30 Minutes With: Ian Hoar On Big Ideas, Running For City Council, Food & Tourism

One of my favourite things about Victoria is playing “six degrees of separation” with new friends. Despite all our growth downtown and the turnover of students at UVic every year it still seems like everybody vaguely knows each other. It’s even more extreme when someone puts themselves out there as a public figure, so considering that Ian Hoar has lived here for three decades, his name shouldn’t be too unfamiliar. “It’s kind of weird being a hometown boy here. You kind of just gain reputation whether good or bad, it just kind of accumulates.”

Ian is a pretty solid poster child for the city. Early 30s, software developer at MetaLab, DJs under the name Big Body, plus he moved here from Washington State (okay, he was three.) It’d be ridiculous not to mention that he’s incredibly tall, a fact that his campaign materials didn’t shrink from advertising. Ian ran for Victoria City Council in 2014 and though he wasn’t elected he has become somewhat of a public figure in city politics, sharing thoughts from the younger, techier part of town.

 Q&A

EAT: So how did you end up running for council?

Ian Hoar: “It was thanks to Ian Russell from Is This Menswear. During Thinklandia last year, there was lots of community spirit around and people were very excited about changing the city. There was kind of this joke, “you should run for council!” I was like, ha-ha, shut up. That happened about three dozen more times and I kept brushing him off, but he would do it on social media and I would say ‘go away Ian’, and then he showed up with nomination papers and said “well, they’re all signed, so we’re just going to submit them for you.” Haha! I was thinking it would be an easy job and I would just follow through with it but it wasn’t an easy job at all, surprise!”

 

Backtracking a little bit – you’ve lived in Victoria most of your life, but you did move here at one point right?

“I did move here, when I was five, from Washington State, from a little town called Centralia that’s known for its outlet malls. It’s about 100 miles north of Portland; it’s in the deadzone. You drive along the I5 and you’re like oh there are some outlets! That was Centralia.”

 

So there’s no kind of Obama truther situation, you don’t have to be a Canadian citizen…

“Actually I kind of wondered about that! I am a Canadian citizen but I don’t know if you have to be a natural born Canadian to be a council member.”

 

So you’ve also stayed here a long time.

“I think a lot of people get that itching feeling like they’ve gotta get out of here, and maybe it’s just the demographic. I have a lot of friends in their 20s and they feel like they’ve gotta go to Montreal, to bigger cities, Vancouver even. And I haven’t really got that itch and I’m okay with that. If I did I’d go in a heartbeat, but right now I’m really content here.”

 

What makes you content here? 

“That’s the hard question because I dunno! If I went to another city and there was about this much to do and about the same amount of restaurants I might not be as impressed. Maybe it’s just the sense of reputation that you have over a certain amount of time in a place where you feel like home, you know, you know enough people around that you’ll run into people. There’s never a shortage of plans, I consider myself fairly gregarious so it’s not that difficult.”

 

Have you traveled elsewhere?

“Not really! I hadn’t been east of Calgary before my trip in the fall to Europe. Amsterdam and Paris. And that was my first time off the continent. I’d been to Hawaii but it doesn’t really count, it just felt like it took a really long time to get somewhere weird in America. Growing up we didn’t have money to travel like that. It was always a luxury.”

 

Did that give you any perspective on Victoria as a city?

“It’s interesting sort of reflecting on the food scene abroad… It’s just incredible how high a calibre of food we have here in Victoria. It seems like there’s lots of food in bigger cities, say Berlin, it’s easy to stumble upon some bizarre food that seemed interesting at the time but sometimes the quality wasn’t nearly as high as in Victoria. That’s one of the things we should be talking about more is how good the food we have is. And I think it comes up but it’s like, when you go other places and you think, where can I get something like a filet beef sandwich, or where’s the equivalent to Brasserie L’Ecole in this city, and sometimes it’s hard to find that.”

 

So you personally, do you cook at home?

“No, haha, I’m proud of that actually! I get to have some pretty world-class food all the time, you know? I live in Chinatown, I work, and I basically spend my whole life west of Government Street. There’s so much good food between here and where I work, lots of amazing food and I never really feel like there’s a huge shortage of things to try. I go through phases.”

(Continued after the jump)

 

Ian Hoar

Ian Hoar

 

I think that’s pretty common for developers and some people who live downtown.

