How the Vancouver business landscape will change under Ken Sim
We checked the mayor-elect’s policies to discover what the local tech sector can expect with an ABC majority.
Mayor-elect Ken Sim may have been polling in first place the day before Vancouverites went to the ballot box, but few could have predicted the margin of his victory. The City of Vancouver’s unofficial election results declare that Sim (at the time of writing) has claimed 85,732 votes, while incumbent Kennedy Stewart is still shy of 50,000. The results mark the first time in 42 years that a sitting mayor has been defeated by a challenger.
City Council, too, had a massive shakeup, with voters opting for a deep slate of Sim’s ABC candidates. Seven of the 10 available seats have gone to the party, giving it a hefty majority. Such a roster of support offers Sim a strong opportunity to enact his campaign promises.
The new mayor-elect has made a host of pledges about how he’ll make things easier for local companies: one of the factors that has led commentators across the city to dub him, unofficially, as the business candidate. With the lobby’s strong backing, though, comes pressure on Sim to follow through on his policies.
Here are four of the new mayor’s top promises to support local business, on which he will be judged over the coming months and years.
A new land organization
For those who complain that the City Council does little more than zoning, Sim has found a loophole to help businesses. The mayor-elect proposed that he will create an Industrial and Tech Land Reserve to attract and preserve high-paying jobs in Vancouver, and reduce commuter distances for Vancouver residents. While it remains to be seen what this policy looks like in practice, the name is reminiscent of groupings like the Agricultural Land Reserve, which exists to protect and support farmers and sustainable food production by designating land in which agriculture is the primary use. Where this Industrial and Tech Land Reserve will be located, too, has yet to be declared – and will surely be a hot-button issue in a city where land costs are at a premium.
Cutting red tape
The September 8 Metro Elects survey ranked the top three issues voters are most concerned about in the election. For businesses, the most important category was permitting, licensing, and red tape. In his platform, Sim suggested that ABC wants to ensure a business climate more conducive to attracting global tech leaders, including reducing bureaucracy, improving business permitting processes, and lowering license wait times. Specifically, Sim suggested that ABC will cut business permit approval times from over eight months down to just three weeks. Implementing this policy could have an effect on encouraging international CEOs to set up shop in Vancouver, as well as making it easier for locals to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.
Housing for tech workers and beyond
One of the world’s most unaffordable cities, Vancouver has a reputation for low salaries and high cost of housing: hardly a recipe for success in attracting and retaining business talent. To close this gap, Sim and ABC have promised a plan that builds more homes by shortening the permitting and approvals process for developers, while working with the federal and provincial governments to secure funding for more purpose-built rentals. He’s calling it the 3 3 3 1 plan, which corresponds to three days to approve home renovations, three weeks to approve single-family homes and townhouses, three months to approve professionally designed multi-family and mid-rise projects where existing zoning is in place, and one year to approve a high-rise or large-scale project. If Sim gets the proposal through council, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether this policy helps improve housing availability and affordability.
Pledges to cut crime
Recent months have seen an increase in major media platforms reporting on crime, with public safety featuring strongly in polls of Vancouverites’ top issues. A cornerstone of Sim’s platform is his pledge to hire 100 extra police officers and 100 mental-health-trained nurses to accompany them: a statement that helped draw the controversial endorsement from the Vancouver Police Union. The promise has elicited strong support and equally strong criticism, with proponents arguing that extra police presence will help beef up security for businesses in the DTES, Gastown, and beyond, while critics point to the current nursing shortage, the lack of direct City control over VPD hiring, and concerns over admitting people to hospital involuntarily under the Mental Health Act.