[Editor’s note: The Tyee is interviewing five mayoral candidates who are running in Vancouver. The interviews, gathered in series, are being published during the run-up to voting day, Oct. 15.]
If there was a prize for most drama this election, Vancouver’s oldest civic party would certainly take the crown.
The Non-Partisan Association has traditionally been the home for centre-right voters, its power base firmly located in the upper middle-class west side. The party has not been able to elect a mayor since 2005, but in 2018, the NPA did elect five councillors.
In 2019, the party elected two board members with ties to far-right or conservative media, and others who had been endorsed by an organization that opposes B.C.’s province’s sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum. Today, only one sitting councillor — Melissa De Genova — remains with the party, while Colleen Hardwick is running for mayor with TEAM and Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung are running for re-election with ABC Vancouver.
The NPA has also struggled to attract a mayoral candidate this election: park board commissioner John Coupar bowed out in August, leaving the party scrambling.
Enter Fred Harding, a former police officer who grew up in London, U.K. and worked with the West Vancouver Police Department before attempting a mayoral run in 2018 with Vancouver First. He came in sixth place, with 5,640 votes.
Harding has spent the last few years living in China with his wife, prominent singer Zhang Mi, where Harding ran a business called Harding Global Consultancy. But he’s now back in the city and living at Telus Garden in downtown Vancouver, where he rents.
Harding is laser-focused on law and order in the city, and is pushing for more police to deal with what policing expert Doug LePard called an “increasing intensity of disorder and aggressive behaviour in downtown areas across B.C.” in a recent report. Harding told The Tyee he wants to increase the number of police officers, and said he favours arresting homeless people who choose to live in tent cities instead of going to shelters.
Here’s our full interview with Harding, which has been edited for length and clarity.
The Tyee: You live in downtown Vancouver. What are you hearing from your neighbours and people who live in the neighborhood? What is their most pressing issue?
Fred Harding: Crime, public safety — people are afraid. I'm speaking to people in my building and they talk about crime, they talk about safety. It's pretty privileged — we have great security gates — but other people do not.
So what are your ideas of how to address this?
We’ve got a 19-point plan. We need a crisis-level response at city hall. And the crisis-level response at city hall will be about how we work with a police department, with the Vancouver Police Union.
Because it’s a crisis, I would be asking the province and the feds for some money.
Because what we're experiencing — and I say this without a hint of hyperbole — I think outside of a war, and in western democracy, this is probably the fastest deterioration of a city since the Great Depression.
Police resources have remained constant since 2009. Yet since 2009, we've probably had almost 80,000 new people come into the city. So we're asking them to do way, way more with far, far less.
You want the province or federal government to kick in some money to fund the police. Normally cities pay for police, so is that something that's ever been done?
I want to talk about this in terms of a crisis. And what I'm looking for is not just to fund the police, but to fund it as an overall response to crime.
Can we work with the Vancouver Police Department to bring in additional police officers? I know that they need more police officers. Can we get cops from West Vancouver? Can we get cops from Surrey or Delta to start working overtime shifts? And what I want to see is police officers walking the street and not driving around in cars.
I want to see that we actually deal with all of the crimes that are happening on the streets. The young man who’s walking down the street, putting his [device into parking meters] and trying to steal the money — it’s a criminal offense, right? We have to start dealing with them.
Let's go to another big issue, which is the toxic drug crisis. We've seen a bunch of moves in these past four years, moving towards decriminalization and safe supply. I'm just curious about what your ideas are for addressing that particular crisis.
So my ideas for addressing that crisis today are probably the same as in 1992, when I sent a document to my inspector. There was no such thing in East London as a safe injection site. There was no such thing as safe supply.
And what I was advocating for as a young cop was, we need to have decriminalization — because I can talk about a revolving door of arresting and arresting and arresting people for possession of drugs. Even then in 1992, it was, “Can we not do something which includes treatment?”
When I came here, [former Vancouver mayor] Philip Owen was bringing in the Four Pillars [strategy]. I believe it was in 1997. Now I'm looking at what we have and we've got harm reduction and safe supply — and people have been dropping like nine pins. And I just strongly believe that it must be tied to a treatment program.
How would you make that happen at the city level?
I want to talk about what this can look like. I’m not talking about people going into rehab for six weeks. I'm talking about eight months, nine months, 12 months, 18 months — and finding some way to get the funding to do that. So this is part of a plan, a greater plan for the Downtown Eastside that I want to talk about.