“Yeah, I think it’s a certain level of income you reach where it’s like yeah, $10 for lunch is not bad. This is a business idea for someone but find an office building, get him or her to pay like, ten grand up front, and then just make them lunches for a month.”

 

A lot of businesses do do that. A lot of cafes, especially if you’re only open part of the time, close after lunch and the rest of the day they’re prepping catering stuff.

“Yeah! The other thing I find as someone who eats out a lot is I find myself craving healthy food. Maybe that’s a symptom of eating out all the time but finding places where a meal is good for you, and you don’t feel like trash after eating it. So my go-to’s for that are Green Cuisine, Bliss, the salad at Roast is incredible. But yeah, being a downtown liver and worker its just sort of part of the lifestyle and when you have a little 400 sqft apartment there’s not much room to move around and prepare.”

 

I was going to save this question for later but it’s relevant now. How I’ll phrase it is: do you ever worry that as a software developer, there’s a disconnect between you and the people of Victoria? The tech industry is really growing in the city but you know, not everybody is connected to that industry and that’s the industry that’s taking off. 

“You mean this in terms of…”

 

Like San Francisco, people taking buses to Google, people rioting…

“So you can have developers kind of moving a class above. Yeah, I worry about it, but having a lower income, living in subsidized housing as a kid, it was always painfully obvious to me that I was never gonna take it for granted. And even now I don’t feel like I’m Scrooge McDuck or anything. It’s weird, I’m only three years into my career and I feel normal, now. Like I feel like I’m an average person. I still don’t have any hopes of ever owning a home or a condo or anything.”

 

Really? Do you think people have a distorted sense of how much people make in the tech sector?

“Yeah! It’s probably equivalent to what you’d make in a government job. When you think about it its like you’re spending 20/30 bucks a day on food and coffee, which I think for people that live and eat downtown is pretty standard. It’s not like I’m having beluga caviar for a snack. I think it’s less to do with where tech lives on the spectrum and more to do with how many good jobs pay. You know, Shane here at Habit for instance, has fantastic employees, people who stick around for a longtime, that have dedication and love for this business. They want to stay here, help him build the business, and he pays them well. And I think there are too few jobs like this for people in their early 20s, people starting their careers. I worked at a TV station for a while as cameraman and then I quit and worked at a hair salon. And the only reason I did it was because it felt good to have a job where I was social, where I was connected to my life instead of just the stress of working a high-pressure job.”

 

How do you think we can encourage that? How do you think we can help businesses pay their employees more?

“Well, a rising tide lifts all boats. There’s this lack of feeling prosperous. If we all decide to leave a bigger tip, to go out for a drink and maybe have an extra one, or maybe buy that thing that you wanted, not necessarily to glamourize consumerism or anything but more just that the money we make we spend in our community. And the more of that there is going around; maybe Shane brings on extra staff, or stays open later.”

 

So what would fuel that extra income coming in?

“I think that attitude of wanting to keep that money in the [local] economy where your friends and family are. The more we spend it outside of our community, the more we say, I’m going to Starbucks instead of Habit, not to necessarily vilify that attitude, but that money goes away, it goes into the coffers of Starbucks and who knows where that goes.”

 

So shop local.

“Shop local, yeah, and I think the other thing too is that we have a lot of people starting their own pet project business ideas, you know, small groups of really talented creative people struggling to make good businesses in Victoria. The more that we can show them that we appreciate that and actually go to those businesses, like Ian Russell’s shop, the new Standard Pizza, Salt and Pepper Fox. If you keep them in mind, throw them a little extra buck or two, they have the ability to bring on extra staff, and that means there’s more people with good paying jobs here in Victoria.”

 

So from a government perspective, what could they be doing to help support that?

“I’m excited about things like the growing movement of guaranteed income, and raising minimum wages. Those are at the provincial federal levels, so that’s maybe something that would help to bring up the base a little bit.”

 

Like raising equality from the bottom, right? The thing you were saying before about putting more money into the economy, you have to have money coming in from above to do that. I think if the tech sector in Victoria is doing well that’s great because that money spreads throughout the town, absolutely. Some people worry that increased minimum wages push smaller business out of the market because they can’t afford to pay staff until they pass a certain point. I mean, to start Shane might not have paid the wages he does now.

