The NPA has imported its new mayoral candidate from China.
Behind closed doors, the party board approved self-described Beijing businessman Fred Harding to take the place of Park Board Commissioner John Coupar, who resigned as the candidate on Aug. 4.
Sources said Harding is scheduled to meet fellow candidates at the party’s Kerrisdale campaign headquarters tonight and a news conference is planned for later this week.
Harding has not responded to messages seeking an interview. He recently returned to Vancouver and appeared in a Monday-posted photograph with NPA Park Board candidate Ray Goldenchild on Goldenchild’s Facebook account.
Harding is a retired former officer with the London Metropolitan Police and West Vancouver Police Department who ran on a law and order platform in 2018 with the right-of-centre Vancouver 1st. The year before the election, however, Harding had moved to Beijing and opened a business called Harding Global Consultancy.
Harding’s Twitter account was locked earlier this month and then de-activated sometime during the last week. When it was visible, the bio said: “Beijing businessman, bridge builder, husband, father, sometime politician.”
Ironically, Harding likely prevented the NPA from winning majority control of city council in 2018. He finished sixth in the mayoral election with 5,640 votes on the night NPA candidate Ken Sim fell 957 votes shy of victorious Kennedy Stewart. Sim is now leader of the ABC Vancouver party.
During the 2018 campaign, Mandarin-speaking Harding received celebrity treatment from Chinese-language media on both sides of the Pacific, because of his singer wife Zhang Mi and his resemblance to Barack Obama.
Harding was also among several politicians in the Lower Mainland caught up in an alleged vote-buying controversy started by a Richmond-based group affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front foreign influence campaign.
On the WeChat social media app, the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society recommended members in Vancouver vote for Harding or rival candidate Wai Young. The society offered a $20 payment to subsidize transportation to the polls, which appeared to contravene the Election Act. RCMP, however, did not recommend charges.
Harding denied any involvement in the scheme.
“I’ve spoken to, probably 20,000 Chinese people in the last three months. Are any of them from Wenzhou? Probably,” Harding said at the time. “I’ve never heard of it. If they’re just suggesting I’m someone they support, that’s different than suggesting I’m somehow complicit.”
While Harding had just 131 followers on his Twitter account, his wife boasts 2.1 million fans on the Weibo Chinese social media site, which is similar to Facebook but censored by the Chinese government.
In April, Mi celebrated overcoming advanced Oropharyngeal cancer with an emotional video that shows the stages of her battle since her April 2019 diagnosis. The video includes a photograph of Harding pushing her in a wheelchair in a hospital.
Mi has frequently used her Weibo account to support the People’s Republic of China government, celebrating the recent 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the U.K. to China and the 2021 centennial of the Chinese Communist Party.
In a September 2021 post, Mi promoted her cover of “The Communist Party, My Dear Mother.” In a translated version of the message, she wrote: “A hundred years of ups and downs, a magnificent year of the century. Especially in 2020, when the COVID-19 epidemic is rampant, only with the leadership of the Party can we be safe and sound.”
It is not known how Harding will qualify to run for office on Oct. 15.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs’ Candidate’s Guide to Local Elections in B.C. 2022 states that, along with the Canadian citizenship requirement, “prospective candidates must have been a B.C. resident prior to March 8, 2022 to be eligible to run in the 2022 general local elections.”
The Local Government Act says a “person is a resident of the area where the person lives and to which, whenever absent, the person intends to return.”
Harding’s legal name is Harold Christopher Harding and the most-recent real estate holding under that name in the land titles registry was for a Curtis Street duplex in Burnaby from June 2014 to September 2017. Harding was identified in the registry as a “civil servant.”
NPA President David Mawhinney and board members Chris Wilson and Elizabeth Ball did not respond for comment.