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Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim speaks during a news conference, in Vancouver, on Feb. 5.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Vancouver’s mayor and his new party were swept into office a little more than a year ago on promises of tackling some of the city’s biggest problems: homelessness; street tent encampments; a beleaguered Chinatown; public disorder; wildly unaffordable housing; the toxic-drug crisis.

Ken Sim acknowledges that action on those problems hasn’t been that visible to the naked eye so far.

“You may not see the effects of what we do in the first year,” he said in an interview earlier this month on his first year in office.

His critics agree.

OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle, his most vocal council opponent, said she has seen no clear direction from the mayor on any of the serious issues facing the city.

And University of B.C. political-science professor Stewart Prest said the council’s approach has been mostly incremental as it identifies areas on which it would like to take action.

But Mr. Sim has, in the meantime, discovered how he can have an immediate impact: using his personal clout to salvage victories for small but symbolic projects that he maintains are a way for Vancouver to get its mojo back.

A case in point: Mr. Sim put personal effort this month into getting the Stanley Park Christmas train up and running after the park board had announced it was dead for another year.

He leaned on some of the city’s wealthy, getting them to donate toward repairs, many through their foundations. He found an expert on trains, Jeff Stibbard, who could work with the park board.

“We took all the resistance points off the table,” said Mr. Sim, speaking at his city hall office, which is notable for its almost complete absence of papers, knickknacks, photos or mementos. “We’re bringing an entrepreneurial mindset.”

And, he added, “We want this place to have a lot more swagger,” deliberately using the word that has earned him some criticism over the past year.

He next wants to do the same thing with the Jericho Pier, the historic structure at one of Vancouver’s west-side beaches, which was destroyed by a winter storm in 2022.

He says he would like to raise $400-million or $500-million privately to do that, saving tax money and bringing pride back to Vancouver.

As for homelessness, unaffordable housing, the drug crisis, and the rest, he promises more is coming.

A year from now, Mr. Sim says, there will be less red tape – part of what he sees as the city’s main job, removing any bumps in the road for developers.

“We are very clear. We have to make it easier to build homes. That is the only way.”

That means not just clearing up red tape, but also approving anything that makes sense for housing.

The only thing he wouldn’t vote for, he says, is something that’s “too dumb” – like a project that is a mere six stories at a transit station.

So he says he’s ready to support the super-tall towers, increased last fall in the latest development proposal of three buildings ranging from 31 to 38 storeys at Commercial and Broadway, next to the SkyTrain station. It’s a natural place for more density, he says.

(On other tricky sites, the mayor says more cautiously that he has to wait to see plans or work with Metro Vancouver’s rules on industrial zoning. Those sites include the former industrial-zoned Molson’s brewery site in Kitsilano now owned by Concord Pacific, and the Army & Navy project being pitched by owner Jacqui Cohen and developer Colin Bosa that contravenes planning policy.)

Mr. Sim also says that by November, 2024, he’ll have a better picture of what the city can do to improve public safety by having more detailed information on what the root causes are of disorder and crime. For now, he is not advocating for any change to the current approaches to the toxic-drug crisis.

He echoes what police have been saying: that safer supply – providing drug users with pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs by prescription – isn’t “effective” because people are chasing a much stronger high with fentanyl, which is not part of that initiative.

But he says he’s not going to intervene or lobby against the current provincial initiative because drug policy “is not my core competency.”

“I would leave it to the experts to present the next course of action.”

But his lack of major action on any of those social issues so far has left Ms. Boyle skeptical about Mr. Sim’s ability to make important change.

“The symbolic stuff is great, but the lack of serious action on serious issues is concerning,” she said. “It matters that we move the needle tangibly in the right direction, and the first year is the time to be laying out the big moves.”

Mr. Sim remains mostly positive after his first year, in spite of critiques, and says he enjoys about 90 per cent of being mayor. He acknowledges his handling of a property-tax hike, amounting to 10.7 per cent, was not well communicated.

“I did a very poor job.”

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