“Yeah, that’s fair. I think that that hand wringing is generally just people worrying. I don’t think that’s something that’s actually happening.”

 

Have you looked at any of the research on it?

“No, I’m not studied on that. But I think if you break it down, you’ve got two employees, they’re making ten bucks an hour now, maybe they make 15 bucks an hour, you’re open for 10 hours, its a extra hundred bucks a day. If a company can’t support an extra hundred bucks a day, to have staff that are happier and healthier and spending more money locally, I think that’s probably not a business that we want to have around. If you’re scraping by that badly, it’s time to change things up, not a very good business model.

I think if you have again those two staff, one is making 10 or 15, at the end of the day after their 8-hour shift they have an extra 40 dollars. And they spend it on food! People live hand to mouth when they’re at minimum wage so it’s not like they’re putting investments away, that money goes right back into the economy. So I just think it’s one of those things that we just really need to make sure that we’re looking after the sort of bottom tier, and that’ll ensure more money is spent everywhere.

I consider myself a bit a socialist, even especially now as someone with a bit more disposable income. When the discussion comes up about the bridge, hydro and property taxes, I’m okay with that. Is that an unpopular opinion? I’m okay with paying more taxes for nicer infrastructure, better bike paths, I want those things! Yes, please tax me more!

I think its time to stand up for the community and say, no I actually do want this and yes I want to pay for it!”

 

Maybe I’m out of line quoting this from your personal Facebook page…

“Uh oh…”

(Continued after the jump)

 

Ian at Habit

Ian at Habit

 

But you’ve been pretty real on Facebook about the haters in the city. You said, “Fuck yeah I want a black building on Blanshard and Yates, a distillery in Crystal Gardens and I don’t care if the tourist shop doesn’t believe in a walkable city.” So tell me about that.

“It’s funny like, Hemp and Co. has been replaced by a tacky tourist shop, and I think about that and it’s like, that guy that’s running that shop, looks like he’s working hard, he’s got a business model in place, he thinks he’s gonna make some money from that, I just don’t think its a high quality business, you know. There was that discussion of closing down Government Street and one of the quotes was from the businesswoman who owns the linen store about how her customers couldn’t get a taxi and so it would be bad for her business. She’s one door away from Fort Street, it’s not like they wouldn’t be able to get a cab ten feet away.

Those are the kind of things where you can ask people what do you think about this, and immediately if they don’t like the idea they’ll just try and sum up the worst-case scenario. ‘Oh yeah but if we close Government Street what about pedicabs?’, or you know, there’s always something. And until we can be daring or experimental, I think is a good way to put it, we’ll be gridlocked in this situation of not being able to do anything.”

 

Let me ask you this question – people often ask how we can get more youth involved in politics, and you’re kind of a leader in that way, youth look up to you as a younger guy, but the funny thing about Victoria is the people pushing that change forward are the younger generation already. So it’s almost like, how do we engage older people to think about positive, renewable changes in the city, make it more walkable? Part of the reason that person is concerned about taxis is a lot of Victoria seniors don’t think of themselves as, I could walk here I could walk there. Which you know, lowers their standard of living. So how do we engage those people?

“So one of the things about a senior worrying about a city moving towards active transportation or pedestrians is that the more of us that are on bikes or walking around, the more parking spots there are, the more available taxis there are. There are lots of places to park a taxi when everyone’s on a bike. So it doesn’t necessarily leave out people that require those things … my mom lives on Begbie, she likes to go to Cook Street Village, but its like probably an hour walk, or three connecting buses, that come every 40 minutes…”

 

Or a ten-minute bike ride…

“Yeah exactly, to get between those places, but there isn’t really that infrastructure. I’m not going to throw my mom on a bike on Shelbourne because it’s just not for her yet. And hopefully with the investment in transportation infrastructure it will be for her. How do we get the older generation to kind of buy into changing our city into a Copenhagen, I think it’s that sometimes you have to drag people kicking and screaming into the future.

The thing is we have to listen to everybody, that’s the reason I was running for council. I was hoping people would not necessarily look at me for what I know but more on how I think. And when you put people that you feel can guide the city the way that you would, then you don’t necessarily need to go back and consult every time. You don’t need to have that process of like, three weeks of hand wringing over every decision and instead you can put the rubber to the pavement and actually get some stuff done.”

