[Editor’s note: The Tyee is interviewing five mayoral candidates who are running in Vancouver. The interviews will be published over the next few weeks as B.C. voters prepare to cast ballots on Oct. 15.]
Ken Sim ran for mayor with the Non-Partisan Association in 2018, losing to independent candidate Kennedy Stewart by 957 votes. Sim is back for another shot at becoming Vancouver’s mayor, but this time he’s running with a newly formed party called ABC Vancouver.
So far, polls show the contest is again between Stewart and Sim. Stewart is a former university professor and former NDP MP; Sim founded the homecare business Nurse Next Door and is a part-owner of a bagel chain called Rosemary Rocksalt.
While the NPA has traditionally been a centre-right, business-friendly party, over the past four years the party has moved further to the right. Four out of the five councillors originally elected under the NPA in 2018 have left the party, and ABC Vancouver has attracted three of those incumbents: Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung.
In addition to Sim, ABC is running seven council candidates, four school trustees and six park board candidates.
Sim lives near Jericho Park in the west side neighbourhood of Point Grey; previously, he lived in another west side neighbourhood, Arbutus Ridge. Asked if he owns his home, he jokes that he “rents from the bank.” But in the tradition of many now-wealthy politicians who emphasize their humble roots, Sim says he has “lived experience” of housing insecurity when, as a child, his immigrant parents struggled to find a stable home.
“I went to five elementary schools in seven years because we couldn’t make rent,” he said.
Sim has campaigned on a commitment to hire 100 more police officers and 100 more public health nurses to address public safety concerns, and he’s promised to cut the fat from the city’s budget while not reducing services. He’s also promised to bring police back into Vancouver schools following a decision to remove the program. And he’s tussled with the mayor, claiming Stewart has a plan to implement congestion pricing — something Stewart has denied.
ABC has not yet released its housing platform, but the party says its incumbent councillors voted to increase the empty homes tax from three to five per cent and is “committed to maintaining the empty homes tax at its current 5 per cent level.”
Sim says he’s running again because “nothing really has changed over the past four years.”
“I ran on a platform of affordability, livability and safety and things have gotten worse on all three fronts,” he said.
Here’s our full interview with Sim, which has been edited for length and clarity.
The Tyee: On housing, what do you have to offer voters who are feeling totally priced out of the city?
Ken Sim: On the social and supportive housing, we need to do a lot better. The current mayor, he’s been focused on headlines and quantity of housing. Our view is that we have to focus on quality of supportive housing — how bad do these units have to be that people would rather live in a tent on Hastings Street than in these units that aren’t livable? They’re rodent-infested, they’re not safe, people get preyed upon.
We’re going to shift toward a quality-first strategy, where people can actually live in these units. What we’ll do is we’ll stabilize people’s situations and then lobby for wraparound services.
When it comes to co-ops, we want to double the number of co-ops in our city over the next four years, and we believe this platform is totally doable.
When it comes to market housing, the biggest impediment to providing more units on a cost-effective basis is our permitting process. It’s incredibly cumbersome and way too slow.
What we’re committing to do as a party is, we’ll speed up [permitting]. Within our first four years in office, we’re striving to get permits for renovations approved within three days; three weeks to approve a new single-family home or townhome; and three months to approve professionally-designed low or mid-rise multifamily projects where existing zoning is in place.
Every time a supportive housing project is proposed outside of the Downtown Eastside, it seems like we see many neighbourhood residents assuming the housing will bring crime, open drug use and other problems to their neighbourhood. How do you get past that?
I've been very clear to every single person I've spoken to in the city on this issue: make no mistake, I support supportive housing throughout our city.
And what I also want to make very clear is we do not want to repeat the mistakes that we keep making, where politicians who try to hit a number, they end up warehousing people with no wraparound services and no plan. I will support any initiative that has an overarching plan with a strategy as to how these projects are set up for success.
When it comes to adding new housing, we’ve seen this dynamic where city council approves the Broadway Plan, which seems like reasonable city planning to allow denser housing along a new subway line. But because rents have risen so much and it’s so common for renters to be displaced, people who are renting in affordable older buildings in the neighbourhoods are just terrified that they're going to get displaced by new development. What are your thoughts on protecting renters while adding new housing?
We have to do both. You’ll have a lot of people who will justify it with “we have to build it and it’s an unintended consequence.” No, sorry, I will not stand for that as mayor of Vancouver. My lived experience is that I went to five elementary schools in seven years because we couldn’t find places to rent. We would get bounced from place to place.
We’re dealing with people’s lives... we’re dealing with people’s family. And we can do it with a heart, and if we take a longer-term view and we provide developers — or anyone who’s building, like not-for-profits — a little more incentive to make sure that they take care of people that are affected. That's the program I'll sign up to.
What would those incentives look like?
