Exclusive: What each mayoral candidate has promised for Vancouver tech
We asked the frontrunners what their plans are for the local tech sector, if elected.
On Saturday, October 15, Vancouverites will head to the polls. In a race that will decide one mayor and 10 city councillors – as well as seven park board commissioners and nine school trustees – there’s a river of information to wade through.
On the mayoral slate, candidates are launching a final push to publicize their positions on hot-button issues. Homelessness, transit, and the cost of living remain contentious, with those on the ballot spending the past month hammering home key messaging on well-trodden topics.
What each major wannabe mayor hasn’t yet published a position on, however, is their stance on the local tech industry.
We asked each of the five top-polling mayoral candidates how they planned to support and grow Vancouver’s innovation ecosystem. Forward Together’s Kennedy Stewart, ABC’s Ken Sim, TEAM’s Colleen Hardwick, and Progress Vancouver’s Mark Marissen all responded (the NPA’s Fred Harding did not). Each let us know the depth of their understanding of Vancouver tech, as well as how they would solve local business’s biggest challenges.
Here’s what they had to say:
The tech industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Vancouver, and an increasing driver of its economy. What will you do to help support and advance the growth of the tech sector?
Kennedy Stewart: Vancouver is now the third-biggest tech hub in North America. Our tech sector was one of the few industries in the city that saw positive growth through the pandemic. Since 2020, we’ve had nine privately-held unicorns set up shop in Vancouver. We will work to support economic growth and development priorities identified by those driving forward the sector in this city, and look forward to all the existing and upcoming innovations coming from the teams that choose to develop transformative platforms and technologies here.
Ken Sim: ABC Vancouver believes in the potential for Vancouver to be a global technology hub and leader in the emerging technologies sector. To achieve this goal, we will create an Industrial and Tech Land Reserve to attract and preserve high-paying jobs in Vancouver, and reduce commuter distances for Vancouver residents. ABC Vancouver will work to deliver both a greater level of affordability and a higher quality of life for prospective workers in the sector, ensuring Vancouver has a competitive edge against other major cities in regard to attracting and retaining talent.
Colleen Hardwick: First and foremost, the tech sector needs room to work, and room to incubate, build, and scale businesses. TEAM will prioritize ensuring that job space is available and preserved for future growth. TEAM recognizes that in today’s global economy, small businesses are the true engine in nurturing economic growth, so TEAM envisions innovation hubs or labs in all neighbourhoods, all interconnected with educational institutions and existing local industrial entities looking to foster innovation within their sectors. TEAM will look at ways of assisting with city-owned properties through subsidized rent, and focus on green or sustainable industries and life sciences in terms of attracting new businesses or startups. We’ll look to include UBC into these conversations, and use the city’s buying power in procurement to support local businesses to whatever degree possible.
Mark Marissen: A thriving economy is the foundation of a successful city, and a strong tech industry is a cornerstone of a strong economy. As mayor I will work hard to ensure Vancouver’s tech sector thrives. I will work tirelessly to fix the housing crisis, and make it easier to recruit and retain talent. If elected, Progress Vancouver will support startups by giving newly established businesses a break on their property taxes for their first year of operation.
What is your personal experience with the Vancouver tech industry?
Kennedy Stewart: As mayor, I’ve been able to meet with a wide variety of people from Vancouver’s tech industry over the past four years. I regularly hold roundtables with industry leaders and emerging companies to hear their concerns and find ways to support the sector. For example, we were able to work with Abcellera to help them break ground on the largest purpose-built lab in Western Canada, which will create jobs and develop new treatments and immunotherapies right here in Vancouver.
Ken Sim: The future of technology and innovation is one of the topics that I consider myself most passionate about. I wholeheartedly believe that Vancouver can – and must – emerge as a global leader in the technology sector. As a co-founder of Nurse Next Door, I have direct experience with market disruption and have sought to proactively engage with local leaders in the tech sector. I am an active participant in a number of tech-focused organizations. I have also had the chance to attend a number of technology-focused international conferences, with topics ranging from the digital economy to platform innovation, cryptocurrency, and emerging technologies.
Colleen Hardwick: I am a serial digital tech entrepreneur. My first tech startup was MovieSet.com, a new media company, which initially received prototyping support from the Canada New Media Fund in 2005. In 2006 it won the Marshall McLuhan Vortex Award for New Media Innovation, and in 2008 raised a series A round led by Rho Capital and syndicated locally by Discovery Capital. Sadly, we got caught in the financial crash in 2008 and wound down in 2010.
After that, I circled back to my roots in urban geography and founded PlaceSpeak.com, an innovative, location-based tech startup that garnered the support of NRC-IRAP from 2011 to 2018. PlaceSpeak is a certified B-Corp and has won numerous awards for innovation in digital democracy in the govtech space, including with the Solonian Democracy Institute. I also won a 40 Under 40 Award and an Influential Women in Business Award in Entrepreneurship from Business In Vancouver.
Mark Marissen: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many Vancouver tech entrepreneurs. Through my work with Burrard Strategy and running political campaigns, I have had to stay at the forefront of social media and communications technology.
