[Editor’s note: The Tyee is interviewing five mayoral candidates who are running in Vancouver. The interviews will be published over the next few weeks as B.C. voters prepare to cast ballots on Oct. 15.]
Colleen Hardwick was first elected as a city councillor in 2018 alongside four other Non-Partisan Association, or NPA, councillors. But over the past four years, the formerly centre-right party has moved further to the right, and Hardwick and her former NPA colleagues have gone in different directions. Melissa De Genova has remained with the NPA, while Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung joined a new party called ABC Vancouver. All are running for city council again.
But Hardwick is running for mayor, under a newly formed party that has strong ties to her family’s past. TEAM has the same name as the party her father, Walter Hardwick, helped found in the 1960s and ’70s. TEAM and Walter Hardwick are known for fighting a freeway that was planned through Vancouver’s downtown, and Colleen Hardwick says that like her father, she’s keenly interested in urban planning and what makes a city livable. Along with Hardwick for mayor, TEAM is running six city council candidates, one school trustee hopeful and six park board candidates.
Over her four years on city council, Hardwick has faced plenty of criticism. She’s overwhelmingly voted no or abstained when council was considering housing projects or plans that paved the way for denser developments. She’s made controversial comments about development proposals put forward by First Nations and she’s also become known for her sometimes testy relationship with city staff.
At the same time, she’s developed a devoted following of city residents who are alarmed about the pace of development in the city.
Hardwick invited The Tyee to her home right across the street from Kitsilano Beach Park for this interview. This house is important to Hardwick: her parents bought it in 1983, and after they died she bought the home from her mother’s estate, using a mortgage. Like many boomers who own single-family homes in the city, Hardwick has used the property to house other members of her family who would otherwise struggle to find an affordable place to live: her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren now live in the basement suite.
The house is now worth a whopping $4.4 million, and Hardwick describes the waterfront neighbourhood of Kits Point as “a working class neighbourhood that has been gentrified over time.” It’s also an island of low-density zoning surrounded by apartment zones, but when asked whether the neighbourhood should be more like the West End, a neighbourhood of apartment buildings that Hardwick can see from her window, she seemed horrified.
“Are you saying that the people that live here should be all removed?” she asked. “You should break it and put up a bunch of towers?”
During her time on council, Hardwick has been locked in what she describes as a frustrating struggle for more data from city staff to prove whether the 72,000 homes the city has targeted to build by 2027 are actually needed. Hardwick told The Tyee that many of her “no” votes and abstentions are related to this problem.
“I voted against strata (condo projects), because strata is all about the community amenity contributions and it's all about the revenue to the city,” Hardwick said. “On the rental and on the social and supportive housing, I have abstained because I got a legal opinion from the city solicitor that said that was the only way that I had to indicate the fact that I felt I was making decisions based on inadequate information.”
Hardwick successfully pushed to create an independent auditor general office, and many of her campaign promises involve audits or fact-finding, sometimes through the creation of new positions, such as a proposed commissioner for the Downtown Eastside. She’s also passionate about community consultation for major projects like the Broadway Subway and a 30-year citywide plan focusing on creating new housing, jobs and amenities that Hardwick says she would take back to the drawing board.
Here’s our full interview with Hardwick, which has been edited for length and clarity.
The Tyee: Let’s start with housing, because it’s just such a huge issue in Vancouver. What's your vision for the city — for the people who are looking around and saying, “Oh, my gosh, how am I going to stay in the city?”
Colleen Hardwick: Right now my kids are going, “We can’t imagine how we're going to be able to afford to stay in Vancouver,” and they're looking at Nanaimo. I don't want to be the last generation of my family that can afford to live in Vancouver.
I always have kept an eye on what's been going on at the city and back in 2008, everything changed when Vision [Vancouver] got the majority on council. They changed the way that we fund the capital budget, from just saying: “We want to build infrastructure so we need a plebiscite to give us the power to borrow X number of dollars to build it.” What they did was they regularized developer contributions as a revenue stream. Why is that important? It's important because the business model that the city adopted was profoundly inflationary.
