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'Poor fiscal management': Vancouver mayor's budget ask comes under fire

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Some Vancouver city councillors are questioning why Mayor Ken Sim needs more funding for his mayoral office.

The mayor’s 2024 budget is $1.47 million, one of the highest budgets compared to his predecessors. On Tuesday, his office is asking council to divert $80,000 initially approved for the city clerk’s office.

The funds were previously approved by the ABC-majority council at a meeting in December.

According to a report from City Manager Paul Mochrie, the funds are for a new administrative role for the mayor who will help with scheduling and other related functions. 

“Apparently, the work that the mayor would like the $80,000 to be directed to is more political in nature, so it’s not appropriate to have it in the clerk's office,” said Pete Fry, a councillor with the Green Party.

Fry called the mayor’s request to council hypocritical, citing his 2022 campaign criticism of former Mayor Kennedy Stewart for his budgetary decisions.

“Ken Sim has one chief of staff, but a far larger staff in general and a far larger budget as well,” Fry said. “There is a fair degree of hypocrisy in him making hay of Kennedy Stewart’s spending, when in fact, he’s spending significantly more and it’s far more opaque.”

'What did you do with our money?'

The mayor’s office said there are currently eight political staff, including the mayor’s chief of staff, and three administrators working in his office.

One City Coun. Christine Boyle said the decision to add another staff member to his team raises questions.

“One of which is, back in December, was the mayor’s office envisioning it to be this political decision?” she said. “To see a 40-per-cent increase in the mayor’s office budget, while everyone else is holding tight is poor leadership and poor fiscal management.”

Former Vancouver city councilor George Affleck agrees with Boyle.

“When he comes to the polls in two years to run again, these are the tough questions he's going to be asked: What did you do with our money?” Affleck said.

Affleck added he thinks growing the mayor’s team has to do with control.

“The goal really is spin,” he said. “It’s about managing the messages that are coming out of the mayor’s office.”

CTV News asked Sim about his recent spending, and how he reconciles it with his campaign comments against Stewart.

In a statement, Sim said: “Our council has hit the ground running with a clear mandate, including improving public safety, getting more housing built, clearing permit and project approval backlogs, and addressing crumbling infrastructure.”

"To meet these challenges and get our city back on track, we've restructured how things are done in the mayor’s office, which has played an integral part in supporting our efforts on council.”

Fees paid to public affairs firm

Fry also questioned why funds from the mayor’s office were paid to a public affairs firm called Wellington Advocacy. Since 2023, Fry said, the mayor has spent nearly $80,000 in monthly retainer fees for these services. He added the firm has ties to Alberta's United Conservative Party.

“What is Wellington Advocacy doing advising the mayor?” Fry said. “And on what? I don’t know and the public don’t know. And this is taxpayer money, after all."

In 2019, the CBC reported that the firm’s CEO Nick Koolsbergen formerly worked as Jason Kenney’s chief of staff when he led the Alberta Conservatives. 

CTV News reached out to Wellington Advocacy for comment but did not hear back in time before publication.

When asked about the firm’s role, the mayor’s office said it had Wellington Advocacy on a monthly retainer for strategic advisory services and communications planning until the end of April. Sim’s office worked specifically with Katy Merrifield at Wellington Advocacy.

"We worked with Wellington Advocacy – a national, multi-partisan firm – for their expertise in strategic advisory services and communications planning, not for their political affiliations,” Sim said. “We remain committed to limiting partisan activity and focusing on what’s best for our community.” 

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