For the third time in a week, Vancouver’s top mayoral candidates found themselves face to face as the fight heats up for the top job in city politics.
The all-candidates forum took place Wednesday at the SFU Harbour Centre, hosted by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
While the event featured plenty of strong opinions on all sides, it was incumbent Mayor and Forward Together candidate Kennedy Stewart who more often than not found himself in the crosshairs of challengers Ken Sim of ABC, Colleen Hardwick of TEAM, Fred Harding of the NPA and Mark Marrissen of Progress Vancouver over issues of crime and affordability in the city.
“We are looking for a complete shift on how we run the city because right now it is not working,” Sim told the forum at one point.
Throughout the event Stewart shot back, repeatedly claiming his challengers aren’t qualified the job.
“What you are hearing on this stage is a bunch of rehearsed gimmicks,” Stewart said. “The only way to help people is using our main power to build housing and these folks have no idea how to do that.”
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That angle of attack drew its own rebuke at one point, in one of the forum’s spicier moments.
“I agree with you,” quipped Harding.
“I have no idea how you take a city like Vancouver and turn it into the travesty that he has over the last four years.”
The candidates also used Wednesday’s forum to lay out some of their marquee policy proposals.
Hardwick pledged to repeal the recently approved Broadway and Vancouver development plans, initiate a core service review to cut hundreds of millions in city spending on provincial and federal responsibilities and to appoint a commissioner of the Downtown Eastside.
“We need somebody that’s overseeing a process, and we need to audit all the expenditures that are going on in the DTES to eliminate duplication and efficiency. We need boots on the ground,” she said.
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Harding said he wanted to freeze taxes, but not before a thorough review of the budget and core services, tie harm reduction to drug treatment, and crack down on violent criminals.
“I have arrested an area out of the problems it was facing, rampant hate crime, drug addiction,” the former police officer said.
Marissen said the best way to tackle some of the cities issues was to create a thriving downtown, which he said he’d accomplish through the appointment of a commissioner of the night time economy, or ‘night mayor,’ who could clean up Granville Street.
Stewart said his core priority would remain construction of new housing, by continuing the city’s shift in focus from strata condos to purpose-built rentals as envisioned in the Broadway and Vancouver plans.
“All levels of this city need housing, and that’s what your businesses tell me time over time over time again, I don’t have any housing for my employees, so that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Sim said he was also laser focused on crime and mental health, repeating his pledge to hire 100 police officers and mental health nurses upon taking office.
“Serious assaults are up 36 per cent, anti-Asian hate crime are up 500 per cent, four random assaults in the city every single day,” he said. “Property crimes, we don’t have the stats any more because people aren’t reporting them.”
Recent polling shows the most important issues for Vancouver voters remain housing, followed by drug overdoses and crime.
Voters go to the polls in just over two weeks on Oct. 15. The candidates have two more debates scheduled before then,.
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