Updated: Oct 6
Educator and disability advocate Hilary Brown is running for Vancouver's city council
October 5th, 2022
Shortly after Hilary Brown moved to Vancouver, an accident forced him to start life over.
Three decades later, the educator and disability advocate's running for office, aiming to put the lessons he's learned to use as a Vancouver city councillor.
We spoke to Hilary about how his disability led him into community work, why he's running for office now, and his vision for the city.
Before we go any further, tell people about yourself
Hilary: I grew up in a single parent family, the middle of three kids. My mother retrained and became a teacher, and it wasn’t easy, but somehow, she was able to get us all through university.
Upon graduating in the mid-80s jobs were scarce, so I moved to BC to have more opportunity, but before the end of my first year here I was in a motor vehicle accident and became a paraplegic.
So my second life began.
And how did that second life start out?
Hilary: At first, I struggled coping with my disability, but then I got involved in wheelchair sports and through it I found an outlet and sense of community.
I began pouring everything into wheelchair athletics and activism and it became my thing, allowing me to better manage with my disability.
I then started working at Vancouver Community College as a science educator, and grew familiar with the student body there, which includes many older students and those facing barriers.
By this time I was more aware of people’s challenges and very active in the community. Mayor Kennedy Stewart reached out to me about running for his Forward Together team because I shared his idea of wanting to bring people up from the bottom.
Why did you decide to run for Vancouver's city council?
Hilary: I thought about it for two months constantly, because it’s such a change for me, but I eventually decided that I could use my experiences in a positive way for the people of Vancouver.
It’s been really fun so far, but also a learning experience with a steep curve, and I don’t stop thinking about it for a minute of the day.
What I find most interesting is talking to different people about their goals and needs. It will be my duty to represent them, respond to their needs, and help them find ways to achieve their goals.
Hilary speaking with community members during car free day
Housing's on nearly everyone's mind - how do we make it more affordable and accessible?
Hilary: I think the only option's to build more housing. It’s a demand and supply issue, and in Vancouver the demand for housing has outpaced supply.
In the last 4 years Kennedy has made progress in supply, but he’s been working with a divided council. The goal now’s to get in there with allies, and if we get in as a team imagine what can be accomplished.
"The only option's to build more housing"
We plan to build 220,000 new homes, with 140,000 being a mix of middle-income, low-income, and subsidized housing.
If I'm elected, I can also shine the lens on barrier free design, so everything new is built to standard and existing spaces are retrofitted for accessibility.
What are the other big issues for you?
Hilary: I'm fully supportive of our platform, and one major piece is addressing the opioid and mental health issues in the Downtown Eastside.
We'd launch a program called HART, creating a 3-1-1 incident response number and providing teams of non-armed responders like social work aids and trained city employees who can approach non-violent episodes compassionately.
I'm also very passionate about grassroots sports and activity – it’s done so much for me and others as an outlet for positive energy and community togetherness.
And I take on the mantle of representing not only people with disabilities, but anyone who has been marginalized. That includes anyone who faces barriers in the built environment, whether it's a person with a disability, a senior with a walker, or a parent pushing a stroller.
Wheelchair sports was a gamechanger for Hilary
Twenty percent of the population's disabled - why are so few people disabled persons in politics?
Hilary: There’s a phrase ‘nothing about us without us’ – I took that to heart and my conviction in running for office became strengthened as a result.
But many people with disabilities have their hands full. It’s a difficult role to navigate - most of us will expend our energy just trying to get through the day, pay bills, or cross the street for a medical appointment.
With all the energy we must spend just getting through each day, many people with disabilities don't even consider running for office.
With all the energy we must spend just on getting through each day, many people with disabilities don't even consider running for office.
But I’ve had 32 years to get my system worked out, and now I can look up and see the world around me and engage even more on a social level.
If I do it, perhaps others will see me and say 'I can do it too'.
Anything to add?
Hilary: Get out and vote, and, if you have it within you, get engaged on any political level, because it’s the only way forward.
As people with disabilities, we are invisible in many ways and that has to stop. Whether it’s being on student council or joining a community group, get your voice out and be heard.
To learn more about Hilary, visit forwardvancouver.ca/hilary_brown