“A Pivotal Year”
Vancouver historian Chuck Davis attended that last “Paradise Makers” – the SFU City Program interview series with decision-makers from the past – and was impressed enough to document the evening. Here’s his report, which he’ll also post on his website, www.vancouverhistory.ca
There was no more significant year for Vancouver than 1972, says Gordon Price. That was confirmed on Friday, September 5, at the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University when we heard, among other things, that “Art Phillips and Walter Hardwick changed the direction of the city.”
SFU presents, as part of its City Program, a series called Paradise Makers about the people who shaped Vancouver. This latest in the series was hosted by Price, director of the program, and featured four guests: May Brown, Jack Volrich, Marguerite Ford and Setty Pendakur. Every one of those four was involved in those tumultuous times. They had all been city councillors, and Volrich had been mayor from 1977 to 1980.
Subjects included: the birth of TEAM (The Electors Action Movement), Phillips and Hardwick, transit, the Property Endowment Fund, social housing and tall, beefy cops.
About sixty people attended what turned out to be a genuinely interesting session.
Gordon Price (after mentioning that 1972 was also the year the NDP won election at the provincial level) began the session by reading an excerpt from an article titled Vancouver Politics by Paul Tennant in The Vancouver Book (1976), an article he described as the best he knew of on the times. Tennant describes the entry of TEAM onto the civic political scene in 1968. TEAM, wrote Tennant, “sought to be a moderate reform group appealing to persons of all political ideologies.”
On their left was COPE (the Committee of Progressive Electors), also formed in 1968, and on their right was the NPA (the Non-Partisan Association), which had been a power in city politics for nearly four decades, and which “held that the affairs of the city should be run by those with the necessary knowledge and experience, i.e., those with a professional-managerial background, in order to run the city in a business-like way.”
The reformers, on the other hand, “felt that civic decision-making should be open to the public, with leadership coming from a cross-section of the population, and rule going to the working class majority. This group was concerned about land use, they advocated city control, and preferred to structure politics around the neighborhood concept.”
How did you get involved?
Price asked the panelists how they themselves had become involved in civic politics.
May Brown joined TEAM in 1968. She’d been involved in women’s field hockey, so she got to know the city’s parks well. Conditions were bad. She ran for a parks board seat, and was elected. Four years later she ran for council and was again successful. She served 10 years.
Jack Volrich, a lawyer, was a founding member of TEAM and won election in 1972 as a councillor. He was mayor from 1977 to 1980, with housing and Expo 86 major concerns, but would quit TEAM to run (unsuccessfully) as an independent.
Marguerite Ford got involved when she became angry about announced freeway plans, the TD Bank tower, Project 200 and a lack of citizen participation. She was president of TEAM, was elected to council in 1976 and served 10 years. (She’s the source of the quote about Phillips and Hardwick changing the direction of the city.)
Setty Pendakur, a UBC planning prof, had just finished his PhD in transportation planning, and was dismayed by a $500,000 contract given to a U.S. firm to do a study on the future of transportation in Vancouver. “Take a photograph of Seattle,” said Pendakur, “and superimpose it on a photo of Vancouver, and that’s what you would have got. The plan was stupid and inappropriate.” The condition of False Creek was an irritant, too. There were “dirty industries” there, and raw sewage was being discharged into the Creek. “All that I had learned was contrary to what we had been taught.” Pendakur was elected to council in 1972 and served two years.
The birth of TEAM
Price asked the panel how TEAM had materialized.
May Brown said she’d heard early in 1968 that someone was forming a political party. “We were going to meet in Gowan Guest’s office, expecting about 25 people. 125 showed up!” That was too many for the space, so there was a breakfast meeting at the Commodore, tickets $10. It had been sparked by Art Phillips, the head of a successful Vancouver investment firm. Brown also gives the late Walter Hardwick a lot of credit for the new group’s formation, and for the shaping of its policy.
“TEAM had two wings,” she explained. “One was devoted to figuring out how to fight an election, the other was on policy. Walter Hardwick led that group. I give him tremendous credit.” (She also noted with satisfaction that Colleen Nystedt, Hardwick’s daughter, was in the audience.) In 1968 both Phillips and Hardwick were elected to council in an election that created an unusual amount of interest. “We weren’t used to a lot of people voting,” Brown said, to audience laughter. “At eight o’clock there was a lineup around the corner on Camosun. So they brought everyone in and closed and locked the doors. They ran out of ballots, and so they wrote the names on a blackboard and people voted by writing on foolscap!” The returning officer allowed it.
Later, there was a recount, and Art Phillips got in (joining Hardwick, who had, incidentally, topped the polls).
Pendakur commented that it wasn’t just professors who sparked its creation. “It was very diverse, and we got together by word of mouth. There were professors, business people, labor, lawyers and from all across the city. It was a coalescing of people around the idea we should do something.”
