In the span of four years, Colleen Hardwick went from happily elected city councillor for the NPA to quitting the party to forming TEAM for a Livable Vancouver and is now running for mayor as its candidate.
Her surname and the name of the party will be familiar to municipal politics history buffs who recall the original TEAM, or The Electors’ Action Movement, which was founded in 1968 by Art Phillips and Hardwick’s late father, Walter.
In a news release last fall, Hardwick noted her father’s organization united to defend neighbourhoods from demolition, stopped plans to run freeways through downtown and created the False Creek South neighbourhood, “an inspiring legacy worth fighting for.”
If elected mayor, Hardwick has vowed to carry on the community-based approach of her father’s party and tackle “the key issues of our time,” which she lists as affordability, public safety and city services.
She and her roster of six council candidates are looking to win a majority at city hall.
Achieving such a victory will be a tall task, with Mayor Kennedy Stewart and the nine other councillors all seeking re-election, the power of incumbency in their favour as voters head to the polls Oct. 15.
At the same time, Hardwick is buoyed by her party’s growing support from voters who want someone else in office other than Stewart, whose job is also being challenged by Ken Sim of the ABC Party, Mark Marissen of Progress Vancouver and Fred Harding of the NPA.
“We have experienced people and well-known people, so I think we have a solid chance,” said Hardwick of candidates Bill Tieleman, Sean Nardi, Cleta Brown, Param Nijjar, Grace Quan and Stephen Roberts.
In her term on council, Hardwick has been critical of the increase in city employees, questioned the need for rezonings that lead to land value increases and asked for a recalibration of the city’s 10-year housing strategy to build 72,000 homes.
Hardwick launched her own 50-neighbourhood tour in January 2020 to inform her of residents’ thoughts about growth and how best to accommodate it. Her most high-profile achievement was her successful push to hire an independent auditor general, which occurred last year with the hiring of Mike Macdonell.
Most recently, Hardwick fought to have a plebiscite tied to the election ballot so voters could decide if they supported an Indigenous-led bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. She was unable to get support from council to make that happen.
Critics have painted Hardwick as anti-growth — a characterization she has flatly denied, saying growth is inevitable. What concerns her is how the city plans for growth and in what form, with high-priced condos not the solution.
In June, she opposed the Broadway Plan, calling it “a huge lift to land speculators.”
In July, she voted against BC Housing’s proposal for a 129-unit social housing tower in Kitsilano — a vote that triggered critics on social media to cast her as someone who didn’t want to assist homeless people.
During debate, Hardwick estimated 75 per cent of close to 300 people who registered to speak opposed the project, which will be built on a vacant site between Seventh and Eighth avenues at Arbutus Street.
“The fact is we can and should do better for people needing housing, particularly those with severe mental health and addiction issues,” she said at the time. “That’s what we should have been pushing for — something better — but instead council folded in front of BC Housing, instead of standing up for the people of this city.”
In an interview in August from her city hall office, Hardwick discussed her chances at the polls and some of the issues facing the city, including affordable housing, the need for more police officers and where she places herself on the political spectrum.
The following is an edited and condensed version of the interview.
Why run for mayor — why not seek a second term as a councillor?
What's the point? I've had the experience of being a solo act on council and there's nothing I can do. When I left the NPA in April last year, I thought a lot about what I was going to do because, ultimately, this is existential to me. We need to course correct and I know I can't do it alone. I needed a majority and so I thought about starting a new party. I have four years of experience on council. But I have a significant background and knowledge in this area — going all the way back to childhood [with my father], and certainly academically and professionally, too. So I will lead because I understand what needs to be done. And frankly, if I saw anybody else who knows what needs to be done, I'd be supporting them and not doing this.
You’re running with six council candidates against 10 incumbents. If you get elected and TEAM doesn’t win a majority, how do you plan to work with those who do get re-elected or any newcomers on council?
