Herschel Hardin

“Captain Courageous,” one journalist called him. He was recounting Herschel’s daring, as a public-interest advocate, in facing up to powerful television and cable interests. It was just one of the many chapters in Herschel’s life.

Herschel is an author, playwright, public-policy consultant, volunteer activist, and commentator, although now, in his late 80's, even he admits he is slowing down a bit. He has also, over the years, been a radio broadcaster, newspaper columnist, community organizer, book and theatre critic, arts correspondent, public-broadcasting advocate, regulatory analyst, corporate director and, on one memorable occasion, stage actor.

He has written major works on both economic and media issues. The economic work includes economic history, political ideology, the corporate world, business finance, business enterprise and much else – all from a critical and independent perspective. He also has a cultural side and a grassroots activist side. Above all, perhaps, he has written about what makes Canada a unique place, and has helped to defend that uniqueness with flair and gusto. “Wonderfully passionate, sardonic and incisive,” a book reviewer once described him.

Herschel grew up in a prairie town, Vegreville, Alberta, just east of Edmonton, and went to university in Ontario (Queen’s University in Kingston). He began his career as a playwright. One of his plays, Esker Mike and his Wife, Agiluk is a Canadian classic.

For the better part of a decade, he was a freelance radio broadcaster for the CBC and Radio-Canada (the CBC’s French-language network), talking to British Columbians and covering British Columbia stories for listeners both in B.C. and across the country.

In the 1970s, he established the Association for Public Broadcasting in British Columbia and, later, Capital Cable Co-operative in Victoria, in a campaign to expand Canadian television on the public, non-commercial side – a campaign involving everything from grassroots organization to court actions. In conjunction with this he also become involved in contesting cable rate-increase applications and the weird and not-so-wonderful world of financial analysis in which, as an advocate and consultant, he became an old hand.

Later in that decade he was an editorial-page columnist for the Toronto Star, writing from Vancouver on the whole spectrum of politics, economics, and what makes Canada tick.

But it is his non-fiction books for which he is best known - books touching on some of the most important issues of our time. His first book, A Nation Unaware, 1974, about what makes Canada different, is still occasionally talked about.

One of the themes in A Nation Unaware was the dynamic role of public enterprise in Canada’s economic development. This was touched on again in The Privatization Putsch, 1985, debunking the privatization movement. A more recent book, The New Bureaucracy: Waste and Folly in the Private Sector, 1991, provides a telling inside look at corporate business and finance. Working Dollars: The VanCity Story, 1996, recounts the dramatic history of Canada’s largest credit union and was a Global Business Books Awards finalist in the history category.

He has done extensive work on the mass media, not just encouraging more public broadcasting but also promoting diverse media ownership generally. His 1985 book, Closed Circuits: The Sellout of Canadian Television, was an exposé of Canadian broadcasting politics at the time. Magazine articles, newspaper columns and chapters in some of his other books also explored this tangled world of broadcasting politics. A recurrent theme is the pernicious rise and wasteful cost of brand-name propaganda and its imposition on society.

In the early 1990s, he decided to get involved in politics, specifically with the federal New Democratic Party (NDP).  As a life-long democratic socialist, he was dismayed by the strategic failure of the party and even more by its narrowness, fustiness and loss of heart. He also saw party politics - that is, a left-wing party in politics - as the only vehicle that could check the right-wing ideological capture of the times. Frustrated with the NDP's inertia and lack of strategic imagination, he decided to take advantage of a leadership race in 1995 by quixotically running for the leadership  himself and using that platform to shake the party up.  

What began from scratch, with no organization and no money, developed, as it went along, into a respectable effort.  The NDP, he would argue, needed to be "more modern and more radical at the same time."  His campaign of ideas (Politics of the Future, he called it) did succeed in stirring up discussion and stretching minds..."for about six months," he would joke later.  He was the NDP candidate in Vancouver South–Burnaby in the 1997 and 2000 federal elections.

His books, his foray into politics, much of his journalism, and his plays – most explicitly The New World Order – all have a thematic unity reflecting his own egalitarian, Canadian, un-American outlook.

For most of the 1990s he was on the board of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, one of the province’s major business organizations where, among other things, he chaired the board’s Road Safety Committee (which ushered in the company’s ground-breaking road-safety program) and, later, the Product Committee, taking it in hand at a time when the company was faced with an increasing challenge in the “optional insurance” market.

In 1999, he took to the theatre stage, playing Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian oil nationalist, in a Vancouver production of his political play, The New World Order.  He turned out to be a natural stage actor. 

In the early 1990s, triggered by his son's schizophrenia diagnosed a decade earlier, he began taking an active interest in helping those with serious mental illness and their families, most importantly with the North Shore Schizophrenia Society (NSSS).  He was following the lead of his wife, Marguerite, an NSSS mainstay who founded the society's pioneering Family Support Centre and pioneered, as well, family peer one-on-one support and crisis counselling.  Herschel's involvement ranged across the whole spectrum of actitivies, from major advocacy, peer family teaching, program development, and fundraising, through to management, including a stint as president, and playing Santa Claus at the society's annual Christmas banquet.

Perhaps his most notable contribution to the well-being of the mentally ill, however, was a bellwether 1993 op-ed piece, "Uncivil Liberties," making the civil libertarian argument for involuntary admission where appropriate, The article proved to have extraordinarily "long legs," being cited and reproduced widely, especially in the United States where, among other things, it played a role in campaigns in New York State and California for a more pro-active approach to treatment.

He went on to develop a proposal for an "intentional community" for the mentally ill, on the Riverview Lands (səmiq̓ʷəʔelə) in Coquitlam, the site of the now-shuttered provincial psychiatric hospital.  A non-profit, the Riverview Village Intentional Community Society, was established to advance the proposal. Unfortunately, the redevelopment of the Lands by the provincial govenment has bogged down, so the proposal is in limbo.

More recently, he founded the Marguerite Hardin Schiizophrenia Foundation, honouring his wife's work in the field. The Foundation's focus is on strategic issues crucial to the well-being of those with serious mental illness - issues born of their long front-line experience.

His foray into fiction - Jack in Pemberland, a political fable - which has just been released (April 2024), grew out of his concern with the neo-liberal bulking up of Canada's population by the Liberal federal government and the disastrous downstream consequences, like the housing crisis and the pressure on health services.  A major historical novel, started almost a decade earlier, is still waiting to be finished.

Herschel is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada. He has been a longtime environmentalist and is a member of SPEC (Society Promoting Environmental Conservation).

He is also a tennis player and member of the West Vancouver Tennis Club. He and his wife Marguerite live in West Vancouver BC.

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