The Vancouver Non-Partisan Association has elected 11 mayors in the past eight decades.
Its pro-business policies kept the confidence of voters from the Second World War to the dawn of the 21st century, with the only hiatus occurring from the 1970s until the mid-1980s.
Famous mayors like Gordon Campbell, Philip Owen, and Gerry McGeer proudly proclaimed themselves to be acting in the public interest rather than on the side of ideologues. However, everyone knew what their primary purpose was: to keep socialists out of power.
In 2018, the party’s standard-bearer, Ken Sim, likes to think of himself as being a man not driven by ideology. But his party has fallen on hard times. It hasn’t won control over the city since the 2005 election.
Now there are signs that the old NPA coalition of antisocialist forces has fragmented into several parties, including Coalition Vancouver, Yes Vancouver, and Vancouver 1st.
Sim, the cofounder of Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt, knows that he has to win the public debate over housing if he’s going to be the next mayor of Vancouver. To that end, his party has proposed a concise, three-page plan that’s anchored on allowing two secondary suites in detached homes.
Sim believes this offers two advantages: it will bring more rental units onto the market and offer debt-burdened homeowners a new way to pay down their mortgages.
The NPA is also calling for fast-tracking housing for low-income Vancouverites—a cause often advanced in the past by NPA councillor Melissa De Genova, who is seeking reelection. In addition, the party has promised to reduce taxes, fees, and charges for laneway homes and new secondary suites for long-term tenants.
Another pillar in the NPA platform is to create “attainable rental accommodation” on city-owned land. About half of the industrial-zoned area bounded by Clark Drive, Main Street, Venables Street, and Great Northern Way is owned by the city, creating opportunities for anyone who takes power to do this.
An issue close to Sim and the party is the process by which building projects in neighbourhoods are approved in Vancouver. The NPA platform calls for an end to “city planning based on developer cash contributions”.
The city has become reliant on these so-called community-amenity contributions—which are given in return for density—to fund capital projects such as improvements to parks, libraries, and cycling infrastructure.
In an interview last summer outside Rosemary Rocksalt on Commercial Drive, Sim told the Straight that people are not being heard under the current processes. “So that’s why they’re protesting,” he said. “They’re going to these council meetings and they’re having battles.”
According to Sim, the public feels that projects are being rubber-stamped regardless of how residents might feel about them.
“I believe we bring people in on the front end of things,” he said. “We have consultation periods and we build accordingly.”
He acknowledged that some are telling him, “Ken, you’re going to have a bunch of NIMBYs everywhere.”
Critics, including his opponents in Yes Vancouver, have claimed that the NPA wants young people to live in basement suites rather than in purpose-built projects in the 70 percent of Vancouver that’s zoned for single-family housing.
Sim, however, said there must be a change in the civic government’s interactions with the public.
“I’d like to take this neighbourhood, for example,” he said, pointing to buildings on Commercial Drive around Rosemary Rocksalt. “I’m the last person who believes there needs to be a 40-storey tower here. This is the Drive, man. This is cool. This is why we’re here.”
When asked about a proposed project down the street from his business—which included the redevelopment of the nonprofit Kettle Society building at Venables Street and Commercial Drive—Sim responded that this is a “complicated issue”.
Boffo Properties was going to develop a mixed-use project with 30 units of supportive housing, 200 homes that would be put up for sale, and 18,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
Many neighbours were opposed, and negotiations between Boffo and the city broke down over community-amenity contributions.
After speaking generally about the need to address mental illness in the community, Sim said that the Kettle project “can be approved and there should be certainty”.
So should it go ahead?
“I believe the project had a lot of support from the community,” Sim replied. “All the stakeholders—everyone—agreed. When you have the vast majority agreeing, I think it’s good for the city. If that’s what the city wants and the residents want—and they support it—do it. Why not?”