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Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association votes outsider Ken Sim as mayoral candidate

The Non-Partisan Association, Vancouver’s once-dominant political party, overwhelmingly voted in favour of a young Chinese-Canadian entrepreneur with no political experience as its mayoral candidate, a decision that surprised even winner Ken Sim.

That has political observers and party supporters saying the Non-Partisan Association is now in the strongest position it could be to win a council majority in the Oct. 20 civic election.

Mr. Sim, 47, the co-founder of a home-care nursing business and a bagel chain, will have to take clear and strong positions on Vancouver’s biggest challenge: its out-of-control housing market.

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Mr. Sim’s win, with almost 50 per cent of the 1,960 votes on Sunday, was unexpected because he entered the race so late and did most of his campaigning away from the public eye. He has made only general statements so far about housing solutions.

That’s in stark contrast to two other candidates who had advocated for specific and radical new approaches.

Self-styled city hall watchdog Glen Chernen, who finished third in the three-way nomination race, had proposed allowing sales of Vancouver homes only to people who could prove they paid taxes there.

Current NPA City Councillor Hector Bremner, who was barred from running for the mayoral nomination by the NPA’s board, had advocated for allowing much more density into the city’s single-family neighbourhoods, especially on the west side.

But Mr. Sim has stayed away from specifics and dramatic new initiatives.

“I’m on neither extreme. I believe in a balanced approach,” Mr. Sim said in an interview last week. “Some factors are totally out of our control. What we need to do is define what we want our city to look like. I’d consult with local residents. I don’t believe in one size fits all.”

But Mr. Bremner said that kind of moderate approach is not going to fly with frustrated Vancouver residents any more.

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“His position, that’s more of the same. And people are not willing to take any more incrementalism.”

Mr. Bremner said he had signed up 2,000 members to the party, many of them young and interested in new ideas on development and urbanism, because they feel so shut out of the city’s housing market.

Besides grappling with the housing crisis, Mr. Sim will also need to work on trying to repair fractures that emerged in the party in the past six months, observers said. Both Mr. Bremner and former Conservative MP Wai Young have said they are starting new political parties because the NPA wasn’t willing to support them.

Former NPA board member, developer Rob Macdonald, said he has been trying to convince Mr. Bremner and his supporters to stay with the party.

“I sent [someone from Mr. Bremner’s team] a note this morning saying, ‘I think you can accomplish a lot more working with Ken Sim than going to all the work of starting a new party.’”

However, in the wake of Mr. Sim’s win, Mr. Bremner said that he believes there is still a need for a new party that is willing to take bolder approaches to housing.

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Mr. Sim’s candidacy was supported by such figures as former NPA president Peter Armstrong, the chief executive of Rocky Mountaineer, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, real estate marketer Bob Rennie and prominent investment banker Tracey McVicar.

Mr. Sim pitched himself to NPA members on Sunday as someone with strong working-class roots: his mother worked as a typist for B.C. Packers and he cleaned bathrooms at a fast-food restaurant to earn money for university as a young man.

He also said he would be a “change agent” for the city, which he described as being in crisis, with young people forced to leave Vancouver because of the high cost of housing.

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