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With a contentious campaign resulting in a decisive win, Andrew is ready to bring his 'pragmatic' approach to City Council
When the first batch of votes was revealed on Saturday night, Stephen Andrew choked up.
“It was overwhelming,” he says. “Overwhelming for me emotionally that people would express their intent that clearly, and overwhelming to realize that it was such a significant responsibility that I was being given.”
The margin of victory was huge for a by-election with only 17.5% turnout: nearly 3,300 votes.
What ensued wasn’t the celebration party he perhaps would have thrown in normal times—he and his husband, Danny, watched the results come in at the campaign office while a smattering of supporters came and went at a distance—but the pandemic that already delayed the by-election by a full eight months will certainly play some part in every issue he faces for his two-year term. He may as well get used to it.
The most contentious issue was largely brought on by the pandemic. City Council’s decision to allow sheltering in parks inspired anger among residents who feel their safety is threatened and that their parks are being taken from them. That frustration toward council, in turn, helped Andrew establish himself as a change candidate in a race he worked to frame as a binary choice.
“It had deleterious effects on the city,” Andrew said. “And I think that people wanted to see a change in direction.”
Andrew does not see himself as a conservative; in fact, he preemptively rejects the label in a conversation with Capital Daily. Though it would certainly fit in most cities outside of Vancouver Island, some of his preferred policies do stand out in progressive Victoria: promising to “hold the line” on property taxes; increasing downtown parking; increasing funding for police; and de-emphasizing harm reduction in dealing with drug use in favour of an approach that includes more enforcement, treatment, and prevention.
Speaking on harm reduction, Andrew summons an analogy of a leaking basement where the homeowner simply filled bucket after bucket with water from the leak.
“Well, nobody in their right mind would deal with it like that,” he says. “They would turn the water off, look for the repair, mitigate the damage, and then start to rebuild.”
To get out of the housing crisis, he says the only way out is more building: “The market will adjust to where it’s needed.”
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The longtime journalist prefers to call his preferences pragmatic: for example, he laments the use of police time to attend to people in mental health distress once they have been brought to the hospital. “You could have four officers in your team sitting up in Royal Jubilee hospital for up to six hours,” he says. He advocates lobbying the provincial government to change the Mental Health Act to free up those policing resources for other uses. “It should be coming out of the [provincial] health budget,” he says.
Andrew has run for council before, on the conservative-leaning New Council slate, in 2018. He says he made the decision based on a set of principles the group espoused that he agreed with. None of the New Council members was elected, and Andrew came in 1,150 votes shy of a seat.
“I made a huge error going on the slate,” he says. “Would I do it again? No, I wouldn’t.”
He ran as an independent candidate in the by-election—one in which he decried the participation of Together Victoria as a party.
“When you have a bloc or slate that’s aligned it’s not good for anyone.”
That 2018 election saw three Together Victoria candidates elected, including Laurel Collins, who stepped down months later to run successfully in the federal election.
All of the candidates are expected to sit as independents, but Andrew sees it as a Together Victoria-dominated council, blaming the “Together Victoria contingent and their allies” in his campaign statements for social division. In a tweet, he blamed the loss of “public order” on council, “half of whom are from Together Victoria or overt supporters.”
He says during the campaign he suffered personal attacks from Together Victoria supporters. When $2,000 worth of his signs were stolen by parties unknown, he blamed Together Victoria for encouraging its supporters “to behave illegally & undemocratically.”
On Dec. 22 at 9am, Andrew will become part of that council and will have to work alongside the councillors he has attacked and felt attacked by. But Andrew’s not worried about his ability to get along.
“I’m not in campaign mode anymore.”
There is a mayoral election coming in two years, at the end of his abbreviated term on council. Andrew has run before, in 2014, but he declined to share with Capital Daily whether he’s looking to run again; he says first he needs some experience at the council table.
“I may get in there and be the worst councillor in the world,” he says. “Or I may get in there and knock it out of the park.”