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.