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Mayor Ken Sim defends $2M spend in ABC Vancouver's election victory

Sim: "It's the party that works the hardest and reaches out to the community [that wins]."
Mayor Ken Sim’s ABC Vancouver party spent $2 million in the 2022 election campaign.

Does the Vancouver civic party that spends the most money always win the election?

In the 2022 race, the answer was yes.

But Mayor Ken Sim believes his victory Oct. 15 and that of all ABC Vancouver’s candidates for council, school board and park commissioner was not simply a financial transaction.

“It’s the party that works the hardest and reaches out to the community [that wins],” said Sim when asked by Glacier Media Sunday about the $2 million his party spent in the campaign.

The rookie mayor said he and the other ABC candidates knocked on thousands of doors and made thousands of phone calls during the campaign, which led residents “wanting to contribute to the cause.”

'We started a party from scratch'

He pointed out ABC — an acronym for A Better City — didn’t exist a year and a half ago.

“We started a party from scratch,” he said. “It was a grassroots campaign, and we're proud of it.”

ABC elected all of its candidates, with Sim and seven ABC councillors now holding a super majority on the 11-member council. Park board is dominated by ABC commissioners and the party elected four school trustees.

The party, which was endorsed by the Vancouver Police Union, ran a campaign heavy on public safety, with commitments to hire 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses, and reinstate the police school liaison program.

Elections BC released financial campaign documents last week for all civic parties and candidates in the province that ran in the October civic election. It was the second election that prohibited union and corporate donations, with caps at $1,250 per person per year.

The documents showed ABC spent $1,695,452 on the mayoral, council and park board commissioner campaigns. An additional $402,610 was spent on the party’s school board campaign for a grand total of $2,098,062.

ABC Vancouver Coun. Lisa Dominato was first elected in 2018 as a member of the NPA. Photo Mike Howell

'We followed all campaign finance rules'

The party’s total income was $1.4 million, with $414,003 of that sum coming from Sim ($275,000), re-elected councillors Lisa Dominato ($80,110), Rebecca Bligh ($25,100), Sarah Kirby-Yung ($30,874) and newly elected councillor Peter Meiszner ($2,917).

Those dollar amounts were filed on a form that lists non-campaign contributions.

Corey Sue, the party’s financial agent, said in an email the money associated to Sim and the councillors was raised via donations as independent candidates before each of them was endorsed by ABC.

“I didn't personally contribute $275,000,” Sim said. “Let's be very clear — we followed all campaign finance rules, no one contributed more than their allotment, which was $1,250 per person for the regular campaign, and $1,250 per person for the school board campaign, and that was it.”

When asked whether it should cost $2 million for the party’s candidates to get elected in a city where victories by independent candidates are rare — largely because they are not tied to a party machine — Sim again pointed to the hard work of ABC candidates to win the election.

“If there's someone else that wants to become mayor, or run for council, I hope they work just as hard to earn the right to have the privilege to be able to sit in that [council] chamber and work for the people of Vancouver,” he said.

Dominato said the $80,000 she contributed to the campaign represents donations going back to 2019. She said each of the donations did not exceed the allowable limit per year.

“I was a sitting elected official and I continued to solicit donations recognizing that I wanted to run again in the future,” said Dominato, who was elected in 2018 as a member of the NPA before resigning from the party.

“Obviously, things changed over time being with the NPA, then as an independent and then ABC. So those donations went towards supporting the ABC team and our campaign.”

'Resonated with residents'

Marie Rogers, the party’s chairperson of the board of directors, echoed some of what Sim said about ABC being a new party when asked about the $2-million spend and whether the organization with the most money always wins at the polls.

“ABC was in a unique position, with a new party taking on an incumbent mayor [in Kennedy Stewart],” Rogers said in an email.

“It took a significant amount of work to form a party and win the election. Like all businesses that wish to launch in a new market, it takes resources and hard work to get the message out. In the end, the excitement around our campaign, residents' desire for change and ABC's positive message, resonated with residents.”

Rogers said the party believes the current regulations governing civic campaign finance “are fair and create a level playing field for all participants in a local election.” The party had more than 4,700 donors who represented a cross section of society, she said.