Dan Fumano: NPA ex-mayoral candidate Ken Sim to run again — against NPA

Originally published in the Vancouver Sun on August 19th, 2020

The Non-Partisan Association, Vancouver’s oldest and once-dominant political party, has found itself in an unusual position a little more than two years from the next civic election: their recent political opponents are now running the party’s administration, while some high-profile NPAers now want to oppose the party.

And now Ken Sim, who led the NPA in the last civic election and came within 957 votes of being Vancouver’s mayor, has confirmed he plans to run for mayor again in 2022 — against his former party.

“I’m definitely going to run again … but I don’t see myself running with the NPA,” Sim told Postmedia News this week. “Let’s let that cat out of the bag.”

It wasn’t a secret that Sim was interested in another crack at the city’s top job. In February, he launched a new website, which looks a lot like a campaign website, at kensim.ca, and he said at that time he was thinking about running for mayor again, although it was “too early to say” whether he’d run under the NPA banner again.

But this week, Sim told Postmedia he’s currently “building a team” to run against the NPA.

It’s too early to know, Sim said, the precise details of what his “team” will look like — whether he’ll start a new civic party or possibly organize a slate of independent candidates who support each other. But he believes if he’s elected mayor he’d be better-positioned to run the city if he has teammates around the council chambers, he said, adding: “you can’t effect any change if you’re a lone wolf.”

Of course, a lot can change in the next two-and-a-bit years. But right now, political parties and potential candidates are weighing their options before the 2022 campaign. Current Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart publicly indicated his intention last November, barely a year into his four-year term, to seek re-election next term. Other prospective candidates are currently engaged in behind-the-scenes conversations about the possibility of seeking the NPA’s mayoral nomination for 2022 — but Sim won’t be among them.

Although Sim narrowly lost to Stewart in 2018, the NPA saw five councillors elected that year, its best result in a decade and the single largest bloc on the current mixed council.

But Sim says the NPA today, in mid-2020, isn’t the same party he ran with in 2018. Sim said he doesn’t want to criticize the sitting NPA councillors. But he worries the current board of directors, which is now almost entirely different from 2018, isn’t aligned with his values, and he’s not comfortable with the direction they appear to be headed.

Sim isn’t the first person to express concern about the NPA’s current board, who were elected at the party’s annual general meeting last November. The board’s newcomers included several candidates who had run unsuccessfully against the NPA in the previous election, for upstart parties such as YES Vancouver, Vancouver 1st and ProVancouver, as well as Christopher Wilson, a former reporter with the far-right outlet Rebel News who made national headlines for his 2017 confrontation with Canada’s former environment minister, Catherine McKenna, after he’d called her by the misogynistic nickname “Climate Barbie.”

Soon after the NPA’s new board was elected last November, Coun. Rebecca Bligh announced she was quitting the party to sit as an Independent, citing concerns about the party’s shift to the “far right.”

Then, last month, four directors announced their resignation from the board, saying the current group’s failure to add their voices to the city’s most important issues in recent months had rendered the party “irrelevant.”

Sim praised Bligh for her “courageous” decision to quit the NPA, saying he will support her if she seeks re-election, whether she runs as part of his team or not.

Sim has also been in touch with all four of the directors who quit the party last month, as well as people who want to get involved in 2022 as volunteers or possible candidates — including former NPA members who he declined to name.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of NPA supporters who won’t be supporting the party next time around, because they share the same feelings that I feel,” he said.

Jane Frost, one of the recently departed directors and an NPA member since the 1970s, told Postmedia: “We’re very sad about what we think is the end of the NPA.”

Frost and the other three ex-directors are now considering how and where to direct their efforts before the 2022 election, but it won’t be with the NPA, she said: “It’s just gone so far right.”

Other high-profile NPA-ers are also publicly distancing themselves from the party, citing concerns about its direction under the current board.

One of Sim’s most vocal supporters during the 2018 election campaign was Peter Armstrong, a former NPA president who donated hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars to the party in past elections. Reached this week, Armstrong said that after more than 30 years as an NPA member, he now plans to let his membership lapse.

“I will not be renewing my membership in the NPA, because I’ve lost faith in the direction the current leadership is taking it,” Armstrong said. “The current administration of the NPA is taking it in a reactionary, difficult direction.”

Armstrong said he was “ecstatic” to learn, in a phone call with Postmedia, that Sim wanted to run again in 2022 against the NPA, and said he would try to help his efforts in any way he could.

For Armstrong, someone so closely associated with the NPA for so long in the minds of many Vancouverites, it’s a significant development that he now wants to help defeat the party.

“It would certainly be a first,” he said.

The four directors’ departure last month was a “canary in a coal mine,” Armstrong said. “They’re the kind of people you want involved in local politics … That’s an indication there’s something wrong.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, David Mawhinney, the NPA president, said he didn’t want to discuss Sim’s or Frost’s comments about the party.

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