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The first quiet debate between Robertson and Ladner

September 26th, 2008 · 14 Comments

The first official debate between Vancouver’s two mayoral candidates is due to take place next Wednesday, hosted by Langara at the Vancouver Public Library. But a select group got to see the candidates in action together for the first time this past week, when Lambda Alpha hosted an event at the Vancouver Club. Not a debate exactly, but a chance to see the two together talking about the same issues.

This gathering of people whose passion is land economics was closed to media, but that means little in Vancouver’s small and gossipy world, so I’ve heard reports from several people who were there or had friends there. By all accounts, no matter which side people are rooting for in the election, they thought that Peter Ladner came off as the knowledgeable and polished one on most issues. That came as a surprise to some, who haven’t been impressed by his performance at council for the past six years. “He did better than I thought,” whispered one audience member to another. Another told me, “He was everything I didn’t expect him to be — intuitive, engaging.” But a third said that, although Ladner knows all the issues, he came across as very dry and too focused on details.

In contrast, Gregor Robertson, according to several, came across as someone who was delivering a set speech. He did it well and the inevitable Obama comparisons came up, because he tends to use that kind of inspirational language and cadence, but they also said they didn’t hear anything new and there weren’t a lot of specifics or ability to respond to detailed questions. (Robertson also didn’t show up to the event until the last minute, so he missed out on the 45 minutes of pre-dinner crowd massage that Ladner took full advantage of.)

The two men seemed to focus on almost the same issues, said my many spies: affordable housing, homelessness, crime and safety, the city’s finances. But Ladner always had more specifics at hand. Some were surprised that Robertson didn’t know about actions the city has already taken when it comes to affordable housing. On the other hand, Robertson talked more about the city needing to play a stronger role in the region on all kinds of issues.

A couple of interesting questions from the crowd that says as much about their interests as the candidates. Someone wanted to know what was happening with United We Can, the recycling depot on East Hastings that’s used by the homeless/binner community as a major means of support. It drives certain people in town crazy because there’s always a motley crowd on the sidewalk out front conducting a combination swap meet and flea market. (Robertson was quite familiar with it, showed he has contacts with the business; Ladner had more information on the new sites the city is trying to help UWC find.)

They were also asked about their favourite development projects in Vancouver. Robertson, not surprisingly, named the flagship of the previous COPE/Vision council: Woodward’s, with its combination of market and social housing, stores, the Simon Fraser University contemporary arts space and more. Ladner named Collingwood Village, interestingly, saying it was an exemplary example of a diverse and transit-oriented development in a modest-income neighbourhood. (He didn’t say it but he could have pointed out that it was an early example of EcoDensity before a certain mayor decided that the city needed to have a policy called EcoDensity.) He also pointed to Bing Thom’s Sunset community centre and Jim Hancock’s sail-shaped buildings on the Coal Harbour waterfront as buildings he liked.

It will be interesting to see how these two men do when they’re finally out in public. From everything I can see, they are both still having their rocky times. Ladner varies in his delivery, sometimes very on (as he was on Wednesday with the Lambda crowd) and sometimes more flattened sounding. Robertson also goes up and down in how he delivers his message.

There are moments in this campaign (such as it is, being conducted almost invisibly while the American and Canadian national campaigns roar overhead) that remind me of the Jennifer Clarke/Larry Campbell dynamic. Clarke could talk policy rings around Campbell, who stumbled frequently in his first few weeks as he learned about transit policy, city finances, and you name it on the fly. But no matter how competent and knowledgeable Clarke was, she couldn’t make a dent in Campbell’s campaign. People liked his one-liners and what seemed like no-nonsense talk. Most of them didn’t have the knowledge themselves to be able to figure out whether he was talking through his hat or suggesting something feasible.

Gregor Robertson doesn’t have anywhere near Campbell’s quickness, but he does have a certain intense and heartfelt way of speaking. So all of us media types are watching intently to see if that will prevail over Ladner’s Clarke-like, Hillary Clinton-like reminders that he has the expertise and the background and the policy know-how. Hopefully we’ll be spared any TV ads with phones ringing at 4 a.m., suggesting that only one candidate has the background and expertise to know when to order out the snowploughs in an emergency.

By the way, I am one of the journalists who will be questioning the two mayoral candidates during the Langara debates. Any suggested questions?

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  • Sounds like they stayed “true to stereotype.” Ladner has been quite willing to give his time to answer questions at various real estate industry events over the past few years (I work in the industry). I suspect he was quite comfortable with this crowd and their questions by now.