I am looking towards that majority. We have experienced people and well-known people, so I think we have a solid chance. You'll notice from our logo that it's red, blue, green and orange. There's a reason for that, and that is that we are pan-partisan. It's not about right wing or left wing or middle of the road, we are the road. The whole point is being grounded in Vancouver, in our residents and looking out for their best interests.
But, again, what happens if you don’t get a majority?
I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. But in the meantime, I'm going to do everything within my power to ensure that we get this majority.
Where do you place yourself on the political spectrum? Right? Left? Centre?
Really? Your critics have painted you as right-wing.
I'm a lifelong Liberal. I first joined the Liberal Party of Canada in 1984. When I was elected as a youth delegate to the Liberal leadership convention, I flew out to Ottawa with my first-born daughter on my back. It's ironic because at that convention I was arguing for women and children and I needed a place to nurse and change my baby. And I was told, ‘Hey, listen, aren't you at the wrong convention? You should be at that NDP convention down the road.’ I was the policy chair for the B.C. women's Liberal commission and worked through to the late 80s. Then for many years after that, I’ve been on and off the Vancouver-Centre federal Liberal riding association for Hedy Fry. So I have no idea where this right wing narrative has come from, but it's just bogus.
Where does the anti-growth, anti-development tag come from?
It's a BS narrative is what it is. My background is I'm the daughter of Walter Hardwick. I was his research assistant from the time I was a teenager. I followed through in urban geography and political science at UBC and then went on to urban planning. I did my practicum in the City of Victoria planning department. I then changed course after they shot a movie in our house and I decided that it looked like more fun planning movies than working in underground parking garages, which was my first job in the property development industry working for John Adams of Adams properties, who was one of the founders of Impark. I am not anti-development. Au contraire. I have foundational knowledge and have called into question the policies and direction of the city. In order for us to course correct and achieve the balance that we need for the future of the city, we're going to have to deal with some of the changes that Vision Vancouver brought in [between 2008 and 2018] that have led us, in large part, to the problems that we're facing now.
But you’ve voted against several rezonings as a councillor — the 39-storey rental tower at Granville and Broadway, the 28-storey rental tower at Broadway and Birch and the five-storey rental building in Kitsilano on Larch Street, to name a few. Why?
Generally, because of these inconsistencies in policy and the flawed underlying assumptions on which the policy is based. It calls into question the decision. What I do know is that anything that is a strata condo, or townhouse, by definition, is inflationary. Every time you rezone a piece of property, you inflate its value by definition. If we want to get affordability under control, we have to slow the rate of inflation.
I’ve lost track of how many times you’ve abstained from a vote, particularly around housing. Why do you do that?
Under the Vancouver Charter, an abstention counts as a vote in support. But it is the one and only way that a councillor can express their concern or protest, or lack of information for making a decision. So, in my view, it was better to abstain and call into question the legitimacy of the decision because it's based on false underlying assumptions. Do I seem like an indecisive person to you? No. So I would rather vote in support — indirectly — on rental and supportive housing than vote against it, as I will every time on strata, which is just putting out fire with gasoline.
So just to clarify, do you think Vancouver already has enough housing?
We don't know because we don't have the data, for starters. I do know that through the work of citizen scientists that we have a lot in the pipeline — well over 100,000 units. But it's the wrong kind of housing. The city’s business model is to sell zoning to generate revenue [from developers’ fees] to fund the growing list of council priorities. This has led to exponential land inflation, as I described earlier. We now know that something in the order of between two-and-a-half to three out of five units that are being constructed and sold are being sold to investors, either off-shore or within the country, which is exacerbating the problem of affordability for the people that live here. So if we're producing a bunch of housing product to sell off-shore as an investment, and that's pricing our kids out of the market, then we better start rethinking the business model.
If you were mayor today, what would you do about the homeless encampment on East Hastings Street?
I resist making sort of high-level statements because it is going to require a lot of detailed work. But understanding the complexity of it is the way that will lead to a solution. We need a commissioner for the Downtown Eastside. And the first thing we need to do is a full audit. People have been talking about doing an audit down there for a long time, and it's never happened. It’s a growth industry down there. So whatever we're doing is making it worse, not better. So we need to do a proper analysis.
