August 3, 2022

And They Are Off! Mayor’s Race for City of Vancouver From 40 Years Ago

On August 15 we come up to the the 60 day mark until the municipal elections in Vancouver and it’s time to start some electoral coverage on the horse race.


But as a preliminary warm up gallop, take a look at these two videos below with reporter/journalist Jack Webster who hosted a very popular morning talk show in Vancouver in the 1980’s. In those days  mayoral elections were held every two years.  In 1982 Lawyer Michael Harcourt (who went on to become Premier of British Columbia) was the incumbent mayor and ran against Jonathan Baker. Mr. Harcourt describes Mr. Baker as “that republican recently arrived from the United States”.

There’s no love lost between these two Mayoral opponents, and it is interesting to listen to the cadence and questioning in use four decades ago.


Mr. Baker says that Mr. Harcourt was against rapid transit: Mr. Harcourt says no, he just wanted a system that was not driverless.

When Mr. Harcourt is asked whether Mr. Baker should be called a fibber, he responds that perhaps the misrepresentations are based upon Mr. Baker’s lack of knowledge and experience.  There’s a gentle technique to be persuasive and at the same time diplomatic,  showing mayoral qualities in a debate: Mr. Harcourt excelled at this.

Indeed the Harcourt/Baker race for the Mayoral chair may have been the warm up lap for the show put on in 1984 when Bill Vander Zalm ran for Mayor. An MLA and the ex Mayor of the City of Surrey, Mr. Vander Zalm did not live in Vancouver, but that did not deter him:  he quickly started residing in a residence in Southlands. Mr. Harcourt was the incumbent mayor, and trounced Mr. Vander Zalm.

The Webster interview in the YouTube video below  for the 1984 Mayoral race discussion includes debates upon whether  taxpayers had to pay for the Rapid Transit System from property tax (no) and the impact of the world’s fair planned for 1986. Mr. Harcourt states that Mr. Vander Zalm parachuted in from Surrey, where Mr. Vander Zalm was a Surrey Councillor and then served as Surrey Mayor from 1969 to 1975. 

As Mr. Vander Zalm was the  NPA party candidate, Mr. Harcourt accused him of  turning it into the Negatively Partisan Party, and reflected that is also what Mr. Vander Zalm was most known for in his time  as a Provincial member of the legislature. There’s a momentary hesitancy in Mr. Vanderzalm’s retort, but it hits, although the discussion is polite and a bit like slow pitch softball.

Mr. Harcourt was Mayor through Expo 86. He later was elected to the British Columbia Legislature in 1986 and became Premier in 1991, replacing Mr. Vander Zalm who had been premier from 1986 to 1991. Mr. Vander Zalm had mixed private business with his public office in the sale of Fantasy Gardens in Richmond, built on the Agricultural Land Reserve and had to step down.

These recordings from 40 years ago hint at what was perceived as the challenges, as the City of Vancouver moved forward with rapid transit, and transitioning to a city by the sea that would attract global interest and attention in the post world fair phase.




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