There are a bunch of different ways that we can approach it. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all solution. I think what we need to do is yes, be open-minded and look at the spectrum of solutions and see what works.
Council voted to bring in protections for renters displaced by redevelopment in the Broadway Plan. Renters whose buildings are demolished for redevelopment would have the right to return to a new unit at the same rent they were paying before. Would you support extending the Broadway Plan renter protections across the entire city?
Extending a certain plan over the entire city — there are a lot of unintended consequences. I think we have to look at it on a case-by-case basis and see what works and make sure that people don't fall through the cracks. And we have to make sure that whatever we do, doesn't have a long-term, unintended consequence of actually taking more rental units out of the market.
You have a campaign promise to hire 100 more police officers and 100 more mental health nurses. What would that involve?
Since 2010, [Vancouver Police] service levels have effectively remained flat but the city has grown about 13 per cent. So the 100 [police officers] basically gets us closer to where service level should be.
The 100 plus 100 is basically our way of providing more empathetic policing services, but also more effective services to people that are facing a non-emergency mental health crisis. It’s the extension of the very successful Car 87 program [that pairs a police officer with a mental health nurse] that’s been in existence since 1978.
The city would be responsible for paying for more police officers, but who would pay for the mental health nurses? Wouldn’t that be the responsibility of the province through Vancouver Coastal Health?
The city is going to pay for it. It’s going to be our way of trying it out, and then when the results come in, we are going to share it with the province. But I actually think this project will be self-funding. So we’ve fully costed the investment at $20 million per year — that includes 100 police officers and 100 nurses. We feel very confident that we will be able to make this move without cutting services and increasing taxes.
Another thing you're calling for is body cameras for police. Why is this important?
We're just keeping up with existing technology. It's just another tool in our toolbox to make sure that everyone is safe. There are individuals, from time to time, that complain about their treatment by VPD and other police forces. It’s a great way of saying we have evidence, one way or the other.
In 2020, we saw a lot of calls to redirect funding from the VPD to community and social services to deal with situations like someone having a mental health crisis. What would be your response to community groups who say more police is not the solution?
I think this is great point. We heard them and we’re in the agreement with them. That's why we're not saying we're going to police our way out of this situation, we're actually investing in 100 community health nurses. So we’re completely aligned with them.
We still have four random stranger assaults in the city every single day. And anti-Asian hate crimes are up 500 per cent. And so we do have to invest, in the immediate term, in more safety initiatives as we look to the root causes longer term.
You’re also saying your party would restart the School Liaison Officer program, which the Vancouver School Board voted to discontinue after hearing concerns particularly from racialized students about how the program had negatively impacted them. Why are you keen to restore it?
We’ve knocked on over 50,000 doors in our city, and the vast majority of individuals, when it comes to school — the parents and the kids feel less safe in their schools than they did before the program was cancelled.
But how do you reconcile that with what we heard from Black and Indigenous students, who overwhelmingly had bad experiences and negative views of the SLO program?
That’s totally fair. I hear the kids that have had those negative experiences, and we will improve the situation. The School Liaison program does not have to come back in the same form. The police officers at the schools, they’re willing to modify it to make sure it’s more empathetic and sensitive to racialized communities.
What we’re also seeing is the silent majority — we got a lot of comments from racialized parents and kids who wanted [the program] back.
The overdose crisis shows no sign of stopping. We’re seeing this ongoing, terrible death toll from tainted drugs. What are your thoughts on how to reduce deaths from toxic drugs?
What we’re going to do is set up a multi-jurisdictional summit with our local municipal partners in Metro Vancouver, the provincial governments and the federal government, because we all have a stake and I truly believe everyone around the table truly wants to simply co-ordinate our efforts and make sure we have the resources co-ordinated in that strategy.
The first step is stabilizing the situation. And that means getting more people in stable living environments. Once again, that goes back to focusing on quality versus quantity. So we get people off the streets, and then make sure that they have the right supports in place.
Do you support safe supply?
I do support safe supply, with the caveat that I truly believe that it should be dispensed by professionals, under the supervision or guidance of the health authorities.
Addiction issues — these are not criminal issues. These are health-care issues.
Do you think they should be more safe consumption sites throughout the city?
I think we should be focused on more wraparound and supportive services, in addition to safe consumption sites.
If you're only focused on safe consumption, sure — people may be kept alive longer if they use those sites, but it's not a path towards recovery.
Is there anything else you’d like voters to know?
We talked about a lot of things we want to do to improve the city. We’re asking for a mandate — we want a majority on council. That way we can do the things we say we want to do. So we’re asking [residents of] Vancouver to give us a majority on council, school board and park board, and then we can go to work.
The municipal election in Vancouver takes place Saturday, Oct. 15, with citizens voting for one mayor, 10 councillors, seven park board commissioners and nine school trustees. Also on the ballot will be three capital plan questions. More information, including a Voters’ Guide, is at Vancouver Votes 2022.