Art Phillips, one of Vancouver’s most iconic mayors, has died at the age of 82.
Phillips died from complications of an infection at Vancouver General Hospital, according to a statement released on Friday.
Hailed as a “champion of livability and inclusivity” by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Phillips famously led the charge against the construction of a controversial downtown freeway, saving the city's Strathcona and Chinatown neighbourhoods from significant demolition.
He was a leader who “fundamentally changed the political and social direction of our city,” said Robertson in a news release.
Born in Montreal in 1930, Phillips made a career as an investment analyst that lead him to the West Coast where he helped establish his firm Phillips, Hager & North.
He eventually moved into politics and launched centrist party The Electors’ Action Movement (TEAM) in 1968. In the same year he was also elected to serve as city alderman.
Phillips helped usher in an era of progressive politics that challenged car-centric projects the then-Non-Partisan Association (NPA) government valued. The NPA were fans of the freeway movement: a 1960s planning trend that sought to build more roads to get people in and out of downtown faster, Phillips was not.
He believed expressways built into the heart of a city would destroy a city. When plans to displace Chinatown residents to build an expressway surfaced, TEAM-inspired protests grew to an unprecedented scale. Public pressure effectively put the brakes on a downtown network of expressways.
His leadership and ability to rouse public interest in civic affairs was well-received by Vancouverites. He was sworn in as the city’s mayor in 1973 and served the position for four years.
“The citizens of Vancouver, and of other major cities across Canada, now realize that progress can’t be measured in the height of buildings or in the amount of pavement,” said Phillips in his inaugural speech.
During his term, Phillips fought to save heritage buildings, supported social housing, and advocated for more green space to entice people to live downtown.
His particular style of municipal leadership attracted criticism including accusations of being a “communist” for enforcing policies that made it harder for developers to buy and lease city land. Vancouver’s Property Endowment Fund – a multi-billion dollar bank of strategic city-owned land titles – is a Phillips-era conception that survives to this day.
“The things we take for granted today are the things he started,” former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell told The Vancouver Sun. “In my mind, he was the best mayor Vancouver ever had.”
After his term as mayor, Phillips was elected to Parliament in 1979 and served as a Liberal MP for Vancouver-Centre until he lost his bid for re-election the following year.
“A gentleman in every sense of the word,” said B.C. Premier Christy Clark about Phillips in a news release.
In 2010, he and his wife Carole Taylor, chancellor of Simon Fraser University, were awarded the school's President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award for their extensive community work. In the same year, he was also awarded Vancouver's highest honour, the Freedom of the City Award.
Taylor is a former Vancouver city councillor and B.C. finance minister.
In January, a Vancouver park was renamed in Phillips’ honour.
Phillips is survived by his wife, six children, numerous grandchildren, and one grand-child.
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