The September 8 Metro Elects survey ranked the top three issues voters are most concerned about in this election. For businesses, the most important category was permitting, licensing, and red tape. If elected, how will you improve this problem?
Kennedy Stewart: In March 2021, a permitting modernization task force was created by the mayor. This task force, led by the city manager, has brought bi-monthly reports from staff with recommendations that will streamline the permitting process. Council has allocated funding to this work and has received several reports on the work done to modernize the permitting process. Compared to 2021, the city has seen a 25 percent increase in residential and commercial renovation permit applications.
Ken Sim: ABC wants to see a thriving local economy. ABC will also ensure a business climate more conducive to attracting global tech leaders. This involves reducing needless red tape, making improvements to our business permitting process, and cutting license wait times — specifically, ABC has committed in its platform to lowering business permit approval times from over eight months down to just over three weeks.
Colleen Hardwick: Efficiency has not been City Hall’s priority. Instead it has focused on new revenue streams. TEAM is laser-focused on ensuring greater efficiency in permits, licensing and red tape. After all, the role of the City is to provide services to its businesses and residents and not simply treat them as sources of revenue. TEAM will meet continually with community, business, design, and construction and development representatives so that we continually reduce costs and impediments to businesses in Vancouver.
Mark Marissen: Fixing the permitting and licensing system is a top priority for me. Progress Vancouver will get the micromanagers at City Hall out of the way. We will streamline the permitting process, establish binding performance standards for permitting times, and hold staff accountable to those standards. Micromanagement and permit delays raise costs, make housing less affordable, and hurt small business. It is estimated that every week of delays in issuing permits costs $30,000 in economic losses. That is too high a price to pay.
We will take a close look at all regulations to ensure they actually make sense. For example, I was shocked to learn that when food trucks want to change their menus they have to get the City Engineering Department to approve the change. That is absurd! We’re going to get nonsensical policies like that off of the books, and make it easier to run a business in Vancouver.
Given its effect on recruiting and retaining talent, the second-ranked issue for businesses was affordable housing. How would you address this problem?
Kennedy Stewart: I meet regularly with leaders from Vancouver’s tech sector and one – if not, the biggest – challenge that they say they’re facing is finding housing for their employees. We are so fortunate in Vancouver to have one of the fastest growing tech sectors in North America, but if companies can’t attract talent because they can’t find housing, then that is a problem. That is why I have committed to substantially increasing the housing supply in Vancouver by approving and enabling 220,000 new homes over the next ten years – including 140,000 units of rental, below-market rental, social, and co-op housing; 40,000 ground-oriented homes for the middle class; and 40,000 market condos and townhomes. The Making Home program will allow 2,000 single-family homeowners to replace their existing home with up to six smaller stratified units, creating housing at prices permanently protected from speculation for first-time buyers. This will make it so much easier for employees to find housing and for companies to attract talent to Vancouver.
Over the past four years, we have led the charge to build more rental housing across Vancouver. In 2021, more than 50 percent of the new homes approved were rental. Council adopted stronger renter protections through the Broadway Plan and the Vancouver Plan. We passed a framework to sustain and expand co-op housing, adding thousands over the next few decades.
Ken Sim: Ensuring Vancouver is able to attract and retain talent is vital for determining its success as a business and technology hub. To this end, ABC Vancouver has a number of substantial platform commitments to make Vancouver a safer, more affordable city.
To address Vancouver’s housing shortage, ABC intends to implement a 3 3 3 1 strategy to fix the longstanding broken permitting and approvals process while working with the federal and provincial governments to secure funding to build more purpose-built rental homes. The 3 3 3 1 plan would involve cutting approval times:
Three days to approve home renovations (including renovations to accommodate mobility and accessibility-related challenges).
Three weeks to approve single-family homes and townhouses.
Three months to approve professionally designed multi-family and mid-rise projects where existing zoning is already in place.
One year (down from six years) to approve a high-rise or large-scale project.
Colleen Hardwick: TEAM has a 10-point plan to restore housing affordability:
Remove Community Amenity Contributions from general revenue. Where needed, they will be used to fund true amenities for neighbourhoods, like community centres or parks acquisition, including the many facilities that have been allowed to fall into disrepair.
Slow down land inflation by repealing the Broadway Plan and the Vancouver Plan. We’ll review them through the lens of each neighbourhood’s needs and perspective.
Pause as many as possible of the more-than-350 spot rezonings considered by this Council so that their impacts on Vancouver’s neighbourhoods can be better measured by the communities they affect.
Implement sunset clauses, whereby development approvals are rescinded ifconstruction work has not commenced within a year of initial permits being granted.
Create a Housing Dashboard accessible to all citizens all the time, identifying everyproposed development in the city against the city’s existing zoned capacity and other projects already in process.
Continually simplify codes, regulations, and procedures, and reduce approval time frames and costs.
Encourage additional rental and ownership housing on existing single lots by creating homeowner advisory services and offering accelerated permitting for all single-lot projects that will improve housing.