It sounds good on the surface: let's get growth to pay for growth. But what happens [to its value] when you rezone a piece of property? By definition, you inflate its value.
If we want to talk about affordability, we have to start by saying we have to stop double-digit land inflation. And then we have to look at the other levers of the cost of housing production.
If you become mayor, what would be the first thing you would do? Are you going to publish a line-item budget, or put some sort of fact-finding mission in place to find the housing data you’ve been looking for?
That's one of the key reasons that we put together the team (of council candidates) that we have, because I needed people that actually have background knowledge and experience. I used to make the joke that you have to first read the lines before you can read between them. And if you're just learning to read on the job, we have a serious problem. That's been my biggest problem with this council: many of them are out of their depth. We have now got the auditor general in place, which took me a lot of work. We need to do a deep dive into both the operating and capital budgets.
If I'm a young renter in Vancouver — maybe I have a roommate, let’s say I live in the West End — and I have to find a new place because I'm being renovicted, what am I going to see from your administration to help me find somewhere to live?
First of all, we're going to remove the stimulus to get you renovicted in the first place. Because again, I come back to the business model that the city has assumed. Even with what (the city has) done with the Broadway Plan, for example, it's a recipe for displacement. We already see it: someone just sent me another set of sales of affordable rental apartment buildings that are going to go the way of the dodo.
I’m not going to end everything, that's absurd. It's a question of the rate of change.
If I'm a developer and I have a 12-storey rental project that needs to be rezoned, what am I going to hear from your council?
What I will encourage developers to do is to look at the existing zoned capacity, and look to development permits and a reduced cost of those permits, and an expedited time. The good news is we've got lots of existing zoned capacity. So the notion that they need a rezoning is a fallacy.
The Vancouver Plan — a long-range land use strategy — was passed this summer. It was a citywide planning process that took four years to complete. Now your party is promising to roll back the Vancouver Plan and restart the process. How long do you think that will take?
I think it can be done in within a [four-year] term. I think it can be done in fairly short order, if our objective is to engage our citizens in the planning process, but this process did not. I do believe in complete communities and I believe in neighbourhood planning, and what we need to be able to do is drill down and do it at a hyper-local level. So the objective there was to go into each neighbourhood and say, “OK, looking at our population growth projections, we need to add 500 [or] 1,000 new dwelling units to your neighbourhood over the next decade. Where are we going to put them and what's the housing typology?"
Your party has also promised to hold a citywide consultation on whether the Broadway Subway line, which is currently being built as far west as Arbutus Street, should go to UBC.
I am a great believer in public consultation. I've devoted the last decade of my life and more than that to the subject matter.
The city was laid out originally on a streetcar grid and many of those right-of-ways continue to exist. And I believe that the form of development that is the most livable for this city would enable distributed density throughout the fabric of the whole city.
Surface rail — whether you call them streetcars or trams — we see examples of surface rail that works very well. And the accompanying built form is what we like to call missing middle and gentle density.
There’s been so much work done that shows that highrises are not good for people's physical and mental health, including the 2012 study by the Vancouver Foundation on urban alienation.
Subways are really a land use play, they are a real estate play that lead to the tower model. And so those that build towers are really attracted to that model.
When you’re saying that highrises are bad for residents’ mental health, what is your definition of a highrise? Would it include a 12-storey building, or maybe starting at 18 storeys?
Highrises are where you take elevators that go to floors and people stop interacting with one another.
But that could be a four-storey building.
I would just refer you back to the research on it rather than spouting it myself.
Some critics have questioned why you made comments such as whether a highrise can be compatible with Indigenous ways of being, or why you voted against a city report on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Look at my bookcase and tell me how well I understand the subject matter. I understand the subject matter. And I should be able to ask questions without being demonized. But that's kind of what happens nowadays. People like to call names and try and oversimplify things.