May Brown cited prominent people who backed the TEAM platform: MP Margaret Mitchell, Bill Gibson, Gowan Guest, lawyer Mike Harcourt, Darlene Marzari, labor leader Ed Lawson and Burnaby mayor Alan Emmott. (Emmott ran as TEAM’s mayoral candidate in 1968, but was unsuccessful.) “The basis of TEAM,” said May Brown, “was to be as inclusive as possible. It was no political party. We had COPE, NDP, Liberal, Conservative . . .”
“We had daylong policy meetings,” Ford said, “We had policies on everything. It was that agreement on policy that was fundamental to the cohesion of the group.”
Then the evening got into those policies and how they were implemented. The range of topics was wide.
May Brown cited as one of TEAM’s accomplishments the city’s Property Endowment Fund, a Phillips initiative.
[A note: I checked with Gordon Price to get an accurate description of that fund. He wrote:
PEF: those properties and leases owned by the city which are not in the near term intended to be used for municipal purposes, like roads, parks or non-market housing sites. They are consolidated in this fund, and operated by the city through the real-estate division on a ‘market’ basis—that is, they have to provide a reasonable return as if they were privately held. The properties and revenues are kept within the fund, unless city council decides otherwise, save for an annual transfer to the operating budget, usually in the range of $7 to $12 million, depending on the wish of council. The PEF also backs up the city’s credit rating, allowing us to get the lowest possible interest rate on any borrowings.
“The city was selling land every year, putting money into general revenue to keep taxes down,” May Brown continued. “Art Phillips said this has got to stop. We’re cannibalizing our land . . . The value of the PEF in those days was $100 million. Today, it’s $6.6 billion. The rationale was simple: citizens should share in the profits from any increase in land value. “Art Phillips was accused of being a communist,” Pendakur said, laughing, “because he took money from developers for the City.”
Phillips was criticized in 1974, Brown added, for “putting people before property.” (His response was: “I plead guilty.”)
The subject of social housing arose. Brown opined that the concentration of social housing on the East Side was a mistake. Ford added to that a comment that the city built enough social housing to hold more than the population needing it!
The acquisition of parkland was another TEAM initiative. “From 1972 to 1974,” Pendakur said, “we acquired more parkland than had been acquired in the previous 90 years.” He described his 1972 TEAM counterparts on council—eight councillors and Mayor Phillips—as “nine extraordinarily energetic people.” (He got a big laugh from the crowd when he referred to the policy of the Vancouver Police Department in the early ’70s of hiring “all tall beefy guys.” Pendakur, who could be described as vertically challenged, said “I was responsible for getting them to hire short guys!”)
May Brown, who was Vancouver’s representative on the GVRD board (now Metro Vancouver) during her time on council, lamented the lessening of the city’s influence there. Ford agreed, saying that Vancouver needed “more muscle” on the Metro board.
Marguerite Ford, commenting on transit, noted that “of all taxes collected from the citizens of Vancouver, the city gets just eight per cent. That’s not enough to finance transit.” She cited the John Punter book, The Vancouver Achievement (2003, UBC Press), which comments at length on the subject. “Our transportation problems today,” May Brown added, “are a result of our failure to bite the bullet and pay for transit.”
Allied to transit are freeways. “The opposition to freeways did not start until 1968,” Setty Pendakur said, and that was partly because the plan hadn’t been announced until then, “but TEAM was not just anti-freeway. We had a set of policies of what we wanted to do instead.” He cited as an example their support for a waterfront plan for the city to provide more public access. In a city practically surrounded by water, it was practically impossible to get to it!
Asked a question about the demise of TEAM, May Brown commented that the prime movers were architects and planners, academics and the like. “After a few years, they’d accomplished what they wanted to do.” They began to drift away. “And the membership began to feel their wishes weren’t being put into effect.”
“But the footprints of 1972-76 are still there,” Setty Pendakur said. “Our legacy was that we set a new direction for the city.”
In a question period that followed the main event the stark difference between two city planners was cited. When TEAM first came onto council, Setty Pendakur said, he and Art Phillips called on the city planner at the time, Gerald Sutton-Brown. Sutton-Brown was quite “imperious,” Pendakur said. “It was like being granted an audience with the Queen.” Pendakur and Phillips went to Toronto and hired planner Ray Spaxman away. He would replace his imperious predecessor. Spaxman was just right for TEAM: he was a believer in citizen participation. “TEAM,” Pendakur said, “ could not have done what we did without Ray Spaxman.” (Note: an audio recording of Spaxman’s November 2, 2007 appearance in the Paradise Makers series is at www.sfu.ca/city/city_pgm_mp3_24.htm. It’s a conversation between Spaxman and Gordon Price.) “Citizen participation today,” Pendakur added, “is as normal now as sunrise and sunset.”
Other topics discussed during this very enlightening session: Champlain Heights, the Development Permit Board, the purchase of land at the entrance to Stanley Park, the ward system, eco-density, the late city manager (and one-time TEAM councillor) Fritz Bauer and much, much more.
My thanks to Gordon Price and Frank Pacella of the City Program at SFU for their help.
More detail on this evening and others in the series is available at SFU’s own site www.sfu.ca/city/fpl4popup.htm