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HomeBusinessKen Sim’s ex-chief of staff opens up about ABC election strategy, calls Vancouver a “Chinese city”

Ken Sim’s ex-chief of staff opens up about ABC election strategy, calls Vancouver a “Chinese city”

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Bob Mackin

The campaign manager behind Mayor Ken Sim’s October landslide victory said ABC Vancouver’s marquee promise may not make a difference in combatting crime and mental illness in the city.

Kareem Allam with Mayor Ken Sim in the background.  (Twitter)

Kareem Allam of Fairview Strategy spoke April 24 on the University of California, Berkeley’s Citrin Center for Public Opinion Research online forum, about Asian voters’ demands for change in Vancouver and San Francisco.

Allam called the issue that won ABC the election the plan to hire 100 new police officers and 100 new mental health nurses. The new city council earmarked $16 million in November to begin recruitment. 

“One hundred new police officers, we already have 1,600, so adding another 100, so what’s that, 4 or 5% new police? Is that really going to have a dramatic impact on reducing crime? Probably not,” said Allam, who was also Sim’s chief of staff until resigning in early February. “Are the 100 mental health nurses going to help get more people help? Yes, it will have a positive impact, but is it going to make measurable differences in resolving some of these public safety issues? Likely not.”

The city’s limited resources aren’t going to solve the problem, so Allam said Sim’s fortunes rely on good relations with and support from Premier David Eby and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“As time goes on, and the crime stats don’t drop, I think the sheen on the win can easily come off,” Allam said.

Allam called the promise a “policy balance” that catered to voters on opposite ends of the spectrum. 

“When you’re running a radio ad [that said] we’re gonna hire 100 new cops and 100 nurses, the right side of the coalition that we built just heard 100 cops and the left side of the coalition just heard 100 mental health nurses, so everyone could hear what they wanted to hear,” he said.

While housing affordability has supplanted the environment as the number one issue nationwide, it is a challenge too big to solve. So the ABC strategy aimed for modest improvements, such as cutting red tape and speeding up development approvals. 

“You can’t win an election on housing affordability, you can lose one if you don’t have a good plan and can’t show good progress,” he said.

Allam explained to the American audience that Vancouver is “very, very progressive” with a long history of labour and social activism, pointing to the 10 years of Vision Vancouver rule and four under Mayor Kennedy Stewart, and the success of centre/left candidates in provincial and federal ridings. At the end of the campaign, he said ABC polling found 60% of its voters were aligned with the Liberal Party, 20% Conservative and 20% NDP.

As for demographics, Allam called his approach “deliberately provocative.”

Vancouver’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor, Ken Sim (left), with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before the 2023 Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown (@kensimcity/Twitter)

“There is no Chinese community in Vancouver, you wouldn’t go to Beijing, Shanghai or Taipei and talk about the Chinese communities there, because they’re just fundamentally Chinese cities,” he said. “And Vancouver is precisely just that: a Chinese city.”

Allam believes Statistics Canada undercounted the Asian composition of Vancouver’s population, which is officially 45%. He noted that up to a quarter of marriages in the city are mixed race, a vast majority featuring one partner who is Asian. The East Asian diversity spans descendants of 19th century Cantonese-speaking immigrants to more-recent Mandarin-speaking arrivals from Mainland China, many affected by reports of anti-Asian racism. Its influence in business and culture has also shaped the attitudes of voters with European ancestry.

“The fact that at the core of our campaign was that acknowledgement that Vancouver is a Chinese city meant that for the first time in history, there was an authentic, direct campaign aimed right at the heart of issues that mattered to Asian voters,” Allam said.

Three weeks before election day, Allam said ABC was five or six points ahead of Stewart, but a “hockey stick curve of support” developed in the final two weeks. The centre-right and centre-left vote came to ABC while Stewart’s support collapsed. 

In 2018, Sim narrowly lost to Stewart by just 957 votes. But, last Oct. 15, Sim won by a 36,000-vote margin, becoming Vancouver’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor, and ABC took supermajorities on city council and park board.

ABC also saw Filipino, Korean, South Asian and Black voters roll into the coalition, another reflection of the party’s diverse slate.

“We didn’t really fully understand it till after the election, that a lot of people were feeling that they had been shut out of the political process,” he said.

During the online forum, Allam did not mention ABC’s hefty war chest of nearly $2 million, almost double what Stewart’s Forward Together campaign spent. Nor did he mention the Globe and Mail’s coverage of leaks from Canada’s spy agency that indicated China’s consul general was working to defeat Taiwan-supporter Stewart and help get a Chinese-Canadian candidate elected. 

“If there is proof of this, I’d be as mad as hell as everyone else. But right now, there are a bunch of insinuations, and it’s actually quite hurtful,” Sim told reporters on March 16, reacting to the foreign interference allegations.

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