Mayor-elect Ken Sim held his first post-election news conference Monday at city hall and said the campaign commitment made by his ABC Vancouver party to hire 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses will be one of the new administration’s first priorities.
Three days after winning a decisive victory over Kennedy Stewart, and securing majorities on council, school board and park board, Sim said his advisors have already met with city manager Paul Mochrie to make the party’s intentions clear about hiring officers and nurses.
“We are going to hire 100 new police officers and 100 mental health nurses, we will provide the funding for it, it's going to happen,” Sim told reporters from Helena Gutteridge Plaza on the city hall grounds.
How that happens won’t be made clear until he and the new council begins 2023 budget deliberations in December. Historically, council has finalized the city’s budget in December, but the new council could conceivably push discussion until the spring, which is allowed under law.
Sim is on the record as estimating the cost to hire 100 officers and 100 nurses would total $80 million over four years, or $20 million per year. The chartered accountant has said — and reiterated Monday — that he is confident funds can be found in the city’s existing budget.
“What we're going to do when we're in office is we're going to go line by line on those financial statements, and we're going to see where we can reprioritize,” he said.
“But I want to be very clear — and we said this during the election — we're going to maintain all the current service levels. We're just going to look for those things that are discretionary, that we don't necessarily have to [fund]. We can make a better choice.”
Sim believes having more police teamed with mental health nurses will assist in preventing crime and getting people in crisis the help they need. Throughout the campaign, one of Sim’s talking points was that four random assaults per day were occurring in the city.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) analyzed 44 such assaults between March and June and found that mental health was a contributing factor in 73 per cent of cases.
A report before the Vancouver Police Board in the summer said police apprehended 1,003 people under the Mental Health Act in the first six months of the year; 33 per cent were previously apprehended in the past four years.
VPD applications at 'all-time low'
As reported by Vancouver Is Awesome in December 2021, applications to the Vancouver Police Department were at an all-time low. A report released last year by BC Nurses’ Union pointed out there has been a chronic nursing shortage in the province for years.
Asked how those factors would affect recruitment, Sim said the police department has assured him they can attract new officers. The party polled nurses during the campaign who said they would interested in the job.
“A lot of them would be super excited about this opportunity,” he said.
Nurses could conceivably be hired under an existing agreement with Vancouver Coastal Health, which hires and supplies nurses for VPD's Car 87 program, which links a cop with a registered nurse or psychiatric nurse; the team provides on-site assessments an interventions for people living with a mental illness.
Police Chief Adam Palmer recently told Vancouver Is Awesome the department was roughly 60 officers short from a previous agreement with city hall to hire more police. Sim said those 60 officers factor into the 100 ABC has promised over four years.
“You should see some movement fairly quickly on the first bunch [of new officers],” he said. “Obviously, as we get closer to the hundred, they'll be a little more challenging. But in all of our conversations with the VPD, they felt that this was completely doable.”
'Really fun relationship'
Sim and the new council, which includes seven ABC councillors, doesn’t get sworn in until Nov. 7. A transition team that includes former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts and former deputy city manager James Ridge are helping with the logistics of setting up a new administration.
Sim and his advisors have also heard from federal and provincial cabinet ministers. Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby, who endorsed Stewart and is likely to be B.C.’s next premier, has been in touch with Sim.
“That's actually going to be a really fun relationship,” Sim said. “I'm looking forward to that. Fun little fact, he's my MLA, and I'm his mayor. And so I'm looking forward to the conversations where I say, ‘Well, you know, if you want my vote, I'd like to see this,’ and he'll put on his hat and say, ‘Well, if you want my vote, I'd like to see that.’”
Sim said he and his team are not planning any changes to the senior staff ranks at city hall. In 2008, when Vision Vancouver won a landslide victory, then-city manager Judy Rogers was sacked the first week Gregor Robertson and his team were inaugurated.
“I think we have incredible people at the City of Vancouver,” Sim said. “In some departments, they're working in very challenging environments with broken systems. And we want to fix a broken system so that all of our people can succeed.”
'History of moment not lost on me'
The resounding victory by Sim and ABC means city hall will be governed by the first centre-right administration in 14 years. Sim, the co-founder of Rosemary Rocksalt Bagels and Nurse Next Door, has no political experience.
Not since former chief coroner Larry Campbell was elected mayor in 2002 has Vancouver had a mayor without any previous governing experience — Sam Sullivan was a former councillor when he ran in 2005, Gregor Robertson served as an MLA before his victory in 2008 and Stewart was a former MP.
The son of Hong Kong immigrants, Sim is the city’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor but he does not speak Mandarin or Cantonese. The significance of his ancestry was included in his victory speech Saturday from the South Hall event centre in South Vancouver.
“The history of this moment isn't lost on me,” he said, before naming off former politicians. “But the honour really goes to those whose shoulders I stand on — Douglas Jung, Tung Chan, Raymond Louie, Kerry Jang, David Lam, B.C. Lee... Art Lee, Sophia Leung. Thank you for paving the way for tonight.”