Ken Sim, entrepreneur, politician, mayor of Vancouver 2022– (born 18 October 1970 in Vancouver, BC). Ken Sim worked as an accountant and investment banker before co-founding two successful businesses: Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt bagels. Sim made an unsuccessful bid to become mayor of Vancouver in 2018, losing to Kennedy Stewart by 957 votes. In 2022, he and his A Better City (ABC) Party won a majority government with a platform that stressed law and order and public safety. Sim is the first Chinese Canadian to be elected mayor of Vancouver.
Early Life and Education
Sim’s parents, Francis and Theresa (nee Kim), moved with their three children from Hong Kong to Vancouver in 1967. Francis was an entrepreneur and Theresa worked as a typist for BC Packers in Steveston. Another daughter was born in Vancouver, followed by a son, Ken.
Ken Sim grew up in South Vancouver. His family moved often due to an inability to pay rent, and he attended five elementary schools in seven years. He graduated from Magee Secondary School and enrolled at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business. He financed his education in part by working as a janitor and at other minimum wage jobs. He graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1993.
Sim became a certified accountant and worked at the Vancouver office of KPMG International. He then became an investment banker with CIBC World Markets in Vancouver, Toronto and London, England, before returning to Vancouver.
In 2001, when Sim’s wife, Teena, was pregnant with the first of their four children, her doctor ordered bedrest at home. She and Sim were frustrated when trying to arrange necessary help. The experience led them to partner with John DeHart to create Nurse Next Door. The business helps people arrange licensed, skilled nurses and caregivers to provide seniors with health care and companionship. Nurse Next Door has been franchised in more than 180 cities in three countries. In 2019, Sim, Teena and their partners entered into a royalty and trademark partnership with Diversified Royalty Corp. for $52 million.
In 2012, Ken and Teena co-founded Rosemary Rocksalt bagels, which grew to three locations in Vancouver and Richmond. The storefront business specializes in Montreal bagels. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it worked with Feed the Frontline Canada to provide meals for 600 health care workers. Rosemary Rocksalt bagels also contributes to the Saint James Music Academy’s lunch and breakfast programs and to Food Stash, which redirects surplus food destined for landfills to food banks and homeless shelters.
First Campaign for Mayor (2018)
On 16 April 2018, the 47-year-old Sim announced that he would seek the nomination of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) to run for mayor of Vancouver. The NPA was formed in 1937 to run centre-right business candidates for municipal office. Sim won 50 per cent of the vote, defeating park commissioner John Coupar and Glen Chernen, whom Sim had known from elementary and high school.
Sim argued in his mayoral campaign that the municipal government was in financial trouble because it was spending too much while also operating inefficiently. “And we got into this mess,” he said, “because city hall is being run based on ideology. That's not right.” Sim also pledged that as mayor he would fix the city’s housing and transit problems.
The field was crowded with 21 candidates for mayor. Sim’s primary opponent was independent Kennedy Stewart, a well-known and popular former New Democratic Party MP for Burnaby South. On 20 October, the results were close and the lead swung back and forth as votes were counted. It was eventually determined that Stewart won by 957 votes, earning 28.7 per cent of the total to Sim’s 28.2 per cent.
Second Campaign for Mayor (2022)
In 2021, a new political party called A Better City Vancouver (ABC) was announced. ABC promised to make Vancouver safer while providing more affordable housing. Many candidates for the upcoming municipal election joined ABC, including Sim and three sitting councillors. Sim won ABC’s nomination to run for mayor of Vancouver.
Sim’s campaign addressed many issues facing the city, including homelessness, which he said could be tackled by having more housing built and by making the municipal approval process quicker and easier. But his campaign’s primary focus was on crime. He promised to hire 100 new police officers, to deploy more plainclothes officers, and to have mental health professionals and plainclothes police respond to emergencies that involve no crime. He also pledged to equip police officers with body cameras and to reinstate the School Liaison Program that had police officers in schools. His campaign received an unprecedented endorsement from the Vancouver Police Union, which was criticized by many as inappropriate.
Ten days before election day, on 5 October, a documentary film called Vancouver Is Dying was released. Made by former BC Liberal Party leadership candidate Aaron Gunn and partially financed by Lululemon founder (and ABC donor) Chip Wilson, the film specifically blamed Mayor Stewart for failing to adequately respond to the city’s crime, drug and housing problems. The hour-long film was viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube. Sim was elected in a landslide. He earned 85,732 votes to Stewart’s 49,593. Stewart became the first incumbent Vancouver mayor to lose a re-election bid since Jack Volrich in 1980.
In his victory speech, Sim noted that his election represented the slow but genuine progress made by the people of Vancouver and British Columbia with respect to race relations. He said, “The path to get here was incredibly long — 135 years after the first Chinese head tax was paid just for the right to come here and work on building a railway, Vancouver has elected its first Chinese mayor.” (See also Chinese Head Tax in Canada.)
First Term as Mayor
Mayor Sim and 10 councillors were sworn into office on 7 November 2022. In his speech, Sim said, “We heard loud and clear the people wanted change, and change is here. I'm going to strive to be the mayor that unites our city.… Success can only be achieved if we are fearless in the face of failure.”
Honours and Awards
Sim won the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award (Pacific Region) twice: in the Emerging Entrepreneur category in 2006; and in the Healthcare Services category in 2016.