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Kennedy Stewart gets nod from 50,000-strong labour council in bid for Vancouver mayor

First time Vancouver and District Labour Council has not endorsed a Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate
Independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart received the endorsement Tuesday of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, which represents 50,000 union members in Vancouver. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart got a big boost to his campaign Tuesday after a labour organization that boasts 50,000 members in Vancouver endorsed his bid to become the next mayor of the city.

The Vancouver and District Labour Council gave Stewart the nod over Vision Vancouver’s Ian Campbell and independent candidate Shauna Sylvester. All three candidates were interviewed by the council’s executive before members voted Tuesday night.

“It was a very key moment in the campaign, it’s something we’ve been working towards for two months,” said Stewart, who will retire as the NDP MP for Burnaby-South before the Oct. 20 civic election.

The labour council’s endorsement of Stewart breaks a nine-year cycle of its members endorsing a Vision mayoral candidate. The late Jim Green received support in the 2005 race and Gregor Robertson in the 2008, 2011 and 2014 elections; Robertson is retiring at the end of this term.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s a blow to Ian, or a blow to Vision Vancouver,” said Michael Haack, a spokesperson for Vision, noting the labour council also endorsed nine Vision candidates Tuesday for council, school board and park board. “You need to have a team behind you at city hall to follow through on the promises that candidates are making, and we’ll be able to do that with Ian Campbell.”

Stewart said he believes his commitment to create affordable housing, tackle the problem of pay equity and his drive to unite the so-called progressive candidates and parties on the left side of the political spectrum is what resonated with the labour council.

He has also worked with COPE in the past—in 1996 as an organizer, and as an advisor to Larry Campbell after he was elected in 2002—and has a background in political science that he parlayed into his election as an MP in Burnaby, where he was recently arrested and charged in a protest against Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline.

With the endorsement, he now expects to receive support from other candidates as his campaign proceeds. Whether that will include support from Sylvester, who trails in public opinion polls, is unclear. Sylvester has repeatedly told the Courier she will stay in the race until election day.

About 75 members of the council representing a variety of unions, including Canadian Union of Public Employee locals, the Hospital Employees’ Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers and members representing firefighters and teachers voted Tuesday night.

What the endorsement means is what Stewart was trying to sort out Wednesday when reached by the Courier. Previously, under old campaign finance rules, an endorsement would come with hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from unions.

With a ban on labour and corporate donations, along with a cap on the amount of money an individual can donate to a party and limits on third-party advertising, the rules in play for this campaign are new ground for candidates and their parties.

Stewart said he contacted Elections B.C. Wednesday to clarify what he can and cannot accept from the labour council.

“I really want to find out what kind of help I can accept,” said Stewart, who has been voluntarily disclosing the names of his donors and how much they contributed to his campaign. “I haven’t even talked with the leadership yet of the VDLC, which I will do hopefully this week.”

Stephen von Sychowski, the VDLC’s president, said the council will produce a poll card for its members and hold meetings with its affiliates to discuss its choice for mayor and others for council, school and park board.

“It’ll probably involve email and social media communications, it’ll probably involve phone-banking, it’ll probably involve possibly some door-to-door stuff—but all with our own members to mobilize the labour base to get out there and vote for the candidates,” he said.

He said the labour council’s decision to endorse Stewart over Sylvester and Campbell was because he “stood out to us as somebody who is really electable, and we think he’s going to be very appealing to folks and had clear messages about what he stood for and what he was going to do.”

For many of the labour council delegates, von Sychowski said, an independent candidate was more appealing in an election that is wide-open and has attracted a diverse number of candidates from various parties.

“Kennedy has a strong campaign already going, has a very good chance [at getting elected], he’s polling well and there’s a lot of enthusiasm about him around our affiliates,” he said.

The labour council also endorsed candidates for council, school board and park board.

For council: Tanya Paz, Heather Deal, Diego Cardona and Wei Qiao Zhang of Vision Vancouver; Christine Boyle and Brandon Yan of OneCity; Pete Fry and Adriane Carr of the Green Party of Vancouver; and Jean Swanson and Derrick O’Keefe from COPE.

For school board: Erin Arnold, Aaron Leung and Allan Wong from Vision; Carrie Bercic, Erica Jaff and Jennifer Reddy of OneCity; Janet Fraser and Estrellita Gonzalez of the Greens; and Barb Parrot from COPE.

For park board: Dave Demers, Camil Dumount and Stuart MackInnon of the Greens; Gwen Giesbrecht and John Irwin of COPE; and Shamim Shivji and Cameron Zubko of Vision.

A public opinion poll expected to be released tomorrow is expected to show NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim in a close race with Stewart.