British Columbia

Longest serving councillor in Metro Vancouver says this is his last term

Harold Steves has served on Richmond city council continuously since 1977, but got started as an alderman in 1968 to protect farmland in his city. He's been at it ever since, but 50 years is enough.

Harold Steves has served on Richmond city council continuously since 1977

Living agricultural legend Harold Steves maintains a collection of seeds for rare plant varieties specially adapted for the Lower Mainland. (MPMG)

When the next civic election comes on October 15, 2022, Harold Steves' name won't be on the ballot for Richmond council for the first time in 50 years.

The longest serving councillor in all of Metro Vancouver says he is ready to move on from politics, confident others will be able to carry on his fight to preserve farmland, which makes up a significant portion of the municipality and has been under threat from development.

It's something he's been fighting for since he was first elected as an alderman in 1968.

"I've been fighting against the loss of farmland all the way through and there's been a number of losses … but by and large it's still there," he said. "[That's] the main thing."

Steves' announcement, more than two years before the next civic election, came unexpectedly on Saturday when he tweeted that he would not run for reelection, confident that others would carry on his passionate battle to preserve farmland and prevent the building of huge homes on farmland in Richmond.

"Hey, I'd stay on another 50 years if I could," he said, "No, it's just time to go. It's the first time in decades that I've been free to go, that I've had other people [to] take my place and that's really what it's all about."

At 83, Steves celebrated 60 years of marriage to his wife Kathy in June. He first became involved in politics in 1960, joining the then Co-operative Commonwealth Federation — later replaced by the NDP — to fight for farmland and the rights of farmers.

His family has been farming in Richmond since 1877 and owned B.C.'s first seed company in 1888.

Harold and Kathy Steves celebrated 60 years of marriage on June 30, 2020. (Harold Steves/Twitter)

One of his most recognized accomplishments as a politician in B.C. was the founding of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), when he served one term as an MLA from 1973 and 1975.

The ALR is a 4.6 million hectare provincial zone where agriculture is prioritized. Farming is encouraged and non-agricultural uses are restricted. 

Over the course of his political career Steves has also worked on heritage preservation and environmental issues. He said he never gave up on the things he believed in and could not bring himself to quit politics until he achieved his goals.

'I just never give up'

"I'm more active at this age than a lot of other people have been but largely, I guess, it's been a drive to get these things and not taking no for an answer," he said.

"A lot of time you get involved and you lose and you give up and I just never give up."

Harold Steves, a city councillor in Richmond, B.C., participating in one of the many meetings he's attended since first being elected as an alderman in 1968. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Steves still has more than two years left on his term and hopes to see a long-planned salmon spawning channel come to fruition near Terra Nova, and have a nature centre built at Garry Point Park and a First Nations Longhouse at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site.

Many people online reacted to Steves' tweet about retirement, thanking him for his public service and his commitment to protecting farmland and food security.