 

So I think Mayor Helps has been doing that, how do you feel about her mayorship since she was elected?

“I think she’s doing great. I try to tell myself not to read the Times Colonist comments section, but it’s funny, every time there’s a new city initiative, like the Commissionaires being replaced by a unionized workforce, people lose their minds. Everything won’t work, everything is a stupid idea, everything is wasting money, but when I think about like, parking is not an issue now. You can see there is 10 free parking spots right here. The problem is perception, and if she’s trying to attack a perception issue to make downtown more welcoming and in turn creating some good jobs for veterans that are coming from the Commissionaires that are paying well, that are livable…”

 

Do you think those jobs are going to be better than the Commissionaires positions?

“Yeah, they’re going to be like $9 an hour more probably. So you know, if Commissionaires are veterans that are trying to get back into the workforce, if we’re giving them unionized higher wage jobs, I think they’ll be more positive contributors to the city they live in.”

 

Yeah, and I think it’ll help with tourism as well. Do you think with the tech industry and food and drink industries taking off that tourism is still going to be a big part of what makes Victoria’s GDP in the future?

“I think we need to forget about it. Not as in let it rot or anything, but not make that the reason that we talk about Victoria, not make that the reason that we’re a tourist destination, because we have the quaintest gardens and stuff, we need to focus on making it livable for the people that live here.

Basically the bottom half of Government [Street] around the inner harbour is not for us. But it’s a nice area, so we have forfeited certain parts of our city to the idea that the only thing that’s keeping us aloft is the tourist industry, when really now it’s the transition to a city that is coincidentally a tourist town, that doesn’t happen to have it’s whole economy dependent on tourists. Because then you don’t really have high quality participants in our city, we have the people that go where the hotels tell them to eat, and shop and get a cheap t-shirt.

I think we have enough people here to have an economy that’s being strongly driven by the people that live here. I for instance spend I would say, 75, 80, 90% of my income in these ten blocks. People like me are not necessarily rare; we have the whole industry of government workers spending more money downtown, so the tourists don’t need to exist for Victoria to exist.”

 

I think Mayor Helps wants the city to be closer to Portland where it’s a tourist destination because the businesses here are enough of a draw because they’re successful at supporting Victorians, right?

“Yeah, and one of the other reasons I really like Portland is because you can get a drink pretty much anywhere. And putting aside the issues of whether people have a poor relationship with alcohol or not, we allow not only businesses to make more money with alcohol sales but also you kind of create a bit more fun atmosphere in the city when you have.

I come here after work, maybe if Shane sees that there’s an after work crowd that wants to come and have a beer at Habit, maybe he opens a patio, maybe he renovates his back porch to create a little bar or something. We’ve created this atmosphere where it’s a dirty word that there would be any kind of liquor sales in a family joint, but it’s a huge economic driver. If you’ve ever been drink shopping in Portland you know that it’s a fun experience, you hit happy hour, there’s the cheap drinks, ridiculously cheap, and you go and buy some shoes and the next day you go why did I buy the shoes but at least it was fun, you know? That’s what makes Portland an attractive city—it’s fun, it’s middle class, you see a pimped out Prius in Portland, you don’t necessarily see a Lamborghini, and I think Victoria could definitely be that kind of city too.

People often draw the comparison of Vancouver to Seattle, Victoria to Portland, we got a lot of catching up to do to Portland, and the fact that we’re even mentioning ourselves in the same class as them, is being a bit generous to Victoria. We still need to do a lot.”

 

What do you think we’re lacking? What can we do to be closer to Portland?

“I think it’s that ability to be experimental like I said, the ability to have businesses pop up, have interesting business ideas, not be sort of hogtied by the rules of where you can’t sell liquor, what the writing needs to be, how the building is zoned. There are a lot of people who are creative and want to do creative things but they’re choosing to not be part of the brick and mortar of downtown because of the rules. And so when the rules are driving away good business we need to do some revision. I think the city is making good steps towards that, but then we need to get to the other levels of government, liquor is provincial, federal for zoning and building code, stuff like that.”

 

Is that something you’re interested in? Would you run for other levels of government?

“Hmm… (laughs) running for government is really hard. And I don’t necessarily know if I’m cut out for it? Running for council for me was like jury duty.”

 

Like a civic responsibility.

