Robert­son: Van­cou­ver is uniquely con­nected

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS CANADA - By HATTY LIU and YUJI ZHANG in Van­cou­ver for China Daily

Van­cou­ver Mayor Gre­gor Robert­son as­so­ci­ates his city with three words: vi­brant, pros­per­ous and green. Now in his third term and eighth year as mayor, Robert­son is hop­ing to add three more words — af­ford­able, in­no­va­tive and in­ter­na­tional — to the list.

Robert­son re­cently sat down with China Daily to dis­cuss plans for the green­ing and glob­al­iza­tion of Van­cou­ver.

In July of last year, Robert­son was the only Cana­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­vited to the gath­er­ing of may­ors in Vat­i­can City for the Pope’s cli­mate con­fer­ence, which he said was a “rare hon­our.”

In Novem­ber, he at­tended the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change in Paris where, along with 1,000 may­ors from around the world, he signed an agree­ment in sup­port of us­ing 100 per­cent re­new­able en­ergy in their cities.

Van­cou­ver had al­ready pledged to achieve this goal by 2050.

“Van­cou­ver is one of the world’s green­est cities and we aim to be the green­est,” Robert­son said. “There’s a lot of good progress made in the Paris agree­ment, and we’re see­ing lead­er­ship par­tic­u­larly from cities that have been push­ing the pace to re­duce our cli­mate im­pact and grow the green econ­omy glob­ally. You see it in China.”

Green en­ergy is not only a hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion but a good eco­nomic strat­egy. “Eco­nomic growth is sup­ported by strong en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy, and we’re see­ing that in Van­cou­ver. We have the strong­est econ­omy of any city in Canada, the strong­est in North Amer­ica, and we’re also the green­est in North Amer­ica,” he said.

“We see great eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity from go­ing green, from re­new­able en­ergy, clean tech­nol­ogy, and im­prov­ing our qual­ity of life and tak­ing care of the health of peo­ple. If we put that first, the econ­omy will grow. The costs of not do­ing that are enor­mous, and I think peo­ple are re­al­iz­ing that around the world.”

Some­times called “Hol­ly­wood North,” Van­cou­ver has also be­come a pro­duc­tion site for Hol­ly­wood films, an­i­ma­tion and ma­jor TV se­ries. It also hosts top IT firms such as Mi­crosoft, SAP and a home­grown en­ter­prise, Hoot­suite.

Van­cou­ver could face lat­eral com­pe­ti­tion from other Cana­dian and US cities that of­fer sim­i­lar in­cen­tives to busi­nesses.

Robert­son be­lieves Van­cou­ver can dis­tin­guish it­self by mak­ing use of its his­tor­i­cal sta­tus as a Pa­cific gate­way and the long­stand­ing in­ter­na­tional ties that has fos­tered.

“Van­cou­ver is very much a Pa­cific city, and most of our econ­omy and cul­ture is re­flec­tive of the Pa­cific and Asia,” he said. “We fa­cil­i­tate a lot of trade across Canada and the US as the gate­way to the Pa­cific.”

“We’re unique in that we’ve be­come a very har­mo­nious mix of con­nec­tions be­tween Asia and Europe,” he added. “Th­ese con­nec­tions and this di­ver­sity are a real strength of our city.”

An­other ad­van­tage that Canada has in the glob­al­iz­ing econ­omy is its pro­gres­sive poli­cies for re­tain­ing in­ter­na­tional post-sec­ondary grad­u­ates from Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties and as­sist­ing with their im­mi­gra­tion, which at­tracts a cos­mopoli­tan and tal­ented work­force.

BC is home to more than 100,000 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents of all ed­u­ca­tion lev­els, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment fig­ures. Around 36,000 are en­rolled in post-sec­ondary pro­grams.

“We are work­ing with the fed­eral govern­ment to deal with im­mi­gra­tion chal­lenges, be­cause we want to be sure that th­ese com­pa­nies can re­cruit peo­ple and stu­dents who are grad­u­at­ing from our pro­grams here,” Robert­son said.