The problems that we have with reconciliation start with the federal government and we have yet to deal with things properly at the federal level. Similarly with the province, we have come around on what we've been doing with the land. There are treaties, and I point to the successful exercises that I've seen, like Tsawwassen First Nation for example. I would sure like to see our host First Nations work through the treaty process, because as long as we continue talking about unceded land, it will just be perpetuated indefinitely.
My comments [on the city’s reconciliation report were about] downloading from senior levels of government and the city overreaching into areas that are outside of the city’s governance.
The Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh are, together or separately, developing several parcels of land in the city. Those proposals include highrise buildings, which seems to go against your idea of what the city should be. How will you work with them if you become mayor?
Well, I will work with them. I do have multigenerational relationships with First Nations people. The leadership, I understand what they’re doing — it's not like they make any bones about it — it’s about making as much money as possible. And I do struggle with making as much money as possible at the expense of livability, because I believe that livability is existential.
Let’s talk about homelessness and tent cities. What are your ideas for addressing that problem?
I'm trying to get to root causes and come up with solutions that are going to work because we know that what we're doing is not working. It's making things worse. So just as I pushed for an auditor general because I believed that we needed to be able to get to the bottom of things within the city, so too do I think that we need a commissioner [for the Downtown Eastside] in looking at this. I'll say the Downtown Eastside, but the [issue] is broader than that.
If there's a tent city forming and it's getting larger, what would be your approach?
We need to understand who people are and get them into the housing that they need. Having tent cities on streets is not a solution. They're going there presumably because of access to supports. I was out at the PNE recently and I thought boy, if we need to triage people we could take over some parking lots out here — at least during the off-season — and try and figure out where people need to go.
I am a supporter of the tiny home idea, but I actually think that it can be dealt with in and managed in the community for certain people. For example, my historical family church is on 16th and Pine, and there's a parking lot there that could have taken 10 tiny homes, and those people could have been supported out of the church with bathrooms. The community was actually willing to do that.
Overdoses from tainted drugs are continuing to kill hundreds of people every month in the province. What do you think the city should do about this horrible crisis, which has killed 10,000 people in B.C. since 2016?
I come back to [Vancouver’s] Four Pillars [Drug Strategy]. Harm reduction is only one of those [pillars] and we need to be focusing on all four. I would love to prevent people from going down that road in the first place. So prevention should be reprioritized. We want people to be able to recover and become functioning members of society. And if we don't think that's important, then people won't be inclined to do it. And enforcement plays a role in that as well.
Would you support more safe consumption sites throughout the city?
Not without seeing that the other three legs of that four-pillar strategy are being reprioritized.
Do you think that the supportive housing should have safe consumption sites or services inside?
I have yet to be persuaded that is in our collective best interest.
Even though they’ve reversed so many overdoses?
And yet there’s a never-ending stream [of addicted people], is there not?
Would you support decriminalization, like what the mayor recently asked the federal government to do?
I'm on the fence. I don't want to encourage people to become drug-addicted. And my fear is that could be a consequence.
My guess is that you would not support safe supply [of illicit drugs] either?
I’m still doing my homework. But my instinct is that we don’t want to promote drug addiction. Do we? We don’t want to be encouraging people to become drug-addicted. And if they are, I believe that we want them to get off [drugs].
But there's a whole cohort out there that says, “No, no, I don't want to quit doing drugs. I want more, and I want safe supply, and I want them free, and I want a place to live, and I want two meals a day,” and they want, want, want, want and that to me is not in balance.
Is there anything else you’d like voters to know?
I am desperate to fix what's broken. This is not a career move for me — it's been the most unpleasant job I've ever had, and I would not be doing it if I didn't feel that it was my responsibility. Because I am the sum of my experience and I have been exposed to the city, and its growth and its changes, in ways that are quite unique.
The municipal election in Vancouver takes place Saturday, Oct. 15, with citizens voting for one mayor, 10 councillors, seven park board commissioners and nine school trustees. Also on the ballot will be three capital plan questions. More information, including a Voters’ Guide, is at Vancouver Votes 2022.