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Mike Howell: What Ken Sim’s trip to Qatar means for the police budget

Soccer fan Sim will miss police board meeting, council session regarding VPD budget
Mayor Ken Sim, seen here with police and councillors Lenny Zhou and Peter Meiszner, is in Qatar this week to watch FIFA World Cup games. He will miss a police board meeting and council session related to the Vancouver Police Department’s 2023 budget.

You probably heard that Mayor Ken Sim will not attend this Thursday’s Vancouver Police Board meeting.

My colleague Dan Fumano over at Postmedia broke that story last week.

I’ve since confirmed via Sim’s chief of staff Kareem Allam that the mayor made plans long before he was elected Oct. 15 to be in Qatar this week to catch some FIFA World Cup soccer games.

He’s paying for the trip himself.

Sim didn’t exactly pick the best week to be on vacation.

The Vancouver Police Department’s 2023 budget request will be on the police board’s agenda Thursday.

Details are expected to be released tomorrow.

Expect the VPD’s request to be more than $320 million and don’t expect the department to be looking to reduce or “defund” its budget, according to Police Chief Adam Palmer, who was clear in September more money is needed.

“We could do an even better business case now than we did with the last one with all the stuff that’s going on [in the city],” said Palmer, referring to the increase in violent crime and street disorder in certain neighbourhoods.

“We're going to be looking to right-size the police department where it needs to be.”

Sim misses swearing-in at police board

Sim was supposed to be sworn in as chairperson of the board at Thursday’s meeting, where he would likely hear Palmer and other members of his executive staff make the case for more money to be spent on policing in 2023.

Sim, as voters will know, campaigned heavily on public safety and the need for 100 police and 100 mental health nurses. His party — ABC Vancouver — also received an unprecedented endorsement from the Vancouver Police Union.

It’s a safe bet to say he would be all in on the VPD’s budget request.

So does it really matter that he will miss the meeting?

If his absence is based on optics, then that’s a big yes.

If it’s not, then no.

Same goes for the meeting tomorrow at city hall where council will debate ABC Coun. Lisa Dominato’s motion to unlock funds to begin hiring 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses.

Let me explain…

First, Sim’s role as chairperson of the police board doesn’t allow him to do much in terms of influencing decisions.

He can only vote in the event of tie — which rarely happens — and he can’t move motions.

These are limitations that frustrated former mayor Kennedy Stewart and predecessors Gregor Robertson and Sam Sullivan, who all believed the mayor shouldn’t be chairperson of the board — particularly when it came to budgets.

For the most part, the mayor’s job as chairperson is to move the meeting along.

And if past budget deliberations of the board are any indication, whatever the VPD proposes for 2023 will likely get passed Thursday without much back-and-forth between members.

Then it will be kicked over to city council for final approval.

Vancouver city council (without Mayor Ken Sim) will meet Tuesday to debate motion regarding funds for police and mental health nurses. File photo Mike Howell

Council debate policing Tuesday

But before that happens, council will meet tomorrow afternoon to debate Dominato’s motion, which asks for an initial $4.5 million to hire more officers and $1.5 million to hire nurses.

Debate is certainly expected, with OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle likely to be at the forefront of it and emphasizing the need for more non-police crisis intervention teams — which was a common theme among a couple dozen speakers to council last week.

But with ABC Vancouver holding eight seats on an 11-member council, Sim’s absence will not factor in the end result of the motion, with the mayor’s team expected to cast enough votes to activate the $6 million.

During the campaign, Sim estimated the cost to hire 100 police and 100 nurses over four years at $80 million.

How the $6 million fits into the city’s overall budget for 2023 — and how many officers and nurses that equates to next year — won’t be fully understood until council hashes out the details of its budget, which is expected to be in the $1.6 billion range.

Council has a budget meeting scheduled for Nov. 29.

But as I wrote recently, there’s a strong chance that council will move budget deliberations to the spring to give Sim and four rookie councillors some time to digest the lengthy and number-heavy document.

Safer communities action plan

Complicating the math further was an announcement Sunday at Queen Elizabeth Park by Premier David Eby to spend more money on police and mental health programs across the province, including in Vancouver.

Does the announcement factor into Sim’s push for 100 officers and 100 nurses? Will there be matching funds for the city’s investment?

More specifics to come, as Eby said Sunday in announcing his "safer communities action plan."

Sim was at Eby’s news conference but didn’t speak to reporters.

He’ll be back in town next week.

My notebook and calculator are ready.

Note: The city’s communications department said in an email Monday that a city staffer and two police officers will spend up to seven days in Qatar to observe the World Cup in preparation for Vancouver being a host city in 2026.

“The delegation is participating in the FIFA Official Observer Program, which allows key personnel to get a behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day requirements of this large-scale global event in order to facilitate the planning and preparation that is to be undertaken to successfully deliver FIFA World Cup 2026 in Vancouver,” said the city, noting the budget for the delegation will not exceed $25,000.

“The observer program will include operational meetings and site visits to stadiums, training sites and other official venues related to the hosting of the event.”