    For the Langara debate, I have some question ideas:

    1. Hosting the Olympics presents an unprecedented opportunity for the city. What are three ways you hope to leverage the Olympic experience? or What are three ways you see the city benefiting from hosting the Games?

    2. What city by-laws or policies do you see as most in need of removal or changing?

    3. Cities worldwide are becoming the engines of economic growth, rather than service sectors for a resource or industrial hinterland. Vancouver is no exception. What do you see as the most important economic clusters for Vancouver?

    4. The city of Vancouver is the heart of a larger, interconnected metro region. As Mayor, how will you try to improve relations among the different jurisdictions?

    5. If you are elected Mayor, how will the city be different in 2011 than it is in 2008.

    …that’s probably more than my quota of question ideas. Thanks for considering them.

    Will the event be broadcast on Shaw or a web stream of some sort?

  • annonymous

    How will you (as mayor) convince the provincial and federal governments that there is a serious homelessness crisis in not only Vancouver, but almost every city in B.C.? Do you have a strategy?

  • threeyears

    You live in Vancouver for just three years after being holed up on a Gulf Island. Christy Clark was rejected for being an outsider. Why should Vancouverites entrust another outsider to lead us into the next decade?

  • Not impressed so far

    It is interesting to hear Peter being described as knowledgeable as he has often made major mistakes while answering opposition questions.
    Just recently I watched the debate on the next capital plan and Raymond Louie was just skewering him on his lack of understanding of it . He himself admitted that he stood to be corrected and that is just what Raymond did.

    I agree that Gregor lacks the detailed knowledge and he does not have the quick whit of Larry Campbell but as the saying goes “you’re ugly and I’m fat but I can lose weight” , Gregor should learn quickly as you say Larry did.

    I think what is most important is Gregor’s integrity as a person and on the issues. Peter has failed us and his voting record shows this.

  • Fairminded

    I have heard from a reliable source that Gregor Robertson backed out of a debate hosted by the Rotary Club at the Arbutus Club. I was also told by someone else that he will only consent to an interview if the questions are previously submitted to his handlers.

    Maybe instead of suggesting questions in blog form we could e-mail them to you privately to eliminate the probability of your blog becoming GR’s cheat sheet.

  • Glad to see this is rapidly turning into the Peter Ladner spin zone. What a joke. Ooohh…a “reliable source.” what’s next, a carrier pigeon?

    My prediction: Gregor waxes Peter because he’ll have more details than people expect, and Peter will be rattled because he knows he needs a stellar performance to overcome his sliding poll numbers. He’s our city’s version of John McCain: trying to promise change when he voted the same way as the ousted leader, from a tired political party, with no new ideas.

    Here’s a question for Peter: name three city policies that you voted differently than Sam Sullivan on this term, and you can’t say Vision’s motion for returning savings.

    He can’t do it.

  • “I have heard from a reliable source that Gregor Robertson backed out of a debate hosted by the Rotary Club at the Arbutus Club.”

    Sorry, but that’s a load of tosh. Was your reliable source Peter Ladner? Or the media reps he told this to?

  • Fairminded

    No Brenton, it was the Rotary Club member who co-ordinated the debate that I heard it from. He seemed genuinely disappointed about GR’s cancellation.

  • monty

    How does someone being “intense and heartfelt” make them eligible to be mayor of a large city? Perhaps instead of a debate you should suggest a beauty contest, as that seems to be Gregor’s most important qualification to be Mayor. Vancouver can do a lot better than hiring a juice man who has lived here for just a few years and can’t speak intelligently about the inner workings of the city. I expected more than just vague happy planet talk. r

  • What does Gregor think he can do as mayor to solve homelessness, that he couldn’t do as a MLA and possible future cabinet minister?

  • Undecided

    Peter, can you explain why you should be Mayor when the following things have gotten worse under you and the NPA on council these past 3 years:

    – homelessness
    – gang violence
    – residential property taxes
    – city hall relations with staff
    – City Hall relations with neighbourhoods
    – City Hall relations with the police

  • Wagamuffin

    Hi Wendy,

    I think there is a Shaw broadcast coming up in a later debate.

  • Sam

    Frances, I would be interested to know what specific policy ideas, if any, the candidates have to help make market rental housing more affordable.

  • Fairminded: Someone inside the campaign assured me that Gregor never agreed to that debate in the first place, making it a little difficult for him to back out. Peter’s people then spun it to make it sound like Gregor was afraid to debate, a claim made ridiculous by Frances’ subsequent post about how both did fairly well at the first public debate.