On November 15, 2014, Vision Vancouver squeaked by with a slim majority in the civic election giving them absolute control with 7 of 11 seats on City Council. Some councillors in this civic political party were narrowly re-elected by a few hundred votes over their contenders.
A major factor in that tight election was a public apology by Gregor Robertson — then Vision Vancouver’s two-term mayor and candidate for a third term. His high-profile apology at the start of a televised mayoral debate on CBC on November 12 was widely broadcast. During the debate he did not delve into details, but he partially explained his reasons in a CBC interview a few days later.
The apology was something that I’d considered over a number of weeks as the campaign rolled along and I’d heard quite a bit of feedback. People being concerned about not being heard through development decisions, you know, rezonings, through bike lanes, whatever it was, that just felt like our agenda was so ambitious that we hadn’t taken the time to listen to people quite enough. And I heard that enough times over the course of the campaign that I though that, you know, I don’t want people to have hard feelings about this. I want them to know that I’m listening to this. I hear it. And I just wanted people to be sure, that people understood, that I’m hearing these concerns reflected back, and I apologize for any hard feelings. It’s more that I am committed to trying to find ways to get people more included and engaged so they know they are being heard at City Hall. Some people’s feelings are hurt. They don’t feel like they were consulted or heard. I want to make sure that the city is getting more together. Getting more inclusive and connected, rather than feeling more fractured.
Gregor Robertson, on CBC Radio, Nov 2014 [year corrected]
For further reading, the following article in the Globe and Mail gives the back story, showing how the apology was not exactly a spontaneous and heartfelt apology, but an act of high-level political strategy in the 2014 civic election campaign. The campaign’s inside information suggests that the apology could have been the thing that got Vision Vancouver its squeaker win — which happens to be for the new extended term of four years until 2018. Now BC municipalities are nearly three quarters of the way through this term, with the next municipal elections being in October 2018.
Though the Mayor and his political party probably maneuvered to get their current majority and absolute control of City Hall through this apology, and although the back story suggests it was not really a sincere apology, how are they doing now?
There have been several divisive and highly debated issues going through City Council, one of which is the current Public Hearing on a 12-storey tower with major implications on the heart and soul of Chinatown. After three nights to hear about half of the speakers on a list of about 250, Mayor Robertson as chair of the meeting recessed the public hearing at about 10 pm on Friday night (May 26), and abruptly announced that it would resume at 9:30 am on the following Monday morning. If the remaining half of speakers cannot be physically in the room when their name is called, at this awkward time during working hours, they may miss their chance to speak. Some fear the Mayor may then try to end the hearing and call for a vote on the rezoning.
“How Robertson’s mea culpa helped the Vision Vancouver campaign” (by Gary Mason, The Globe and Mail, 17-Nov-2014.
- Gregor Robertson was aware all was not well with his Vision Vancouver government’s relationship with voters, long before he found himself in the heat of an election campaign. Polling had confirmed that. So had casual conversations with members of the public, many of whom felt city hall was pushing too hard, too fast, especially when it came to its pro-density agenda.
- … There were informal discussions over the past year among the mayor’s top advisers around the idea of the mayor offering an act of contrition in some form, but not everyone was sold on the idea. Once the campaign began, however, and Vision volunteers starting knocking on doors, it became evident that party supporters were angry enough to register their dissent by either sitting on their hands on Election Day or finding a progressive alternative for whom to vote.
- It was this cold, hard response on the doorstep that convinced the mayor a mea culpa was the right thing to do.
- “Gregor was extremely sensitive to the feedback we were getting and was really the one pushing hard to try and make it right,” a senior Vision organizer said. “He really believed there was no harm in saying sorry. He thought if it was genuine and came from an honest place people would respect him for it.”
- According to several people associated with the Vision campaign, a consensus emerged among party intelligentsia that an apology was not as vital to the mayor’s candidacy as it was to Vision contenders further down the ballot, people like Geoff Meggs, the long-time party stalwart who barely scraped up enough votes to claim the last spot on council. There was a big fragmentation of the vote on the left, with both the Greens and COPE mounting credible campaigns, a fact that made making amends with progressive-minded citizens even more essential.
- With just over two weeks left to go, the campaign brain trust met to further discuss the idea of the apology. Among those involved were the mayor; his long-time chief of staff, Mike Magee; party pollster, Bob Penner; Vision executive director, Stepan Vdovine; and communications advisers Braeden Caley, Kevin Quinlan and Marcella Munro. Ontario political strategist Don Guy was also consulted.
- … It was Ms. Munro who floated the idea of Mr. Robertson offering up his plea for forgiveness at a CBC radio debate. It was agreed this would be a good platform because the CBC’s audience was Vision’s, too. Also, he could make the overture right off the top of the debate without being interrupted or having his statement clipped by the media, something he’d be vulnerable to if he tried to offer it during a scrum or at a news conference, an idea that was considered and nixed.
- The Vision campaign felt NPA mayoral challenger Kirk LaPointe and COPE’s Meena Wong would make some political hay in the aftermath of the mayor’s statement, but it was felt Mr. Robertson wouldn’t be penalized for the gesture. Furthermore, his opponents might look petty-minded for attacking someone who was seen to be making a rare – for a politician, anyway -conciliatory gesture.
See the full article on Globe and Mail.
Gregor Robertson gives reasons for apology in mayoral debate (News 1130, 13-Nov-2014)