I want to talk about the drain of resources that we have to stop. This is why we must have treatment, because there's a cost to society by not having treatment programs.
In the meantime, though, no treatment program is ever going to work for every person every time. When people relapse, they have a higher chance of dying if they use drugs that are tainted with fentanyl or other unpredictable mixes of drugs. Do you support harm reduction measures like safe injection sites, or safe supply?
I support harm reduction. And I support safer supply, but not on its own because if this was all you're offering — harm reduction and safe supply — and then slum housing in an SRO, is this the best that we can do in Canada? I'm going to say categorically: no, it's not.
Let’s move on to talk about housing. I was biking up here to your campaign office in Kerrisdale and I was looking into the backyards of all these nice, middle-class-looking houses — but they’re all worth millions and millions of dollars. What are your thoughts — what do we do about housing in Vancouver?
We're being squeezed into the situation because of the lack of supply. People will still say, “No matter how much supply you build, it will not bring the prices down,” and I'm going to say I believe it will.
We have lots of properties where a condo or a building is ready to go up, but the developers are not building because there’s uncertainty [around] having to negotiate the community amenity contributions on that building.
If I'm speaking to somebody who wants to build a luxury condo, the community amenity contribution is going to be 15, 18, 20, 40 per cent — I honestly don't know what that number is. We don't know what that number will be until we get in and open the books. But if you want to build rental units, maybe the CAC should be seven, 8, 12, 15 per cent. But regardless, they have certainty.
I think with a Broadway Plan, what we saw was a lot of anxiety from renters who live in older apartment buildings. Did you agree with the mayor's proposal for renter protections for the Broadway Plan, to allow people to return to a redeveloped building at the same rate they were paying before? Do you think that those protections should be extended across the entire city?
I have to look at it deeper. But here's the issue. It's great for the renter, and 53 per cent of the city rents, so we have to have renter protections in the city. When it comes to new units, do you get to go into a new unit at the exact same price? I honestly don't know. A lot of the people who owned these older apartment buildings [for many years] have had to give them up.
They sold them. They didn’t ‘give them up.’
But why did they sell? Because for years, it's been an ongoing concern and now they're not making money. Now they've got a zero rent increase. Last month, there was [another] rise in interest rates. They've been squeezed out.
I'm guessing that you wouldn't be a fan of vacancy control. That's when the rent is tied to the unit and not the tenant, so that when the tenant moves out, the new tenant is paying a similar rent.
We have to recognize that buildings are run largely as a business. So can you really start telling anybody how much money they can and can't make on the property?
Homelessness is a big part of the housing question. We've seen quite a few tent cities form in Vancouver. What would be your ideas for addressing that problem?
So what I was looking at was the Army & Navy. But the Army & Navy [building] I understand has already been snapped up and I can't use it, because it looks like it's going to go under development.
Yes, it's already being used for a homeless shelter, run by Portland Hotel Society.
I'm looking now at 500 Dunsmuir St. [a vacant SRO building owned by Holborn Group]. And here's what I want to do: I want to make sure this is rodent free. I want to make sure that it has fire sprinklers and security, that it's free from drug dealers. And if you're going to be in there for two months or three months, at least you can be triaged out because your issue is going to be different to my issues.
How is this different than what the city has been doing already?
We have the criminal code, Section 430. That's about enjoyment of property, and we can use the criminal code to get people off the streets if they won't go into shelters. So we can start to reclaim the streets.
If people really refused to leave an encampment, can you take me through that process? If you were arresting them and charging them, would they be going to jail? Or to a shelter?
Nothing is going to take place that doesn't respect people's rights and responsibilities. But then remember, that person has responsibilities as a citizen. So at some point, we're a nation of laws. And what I'm trying to say is we can use the law to resolve to bring solutions and find solutions.
How would you keep people from leaving the shelter and going back on the street?
So now we fall back onto the criminal code. It's about setting up an encampment on the street. Once there's a shelter, you can't have an encampment on the street, as long as there's adequate shelter spaces. So that's what we're going to do.
Is there anything else you’d like voters to know?
Our public safety policy, and our public safety campaign will be one that stretches all across Vancouver. People know that they can really have confidence to walk down the streets — because people are afraid to walk. I'm an ex-cop. I know how to arrest people. I know how to target people. We have people on our team who do data analysis on crime. We know how we can actually target specific criminals.
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.