First Person: Mike Harcourt, ‘Mr. Sustainability’ 

Sustainable progress and making places matter

By Andrew Mitchell

Few people have given more thought to the issue of sustainability in British Columbia than Mike Harcourt, former mayor of Vancouver (1980-86) and former premier (1991-98). In a way, the issue of making cities and towns livable for everyone was one of his motivations for getting involved in politics in the first place.

Now a private citizen, Harcourt has redoubled his efforts to refine and evolve his sustainability message while playing an active role with various task forces, committees, government and non-governmental organizations that turn sustainability principles into actual policies on the ground.

While its not always visible, Harcourt says a lot of work has been done behind the scenes that is paying huge dividends. In his new book with city planner Ken Cameron, City Making in Paradise, Harcourt looks at nine key decisions and how they have contributed to Vancouver being consistently ranked in the top-three of the world’s most livable cities.

As chair of the federal External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities, he also co-authored a report called From Restless Communities to Resilient Places: Building a Stronger Future For All Canadians. That report has been well-received, according to Harcourt, and has already resulted in additional funding and autonomy for Canadian municipalities.

Harcourt will lead off Whistler’s third sustainability speaker series Friday, June 15, with a presentation at the Telus Conference Centre. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and the presentation will get underway at 5:15 p.m., with admission by donation.

The speaker series is presented by the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, the Whistler Forum for Dialogue and Leadership and the Resort Municipality of Whistler, with future speakers still to be announced.

His topic is: What’s Next on the Path to Creating More Sustainable, Resilient Communities. He will look at ways that Whistler can build on its adoption of The Natural Step framework for sustainability and Whistler 2020 sustainability plan.

Pique caught up with Mike Harcourt this week to talk about the past, present and future of sustainability in B.C. communities.


Pique: Looking at your bio you’ve been involved with sustainability issues for a long time. Did that come before politics, in Vancouver and provincially, or is it something that you started applying when you were in office?

Mike Harcourt: It started with a freeway in the late ’60s, early ’70s. The council of the day and several people from the provincial government were looking at building a freeway along the waterfront from Stanley Park… and wipe out Gastown and China Town, take out Strathcona and thousands of homes. A real mess. The (property owner’s) association got in touch with me, as I was operating a storefront law office at the time giving legal advice to low income citizens, and they asked me to help stop this freeway. And we did.

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