The 5 most memorable moments from the Downtown Vancouver BIA mayoral debate

DVBIA president and CEO Nolan Marshall III had his hands full moderating the event.

Vancouver debate

DVBIA president and CEO Nolan Marshall III had his hands full moderating the event 

There were a few themes that come up more often than others at yesterday’s Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) mayoral candidates debate.  

The event, held at SFU Harbour Centre, featured five candidates—Fred Harding (NPA), Colleen Hardwick (TEAM), Mark Marissen (Progress Vancouver), Ken Sim (ABC) and incumbent Kennedy Stewart (Forward Vancouver)—debating topics like safety, permitting and nightlife. It was moderated by DVBIA president and CEO Nolan Marshall III. 

Safety, in particular, was a major topic of contention as many candidates talked about the rising levels of crime in the area and how they would deal with it. Because this was an event for business association members, permitting was discussed many times, with the majority of candidates agreeing that things were too slow at the city.  

The number one issue in the coming election, though, is housing. And it was very present here as well as the contenders laid out their plans to address Vancouver’s housing crisis.  

Here were the five moments that stuck out the most for us.  

5. Harding pushes leadership

U.K. native Harding has a booming voice that’s only softened slightly by his English accent. And he was practically shouting in the microphone at times, attacking Stewart for a lack of leadership. One of the NPA’s main pillars in the election is a tough on crime policy and Harding promised that he’d be the one to clean up the DTES which he said “stinks.”  

In terms of policy ideas, he pitched a “top up” for small businesses, in which the city would give fledgling entrepreneurs a couple dollars to top up employees’ salaries. On how to pay for that, he insisted there are “130 people working on climate at the city. Climate is critical, but do we need 130 people?” 

He also said he has “no idea how [Stewart] has turned Vancouver into the travesty it is today.” If you were just judging on reception from the audience, Harding was the winner.  

4. Hardwick remembers a different Vancouver

Hardwick grew up in Vancouver with her alderman father and is deeply nostalgic about the city she knew then. She contrasted the downtown of years ago with the one today, reminiscing about dancing at clubs like Richards on Richards. “Boy, has downtown ever changed. We have to make it so we’re not afraid to come here,” she said.  

She brought up fear again later on, talking about how she strolled her grandchildren “through needles and feces” at a Chinatown event. “We can’t have fun until we deal with the fear.” 

3. Sim recalls COVID

This was an ideal audience for Sim, who is a co-owner of two different businesses in the city, including bagelry Rosemary Rocksalt. He recalled how COVID devastated the eatery in an attempt to endear himself to the crowd. “When we were looking for a patio permit to rebuild revenues [from COVID], it took 12 months to get one for the city. There was no support.” That, along with a push to speed up permits (of all kinds, including housing) garnered large calls of support from the crowd. 

2. Harding tries to score

Addressing a question on housing, Harding opened with “bring back the NBA.” It’s not the first time he’s campaigned on this. Last election, in 2018, Harding, running with Vancouver 1st, made the return of an NBA franchise a major issue. He was back at it here, promising twice to bring back the league as a sort of cure-all for the city’s problems.  

He also played somewhat fast and loose with the facts.

1. Stewart prides himself on relationships

The incumbent constantly brought up his ability to bring life to Vancouver through attracting major events like the World Cup in 2026 and the Invictus Games. “These guys would have no idea how to bring these events here,” he said. (He also noted that Vancouver is “close” to getting the 2024 Grey Cup.)  

More than once, Stewart mentioned how he has a relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It’s fair to say that the crowd in the room was a bit colder on Stewart than most of the other candidates. But if the downtown community wants to make things happen, Stewart’s plea that he’ll be the best in a job that depends on creating funds for the city from other branches of government may ring true.