“It’s a chal­lenge be­cause there are a lot of job op­por­tu­ni­ties — par­tic­u­larly in the green econ­omy, cre­ative in­dus­try and tech­nol­ogy — in Van­cou­ver, a lot of com­pa­nies are try­ing to grow even faster, but they are limited by their need for more tal­ented peo­ple.”

Ac­cord­ing to the 2011 cen­sus, there were around 420,000 peo­ple of Chi­nese her­itage liv­ing in the Greater Van­cou­ver area, an in­crease of 5 per­cent over 2006. The num­ber is ex­pected to dou­ble by 2030.

“I think the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in Van­cou­ver wel­come new­com­ers — al­most all of us are im­mi­grants, Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple here make up 1 to 2 per­cent of our pop­u­la­tion,” he said. “Im­mi­grants have brought new ideas, re­sources and per­spec­tives to our city to make it more di­verse.”

He ac­knowl­edged that af­ford­abil­ity is a real chal­lenge for the city and a per­sis­tent one, given the com­bi­na­tion of its limited ge­og­ra­phy and its liv­abil­ity and at­trac­tive­ness to peo­ple from around the world.

“There’s been lots of in­vest­ment his­tor­i­cally in real es­tate in Van­cou­ver from Asia and China in par­tic­u­lar. We’re see­ing more in­vest­ment now into the start-up ecosys­tem,” he said. “We want to see that new sup­port into our start-ups and en­trepreneurs to en­able them to cre­ate more jobs and to be able to in­crease the trade back and forth be­tween China and Canada.”

With China’s shift away from be­ing the world’s fac­tory to one of the big­gest consumer mar­kets, Robert­son also sees op­por­tu­ni­ties for Van­cou­ver on the other side of the Pa­cific.

Born in North Van­cou­ver, Robert­son ran an or­ganic farm near Fort Lan­g­ley and cre­ated Happy Planet Foods. He served as MLA for Van­cou­ver-Fairview be­fore re­sign­ing the po­si­tion to run for mayor in 2008.

He has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to China by be­ing re­lated to Dr Nor­man Bethune, his grand­mother’s cousin, a Cana­dian field doc­tor beloved in China for his work dur­ing the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion (1937-45).

Robert­son has a pic­ture of Bethune in his field hospi­tal, a gift from the mayor of Guangzhou, he keeps near his desk.

“My fam­ily’s con­nec­tions to China are very deep and strong, so that’s some­thing I’ve felt since I was a young boy and very im­por­tant with my whole fam­ily,” he said. “Grow­ing up in Van­cou­ver, you hear Chi­nese spo­ken all the time, eat Chi­nese food all the time, and it’s just part of life.”

“We are a melt­ing pot of dif­fer­ent cul­tures here and we cel­e­brate each other’s cul­ture; when we have the big Chi­nese New Year Pa­rade, it’s peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures com­ing to cel­e­brate and that’s who we are,” he said.

Last year, to cel­e­brate the 30th an­niver­sary of Guangzhou and Van­cou­ver’s sis­ter-city re­la­tion­ship, Robert­son led a busi­ness del­e­ga­tion to Guangzhou to at­tend fes­tiv­i­ties and look for po­ten­tial Chi­nese part­ners.

“There are many con­nec­tions for gen­er­a­tions now be­tween Van­cou­ver and Guangzhou, and there’s been a lot of fo­cus to cel­e­brate our con­nec­tions both with cul­ture and busi­ness,” he said. “We had a lot of suc­cess on both fronts.”

One ques­tion made him laugh. Given his work­days of “16 hours on av­er­age” left him no time for leisure read­ing ex­cept “late at night,” did he want to con­tinue be­ing mayor un­til re­tire­ment age?

“That would be a very long time,” he said. “But I love my job.”


Mayor Gre­gor Robert­son of Van­cou­ver in his of­fice with a pic­ture of his grand­mother’s cousin, Dr Nor­man Bethune, at work in his field hospi­tal in China. The photo was a per­sonal gift from the mayor of Guangzhou, in East China’s Guang­dong prov­ince. Gre­gor Robert­son, mayor of Van­cou­ver

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