes to talk independently to the media or people is kind of scary and laughable. And this "Greenest City in the World" slogan smells of the kind of superficial conceit that is becoming a hallmark of this administration. Bee hives, chickens in backyards and vegetable gardens are all PR exercises and none of them deal with the city's real problems.

And many people are growing tired of the city's jihad against car and drivers. Logic and common sense should tell anyone that 80% of Vancouverites drive and feel they have to drive to do their work and daily activities. Vancouver simply doesn't have the money and can't generate the public transport revenues to support an extensive system like other big cities. And most of the year, Vancouver is raining and miserably wet. Few of us can afford to show up at work wet and late while having to meet clients. We need better roads and less impediments to driving because many of us will be driving for the foreseeable future.

Vancouverites have to get over their conceit about being so politically correct and environmentally superior. Vancouver is, let's say, really not much better than Santa Fe, New Mexico or San Diego. But, you don't hear those two cities braying about their green prowess.

if tyhe city and province would stop investing in 18th heavy rail for billions of dollars and implement light rail technology, the entire vancouver mainland could have a network of above ground rapid transit! It's truly a shame that we have elected this lacklustre, egotistical mayor.

Dishonesty is the flagship in the SS Hollyhock fleet, So Gregor's just flying his true colors. Thats what happens when your bought and paid for by American Shopping Mall money.

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