SFU recognizes Mike Harcourt with President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award
Storefront lawyer, community activist and public servant, Mike Harcourt has devoted his life to empowering citizens and building strong, sustainable communities. After founding Canada’s first ‘storefront’ law office—the Community Legal Assistance Society—he went on to serve as Vancouver city councilor, Vancouver mayor and British Columbia’s 30th premier.
Now, SFU is recognizing Harcourt’s exceptional community contributions with the 2019 President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award.
“Mike Harcourt’s leadership has shaped and benefited the city of Vancouver and our province,” says SFU President Andrew Petter. “His activism, optimism and profound sense of service continue to have a positive impact on our community.”
Among his many contributions, Harcourt championed the fight against expanding the Trans-Canada highway into Strathcona – a struggle that helped to establish Vancouver as one of the world’s most livable cities. He raised the profiles of the city and province during Expo 86, preserved more than 12 per cent of B.C.’s land base by creating 500 new protected areas, and established a modern-day treaty process to recognize the land and self-government rights of B.C.’s First Nations peoples.
Harcourt now dedicates his time to initiatives such as sustainability, education, Aboriginal economic development and promoting healthy living. He has been a serial start-up entrepreneur/investor/board member for 10 start-ups involved in clean energy and the life sciences, and is chairman of the board for True Leaf Medicine International Ltd., a cannabis start-up in Lumby, B.C.
He co-chairs Dogwood 25, a collaborative that supports the academic success of Aboriginal students, and is founding patron of AGE-WELL, a pan-Canadian network, co-led by SFU, that promotes technologies for improving seniors’ quality of life.
HIs decades of leadership have earned Harcourt numerous accolades, including the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, the Order of Canada, the Freedom of the City, and many honorary degrees.
SFU News asked Harcourt a few questions about his lifetime of community engagement.
Q. Is there an accomplishment or initiative that you led, or were involved with, that you’re particularly proud of, and that perhaps most people aren’t aware of?
A. ”I have done a lot of work with First Nations communities to help them become economically self-sufficient and self-governing. One of the projects I’ve been dealing with is homelessness through Streetohome, which is a really neat NGO that has been very successful in working with the private sector, the city and the province to dramatically reduce homelessness, particularly among First Nations peoples. An offshoot of that is the work I’ve done for the last decade with the Aboriginal Mothers’ Centre, which has helped very vulnerable Aboriginal women and their kids get off the street and into a safe setting, and changed their lives. More than 200 women have gone through our unique counselling approach.”
Q. If you could have a do-over, what would you do differently, or what other issues would you address?
A. “I think I would have gotten engaged earlier in the tragic mix of drug addiction, mental illness and poverty. I tried to deal with it on council and in provincial politics in the Downtown Eastside, which was always my area of representation. But I don’t think I, like most of us, recognized the interrelationship of mental illness and addiction and poverty. Our approach to dealing with mental illness and addiction was, and still is, pretty primitive. That’s an area I wish not just I, but as a society, we had gotten into earlier.”
Q. What do you hope your legacy will be?
A. Proving that you can make a difference as an active citizen, either through being elected or just being an active person. You can have an impact on improving your society. That goes against the narrative that people involved in politics are crooks and knaves and cheats just there to line their pockets. I found exactly the opposite. Ninety-nine per cent of the people I ran into who were elected or working with MPs, or were citizens involved with community organizations, were there for the same reason—to improve their community. That’s what I want to be remembered for, and hopefully that will encourage other people to be successful in that way, either as active citizens or running for office.