Protect renters in their existing homes by demanding the province provide legislation and regulation to prevent demoviction, and protect landlords from displacement by Real Estate Income Trusts by establishing controls over excessive rental increases between tenants, while crediting landlords for necessary maintenance and repairs.
Rejuvenate neighbourhood planning in each of the city’s 23 neighbourhoods, with true neighbour consultation, population growth targets, where to locate new housing, and how to densify existing homes — all with a logical new neighbourhood growth target that will be monitored by neighbours and the city.
Work with senior levels of government towards neighbourhoods that are equal parts lower-, middle-, and upper-income households, including rental, co-operative, strata, and other innovative forms of home tenure.
Mark Marissen: Housing is the top issue in the City. Families are fleeing our city as they are priced out, and businesses have trouble recruiting and retaining talent. If we are going to make housing more affordable and help families stay in Vancouver, we need to build more housing.
Progress Vancouver will immediately act to allow multi-family homes to be built near schools and transit. Families should be able to live near schools and transit, and right now, in too much of the city, only the most expensive type of housing is allowed to be built — housing that the average family can’t afford. We’ll update our outdated zoning rules with modern, common-sense zoning policies that work for a 21st century city, and allow four-storey strata and six-storey rental buildings to be built across Vancouver.
The third-biggest concern for businesses was crime and public safety. What measures will you put in place to ensure everybody’s security?
Kennedy Stewart: B.C.’s urban centres, including Vancouver, have been frustrated by the outsized impacts a small number of repeat offenders have had on our residents and communities. Recommendations from BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus have resulted in the province applying 28 tangible recommendations that focus on addressing critical gaps in the continuum of care for people with mental health and substance-use needs, who are involved with the criminal justice system. Of particular importance to Vancouver is the province’s pending investment in civilian-led (non-police) mental health crisis response teams, and the creation of Crisis Response and Stabilization Centres that accept walk-ins, as well as people being transported by ambulance, fire, and police.
To add to the complex-care services portfolio, Forward Together will create the Health and Addictions Response Team (HART) – a new in-house, mobile, frontline, wellness service. Right now, people don’t know who to call when they encounter someone in the doorway to their business, sleeping in a park, or in a state of obvious distress. HART will enable residents and businesses to call the City’s 311 non-emergency line to dispatch specialized teams to compassionately assist those in difficulty.
Colleen Hardwick: Crime and Public Safety are huge issues, particularly for women and families with children. TEAM will establish a single coordinating body to ensure that the complex needs of people experiencing homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues are effectively addressed with long-term, holistic solutions, rather than through emergency services. TEAM will create a full-time Downtown Eastside commissioner with a mandate to address the out-of-control social issues that are impacting the health and safety of the community, and ensuring that needed resources are provided and properly distributed to those who require them. We will also:
Perform a detailed audit to determine the needs of the community, including those who are homeless, to find out how much funding is being provided and who those resources are going to.
Set measurable objectives – short and long-term – to coordinate the various agencies being publically funded in the DTES.
Identify existing publicly funded programs which are inefficient, are duplicated, or simply aren’t working effectively.
Work in coordination with the provincial and federal governments, along with the First Nations Health Authority, to identify treatment programs which have proven to be successful in other countries (such as the Portuguese model) and can be implemented here.
Implement a four-pillar approach to assisting folks with mental or addiction issues: harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement.
Mark Marissen: Everyone deserves to feel safe. The police need to be adequately resourced to do their job of keeping violent and repeat offenders off of our streets. But we have to recognize that police are not social workers or mental healthcare professionals and should not be asked to do that job. A holistic approach is needed that invests in mental healthcare, addiction treatment in addition to law enforcement.
Which candidates in your party are running for election with experience in the tech industry?
Kennedy Stewart: Forward Together is running a slate of progressive councillors who have a broad base of experience in affordable housing development; arts and culture planning at the civic and municipal level; progressive policy management with particular focus on women, children, and families; and accessibility and education. One of our candidates, Hillary Brown, is a disability rights activist with a broad bench of sci-tech experience as a science educator at Vancouver Community College.
Ken Sim: Myself, Brennan Bastovanszky, Peter Meiszner, Alfred Chien, Lenny Zhou, Laura Christensen, Preeti Faridkot, and Victoria Jung have held roles within tech or digital-focused organizations.
Colleen Hardwick: For City Council, Grace Quan, Sean Nardi, and Param Nijjar have experience working in tech. Grace is an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the energy and hydrogen industries. Sean has spent his career implementing, administering, and managing technology in business environments. Param is an award-winning graduate from UBC’s Computer Engineering degree with experience at Electronic Arts as well as the software development team for the Olympic Winter Games.
For Park Board, there is Patrick Audley and Michelle Mollineaux. Patrick is a seasoned technologist who has more than twenty years of international startup experience and a broad palette of scientific, business, and computing skills. Michelle was recently named as one of the 10 Most Inspiring Women Leaders of 2022 in the Industry Era Women Leaders Magazine, and has over 20 years in the high-tech sector both as an entrepreneur and a marketing professional.
I am proud to be running with Morgane Oger, who works as a manager in the tech industry.