“Exactly! You kind of put your hand up and say yes, I’d be happy to go speak on behalf of the city, but it wasn’t necessarily this egotistical drive to be recognized or be heard.”

 

So if you’re not going to run what are some things you think you and other people can do to try and influence Victoria and politics here?

“One of the things I realized by running is how accessible the people that are running your city are. Is Marianne Alto still at the back of Habit? She was here this morning. I run into Lisa here most mornings, Jeremy I run into here, Ben comes by here, it’s not hard to access the people that are making decisions about your city, and there’s only nine of them. And all the staff from the city comes here. You could have a discussion with the City Manager over coffee and maybe change his mind about something! I’m not necessarily advocating you go and hassle the staff and the council, but more that those people are real people, they live next door to you, you can go talk to them and change their ideas about the city.

And then on a private level there are some amazing things that happen because of a small group of people. The Hudson Public Market, that’s a great example of a group of five or six people that put that together, along with the business owners obviously. Rifflandia, Thinklandia is another amazing thing that happens in this city that is sorely needed and happens purely through the sheer effort of a small group of people. So I think if you have something you want to see in the city, that you want to do in the city, you just need to get that right group of people together and do it.

The other thing is I’m very proud of the Greater Victoria Cycling Commission for their advocacy and drive to actually put cycling on the agenda for Victoria. It’s not necessarily solely their work that’s done that but they’ve done a huge amount of advocacy and it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been so vocal about it. So yeah, it’s like, you can effect change because it’s on a pretty small scale, we can go and talk to those people we need to talk to, we can organize groups, and those rules I was talking about earlier, you can kinda push through them with enough great people.”

 

Final questions. I think you’re right that a lot of people like the way you think about issues, but I think part of the thing people expect from politicians is they have planks in their platform, specific things that they want to do. So if Mayor Helps or the provincial government came to you and they said I need directions from you, great master, tell me how to live my life, what specific things would you tell the government and the city of Victoria to do, what do we need to do to improve the city?

“So one of the things that are important to me is visibility… The ability of a restaurant to be able to extend patio space on the sidewalk, that allows you to see from a block away that the business is open. It creates this vibrancy, a sense that things are actually going on at night. So loosening rules on how businesses can expand into the public space. The other thing that can help with that is parklets; in certain cities you can buy the parking space in front of your business and install public seating. They’re not owned by the business but they’re funded by the business. You can put some public benches out and when a tourist comes by and says where should we go for coffee? Looks like a bunch of people hanging out there… that’s a good way to sort of say, we are actually open for business.

The other things are cycling infrastructure, I think we went further than we actually were initially going to with the city budget, I think we should even go further than that. I’d really like to see us be daring in that aspect because when you create this sort of middling change, there’s gonna be a sort of, ‘oh that sucks there’s only one cycling track’, well yeah, but it’s like, we have a five year plan. So if we could push in and say we’re going to absolutely institute this grid in Victoria to connect communities, that’s stuff should happen quickly and with great force.

The other thing is a little more experimentation form businesses, sort of loosening the restrictions on where you can put a food truck, even just having cart style vendors for food, again it’s the things that make the city feel like it’s alive, that there’s a sort of street culture. And I’d like to see Government Street closed on the weekends at least, a night market there would be great, I think a lot of things that should be done are things that should be encouraging the city to stay open past six. Sometimes on a weeknight it just seems like a ghost town after six.”

 

Especially in the summertime when it’s bright later.

“Right, and so if you say to a business you can have entertainment on the street after 5pm, music, whatever, that we can create more of a sense of vibrancy. You can be a bit more creative with how you expand. Those are sort of the rough things I was running for.”

 

Anything else you’d like to add, anything to say to the people of Victoria, at least in terms of Eat Magazine?

“In terms of food in Victoria, the places that I go all the time: Fol Epi, Fry’s Bread, they’re really good, Standard Pizza, Brasserie, that’s kind of my hitlist for places to go and then Relish for lunches and stuff. And of course Habit, I usually spend about ten bucks a day here so. And again trying to keep everything west of Government, doing an okay job on that.”

Written By:

Vancouver-born photographer, writer and designer Sol Kauffman has had his hands dirty in restaurant kitchens for years, washing dishes and slinging pizzas. In 2008 he moved to Victoria to pursue a BFA in Creative Writing at UVic ...

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