June 4, 2018

Biz Whiz for a Sim City

Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association (NPA) party has nominated Ken Sim as its mayoral candidate for the 2018 civic election. Mr. Sim earned around 50% of the 1,960 votes cast, beating out Park Board commissioner John Coupar (31%) and professional gadabout Glen (Muscle Cars) Chernen (19%).

This, despite having been alphabetically-challenged (“S”) by comparison.

Sim’s a CPA and a grad of the Faculty of Commerce at UBC (now Sauder School of Business), with two successful start-ups to his credit.

And he’s a newcomer to politics. So where did all the support come from?

For one, his big backers at the NPA include Peter Armstrong and Chip Wilson. (With thanks to Charlie Smith at the Georgia Straight).

Armstrong is the founder and CEO of Armstrong Group, which owns and operates the Rocky Mountaineer train company.

He’s been active in B.C. Liberal backrooms and despite his considerable success in the business world, he’s been a singular failure in municipal politics.

Since he became the eminence grise of the NPA following the Peter Ladner debacle of 2008, the party has lost two straight mayoral elections. It could be on its way toward another political iceberg in 2018 as a result of the board of directors vetoing the mayoral application of Coun. Hector Bremner. . . .

Armstrong’s NPA makes a pretense of listening but still gives short shrift to environmental concerns. That’s been its undoing in the last two elections and there’s no sign that the party has learned any lessons from this. . . .

As an Armstrong NPAer, don’t expect to hear Sim express a great deal of opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline project or the threat it poses to Vancouver’s tourism industry, of which Armstrong is a kingpin.

The closest we’ll get to a Sim-specific platform (aside from vague pro-biz thoughts in the video below) is available on his website. We provide some excerpts below; his Twitter account, opened in 2008, is lightly used and mostly boosts for his businesses. Both Facebook accounts (Sim as human and Sim as brand) are also light on content.

As mayor, my single biggest priority is attainable housing for Vancouverites to rent and buy. Breaking the building permit logjam at City Hall with well-designed efficiencies and introducing more creative zoning by-laws will give our children better opportunities to live close to home. By investing in livable, walkable communities surrounding key public transportation hubs, we can reduce the number of cars on our streets and strengthen our neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods have always been a vital part of Vancouver. They help build a sense of community and must be supported at City Hall.

Mobility is critical to the evolution of our world-class city. Vancouver’s population has grown by roughly 45,000 people over the last 10 years and continues to grow. Our transportation network needs to keep pace with that growth. I will work toward alleviating congestion while maintaining a healthy balance between transit and auto, walking and cycling. All are key to improving efficiency and quality of life. I will remain skeptical of easy answers to improve Vancouver’s gridlock. I will work effectively with other levels of government to develop multiple approaches to mobility. At this level I will push for examining “mobility as a service” throughout the Lower Mainland.

Having been denied a chance at their mayoral nomination by the NPA’s board, currently-sitting NPA councilor Hector Bremner has this to say about Sim’s future:

Coun. Hector Bremner congratulated Ken Sim on Facebook before declaring that the NPA’s standard-bearer won a “poisoned chalice”.

. . . “This is now no longer the NPA as most people know it,” Bremner stated tonight. “Our supporters—those desperate for housing and hope in our city—have asked us to keep moving forward, and we will.

(More props to Charlie Smith at the Straight).

Rumour has it that Mr. Bremner will announce a new civic party tonight (possibly called YesVancouver?), and that several former NPA council hopefuls, including Adrian Crook, Wade Grant and Scott de Lange Boom, the so-called “Density Bros”, will join him.

Again, rumours call for Hector to run alongside a full slate for Mayor, Council, Park and School boards. One wonders if there is any common ground (aside from the BC Liberal machine) for Sim and Bremner, and any hope of apportioning the centre-right vote to their mutual advantage.  It seems unlikely — bridges burned and all that. (Charlie Smith, are you blushing yet?).

You can check out Mr. Sim in this video of his nomination speech. It’s 10:54 of abysmal quality, but it does give you a sense of Mr. Sim’s presence.

To me, he seems an OK speaker with some charisma. He makes no mention of transportation or affordability. But speaking of hot buttons, the speech is interrupted only once for applause — when Mr. Sim pledges more work on community centres.

But elsewhere and otherwise, the topic is invisible.

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  1. “Breaking the building permit logjam at City Hall with well-designed efficiencies and introducing more creative zoning by-laws will give our children better opportunities to live close to home. ”

    Whenever I hear a developer or politician complaining about red-tape at City Hall, or the delays in getting building permits, I’m left with a couple of pretty fundamental questions.

    The first, and most obvious, is exactly which bits of “red-tape” are they proposing we get rid of? Zoning rules that prevent lead battery recyclers from opening up next to day-cares (Or Chip Wilson’s house)? Rules that insist that homes be connected to city water and the sewer system? Building code provisions that require construction that might survive an earthquake, or electrical codes to keep condos from burning down?

    I’m sure you can cherry pick some things that seem useless, but by and large all of those regulations exist to protect all of the people in the city. They are there for good reasons, and often in response to some terrible disaster. I mean seriously, Vancouver had already been burned to the ground one time. Do we need to do it again?

    The second question is how bad those delays really are, and how many of them are self inflicted. If I was putting up a back yard fence then I’d expect a pretty quick permit approval. If I’m building a thirty story condo tower, with retail, in a location that isn’t necessarily zoned for that, and am asking for the City to “bend” some rules to make it more profitable, and move some streets to better fit my needs, then I would expect the approval process to be long and difficult. I like that someone at city hall is examining these things in detail.

    I wonder if lengthy delays for approvals are less about unreasonable rules, and more about lack of staff to process things. Every government has fallen victim to the down-sizing mania in the last couple of decades, and I’d wager that planning departments were not immune. Maybe if we doubled the number of people doing this work we could halve the number days that approvals take?

    But then again, I’m also not entirely clear what “attainable housing” means either.

  2. Well, he seems nice but I’m not sure if I trust the NPA even with this apparent internal cultural change.
    I still remember in 2010 when NPA councillor Suzanne Anton voted for the Hornby protected bike lane and then the next day did a one-eighty and suddenly was against it. Was she given some internal party directive to grab that opportunity which they thought was the ticket to gaining power again? This tells me that whatever Sim’s principals may be, that he might be forced to go against them for party politics.

    I agree with Barry that regulations exist for a reason. You can’t just throw them all out, you have to individually assess each one to see if it’s no longer relevant.

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