After nearly four years leading a deeply divided and sometimes toxic municipal government, Mayor Rob Vagramov announced Tuesday he will step down from the mayor’s chair after this term.
In the last minutes of the final council meeting before summer break, Vagramov said he’d decided to take: “a slightly longer vacation than most.”
“Because of a few changing priorities in my life, I’ve decided to take a break from this next city council term,” he said.
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The key question in the upcoming election will be the same as the key issue in previous elections, he predicted.
“Are we all super gung-ho about the Metrotown model for growing a city, or is quality of life and moderate growth something that’s worth fighting for?”
On the campaign trail
Running for office in 2018, Vagramov sounded the alarm about towering development that had the potential to essentially reduce Rocky Point Park to a backyard for luxury condos. Vagramov also voiced concerns about the city possibly exceeding growth targets.
Vagramov garnered 52 percent of the vote to win the election in a tight race against Mayor Mike Clay.
Following his defeat, Clay discussed what he described as an effort to halt growth and development by sowing division in the community.
Vagramov was humble in victory, emphasizing that his would only be one vote out of seven.
“My job now is going to be to unite the new council and to see where they want to head,” he told the Vancouver Sun.
Clashes on council
Sometimes, there was bickering.
In a Feb. 22 meeting, Coun. Diana Dilworth held up a note reading Point of Order. She was not recognized.
Dilworth then interrupted Coun. Hunter Madsen to ask if his speech was being timed.
Councillors are generally limited to five-minutes of speaking time. At the point of the interruption, Madsen had been speaking for about four minutes and 40 seconds.
“Coun. Dilworth, in case you missed it, we just passed a motion to allow 10-minute speaking time,” Vagramov said. “We just did that. . . . It seems like you’re keeping track of the time so how long has he been speaking for?”
“I actually haven’t been tracking because that is the responsibility of the chair,” Dilworth replied.
“Seems like there’s no point of order there,” Vagramov said.
“I just wanted to ensure that the mayor was actually keeping track because I know that this has been an issue, that quite often tracking of time hasn’t been taking place,” Dilworth pointed out.
“Also not a point of order, random opinion,” Vagramov replied.
At a meeting in March 2021, Vagramov introduced a motion to extend the three-hour and thirty-five minute council meeting by an extra 30 minutes.
With the prospect of an 11:30 p.m. end time, Coun. Meghan Lahti opposed the motion. The mayor proposed a 25-minute extension, which Lahti also opposed.
“I don’t know what kind of game we’re playing here,” Lahti said. “But this is a complete waste of time.”
“I do agree, this is a waste of time,” Vagramov agreed.
The mayor once likened the atmosphere on council to a pot of honey mixed with a teaspoon of manure.
“I don’t know how much honey is left,” he said.
But while the clashes sometimes appeared to be the result personality conflicts, there was also a fundamental philosophical divide on council.
Unlike some councillors who tended to characterize developers as community partners, Vagramov was adamant they be treated strictly as corporate players that need to be regulated.
“Regardless of the goodies they offer in exchange, a for-profit developer that comes to city council asking to double what they’re allowed to build is just that: another for-profit developer asking for more,” he wrote on social media following a particularly memorable dust-up in which three councillors clicked out of a Zoom council meeting in apparent frustration.
That divide was illustrated during debate over the postponement of the Coronation Park development in 2021
Vagramov defended the delay, explaining that Coquitlam’s neighbouring high-density development constituted a “paradigm shift.”
The mayor later moved to advance the project with the requests that the project include a higher jobs-to-population ratio as well as an exploration of affordable housing options.
Lahti dismissed the deferral as “delay tactics.” Dilworth said she was “embarrassed” by the decision and apologized to the developer.
Port Moody vs. B.C.
Despite adding 285 units of new housing, Port Moody’s population was flat between 2016 and 2021, falling by 16 residents, according to Census data.
The mayor was also questioned by the provincial government about a lack of density around Moody Centre SkyTrain.
Reducing density in the area would be: “inconsistent with regional goals and best practices for land use around rapid transit,” advised the letter, which was signed by Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming, Minister of Municipal Affairs Nathan Cullen, as well as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman.
Vagramov defended the decision to survey residents about land use in the area.
“Unless the province usurps the public’s power to decide the future of their own communities, it will be the public – not the developers, landowners, or provincial ministers – who will be making these decisions. If that’s not democracy, I don’t know what is,” he wrote in a letter to the Dispatch.
Notable development approvals
- A five-neighbourhood, 2,000-unit development at Woodland Park
- A 512-unit development at Suter Brook
- A 197-unit, two building mid-rise at the 3100-block of St. Johns, St. George and Buller streets
- A 215-unit project consisting of three six-storey residential, commercial and light-industrial buildings on the 3000-block of Murray Street (Vagramov voted against the project)
- Two projects totalling 267 units at St. Johns and Clarke streets. (The article also includes final approval of the previously mentioned Murray Street project.)
Files In Vagramov case remain sealed
In March 2019, Vagramov faced one charge of sexual assault stemming from an incident alleged to have occurred in 2015.
The charge was stayed later that year following Vagramov’s completion of the Alternative Measures program.
Shortly afterward, several media organizations filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking to see documents relating to the program.
In the spring of 2021, Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson dismissed the application.
Disclosing those documents could create potential for manipulation and lead to a “chilling effect on the co-operation of complainants and accused persons,” according to Hinkson’s ruling.