You must have some ideas, though, that can help unhoused people.
Back at the beginning of the pandemic, I was really keen on looking at the tiny house solution, for example. My family's long-term church, generationally, has a parking lot. And I thought, ‘Wow, if we could put 10 by 10 units there, the people living there could go into the church and use the kitchen and the bathrooms and get the community support.’ That’s an environment that would be helping people to reintegrate into society.
But in February, you voted against council’s decision to set up 10 tiny houses in the parking lot of a shelter at 875 Terminal Ave.
It's in an industrial area, and it's being done by the Lu’ma Native Housing Society. It's not the same model that I’ve described, where it would be community-based.
One of your opponents in this race, Ken Sim of the ABC Party, says he wants to hire 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses. What do you think of that?
Nurses have nothing to do with the City of Vancouver [in terms of hiring]. That reveals the lack of background knowledge and experience. But on the police side, I do agree that we are going to need to up our police tally. Sixty is the number from an [independent] 2009 report that was done that said [the VPD] was down about 60. So I'm not a ‘defund the police’ person. I voted against the $5.7 million reduction [for the VPD’s 2021] budget, which the province came back and reversed. We do need more police. I've got two grandchildren. If I can't take the kids to the playground without fear, then what does that say about the livability of our city? I've watched [crime and street disorder] escalate, particularly over the last decade.
Where do you get the money to fund 60 officers?
I'll be rolling that out shortly with our platform. But I want you to understand that there is careful analysis that's going into this that's focused foundationally on the areas of civic governance.
Speaking of budgets, you've voted against every budget since elected in 2018. Why?
Because right from day one, when we were elected, we got a budget presentation document, not a budget. I’ve asked for line item detail to let me see the real budget. I still don't have it. Staff, to their credit, have started to provide things in spreadsheets. But I can only dig into a certain level of detail. It’s snapshots, you don’t get the big picture.
What is the biggest public misconception of you?
The right-wing thing, the NIMBY [not in my backyard] thing and people saying that I'm anti-development, which for anybody who knows me knows that that's nonsense. These false narratives have been developed and perpetuated by my enemies — my competitors to be polite — to try and hurt me. But they're not true. And so I do look forward to correcting the record, and I very much look forward to the debates. Because that will show very quickly who knows what they're talking about, and who doesn't.
Is the prospect of being elected Vancouver’s first female mayor important to you?
In 1978, May Brown ran for mayor for TEAM. Jack Volrich was elected. I worked on May’s campaign as a teenager. At the time, we were so excited at the prospect of having our first woman mayor. So I've held that in my heart all this time. I've watched other women run — from Suzanne Anton in 2011 and up to Shauna Sylvester in 2018 — and it's time. It doesn't influence civic governance, our budget or finance any of the other things that we talked about, per se, but I do think it's important to let a woman lead.
Some of your critics have said you’re stuck in the past. What do you say to that?
My record speaks for itself. If you look it up, you'll see that I've won multiple awards for trailblazing — for being a pioneer in the film industry, for being an innovator for my entrepreneurship. My PhD, which remains unfinished, is in applied innovation. I'm a complex problem solver. I'm always looking ahead. So I find it very ironic and off-putting that anyone would characterize me as living in the past. I won a 40-under-40 award for entrepreneurship. I was also acknowledged as an influential woman in business for the same reason — as an innovator and entrepreneur.
How do you prevent Mayor Kennedy Stewart from winning a second term?
I don't think Kennedy has a lock on the left [on the political spectrum]. And as I mentioned, I'm a centre-left Liberal. I was the national secretary treasurer of the Directors Guild of Canada and I have strong labour relationships in the creative industries. There are a lot of people on the left that are looking at what he's doing and saying this does not compute — that he's doing more things in favour of the development industry than he is for the working people. I think that's something that will resonate. Ask people, ‘Are you better off or worse off than you were four years ago?’ And I think you'll be hard-pressed to find people that think that they're in a better position than they were before Kennedy Stewart took over as mayor.