Is Vancouver about to become ‘Sim city’?

Like a cat that refuses to use up its nine lives, Vancouver’s storied Non-Partisan Association looks to have avoided a near-death experience with the selection of businessperson Ken Sim as its next mayoralty candidate.

Sim, a 47-year old Vancouver-raised Chinese-Canadian, handily defeated his opponents — park board commissioner John Coupar and the litigious Glen Chernen — during a marathon 12-hour candidate selection meeting held last Sunday. Sim’s win seemed to surprise the candidate himself, indicated by his short, but gracious, remarks after the vote.

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Considered the dark horse candidate among the three choices, Sim’s convincing victory is a testament to having a personal network who will sacrifice part of their Sunday to help a friend. Nearly 50 per cent of the 1,970 votes cast went to Sim in what has been described as an upset victory.

The NPA might count itself lucky that so much controversy has swirled around it in the last several weeks, as it attracted a large turnout of Vancouver media who was expecting a win by the controversial Chernen. In the end, however, Chernen never had enough supporters to win — not even close.

For weeks, political insiders have been spinning that Chernen’s membership sign-ups well-surpassed those of his rivals, and he would easily sail into the role as the NPA’s leader. That turned out to be a load of bunk.

Sim is an unknown quantity among political circles. Like the current mayor, he is making the leap into politics from his time as an entrepreneur. But unlike the terminally awkward Gregor Robertson, Sim comes across as articulate and unscripted.

Sim even showed he has a knack for politics by climbing off the stage at the Hellenic Centre candidate meeting, addressing those in attendance down at floor level.

Speaking without notes, Sim described his humble beginnings growing up in Vancouver as the child of immigrants. It helped him to come across as the most relatable mayoral candidate so far, if nothing else.

It is probably not lost on the NPA that Sim’s candidacy could activate voters in the city’s Chinese community, which make up about a third of Vancouver’s population. Sim placed a value on his own heritage by touring historic Chinatown with media the day after the vote, sharing memories from his time spent in that neighbourhood.

With a mere five and a half months until election day, Sim has a gigantic though not impossible task ahead of him.

First, he must become a quick study on the issues facing the city. Though he promises a more business-like approach to running city hall, reading a balance sheet is only part of the job. He will have to somehow build trust among Vancouver’s power axis — labour unions, city staff and real estate developers.

Second, he will have to do an audit of the NPA in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. He must immediately shore up support on their board, form a campaign team and begin looking to build a roster of candidates from incumbents and other aspirants. Assuming the NPA does not make the mistake of running a full slate, that means there are 20 open positions for council, park and school board minus those who are running again.

Thirdly, Sim will have to raise his profile among city voters. He can only do that if the NPA regains its reputation as an organization that supports moderate, forward-looking candidates.

Easy peasy, right?

Even if Sim pulls off all the above, he and the NPA will still have to take on the labour-backed coalition of Vision Vancouver, the Greens, COPE and One City.

In what appears to be a breach of the Local Government Election Finance Act (a.k.a. “Bill 15,” which bans union and corporate donations) worthy of an Elections B.C. investigation, the Vancouver District Labour Council announced an agreement they cobbled together among these parties to run joint slates for all three boards.

In the weeks ahead, I predict an all-out assault on Sim’s credibility from politicos on the left and possibly from the right.

After all that pummeling and more, if the candidate is still standing, Vancouver could become known as Sim city.


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