Behind the scenes at Vancouver’s oldest and most historically successful political party, board members have been grappling with internal confusion and questions over the party’s campaign finances following the 2018 election.
More than a year after the Non-Partisan Association was penalized as Vancouver’s only major party that failed to file its 2018 campaign finance disclosures by deadline, the organization’s statements are still under a “compliance review” with Elections B.C.
And in the months after the October 2018 election, in which the NPA’s Ken Sim came within 957 votes of becoming Vancouver’s mayor, the party board was internally questioning why the candidate received a $25,000 reimbursement from an NPA account. Former board members say there was nothing untoward about the payment and that the confusion was the board’s, and no fault of Sim’s.
Now, Sim says he’s thinking more seriously about running for mayor again in 2022, launching what looks a lot like a campaign website at kensim.ca last month — but “it’s too early to say,” he said, whether he’d run with or against the NPA.
At a December 2018 board meeting, NPA directors questioned “the nature and the reason” of a $25,000 payment from the NPA operating account to Sim’s personal account, according to the meeting minutes. The record shows the board “debated back and forth whether the monies returned to Ken Sim were done in accordance” with NPA rules and procedures.
The Vancouver Sun has reviewed the board meeting minutes and spoken with directors who were in attendance to confirm the written record accurately reflects what happened at the meeting.
The minutes show then-NPA president Gregory Baker stating the money was Sim’s “nomination deposit,” a $25,000 sum the party required from each candidate seeking the NPA’s mayoral nomination. However, the minutes show some board members were under the impression the NPA was supposed to refund partial deposits only to unsuccessful candidates for the nomination — in this case, Glen Chernen and current NPA park board commissioner John Coupar, who they believed should have been refunded “$20,000 from the $25,000 deposit and the monies deposited by the winning candidate will remain with the NPA.”
But when reached this week, Baker said the $25,000 in question was not actually connected to Sim’s nomination deposit, saying “there was some confusion around that, but that wasn’t the case.”
During the last year, the NPA leadership had some correspondence with Sim about the $25,000 payment, but Sim, reached by phone this week, said the matter has been resolved now, and he was not frustrated by what he called the “confusion at the board level.”
“With any organization, especially an organization with volunteers, you know, it’s not as if everything’s perfect all the time,” said Sim. The board’s confusion, he said, has not influenced whether or not he’d want to run with the NPA again.
Gregory Baker, the NPA president from before the 2018 election until shortly after the party was fined for filing late disclosures, said it was challenging navigating the first election under B.C.’s stricter new campaign finance rules.
“It was a complicated time, but there was definitely nothing untoward, Baker said. “Every single step was documented with Elections B.C.”
“People, I think, on the board tried to make an issue of it, (the $25,000 payment to Sim) but it was basically just political manoeuvring and vindictiveness. … They were looking for something that wasn’t there.”
Eli Konorti, an NPA board director from before the 2018 election until November 2018, described the confusion around the $25,000 reimbursement as a “debacle.”
But, Konorti said he believed the matter is now resolved, and doesn’t believe Sim was at fault for any of the board’s financial confusion.
“I don’t think it was cheating. It might be incompetence, it might be confusion. But I don’t think there was any wrongdoing or intent to do any wrongdoing,” Konorti said.
Some board members “were not happy campers,” Konorti said, about the party’s failure to file campaign finance disclosures by the January 2019 deadline, 90 days after the election.
No other major Vancouver-area candidates or parties missed the deadline. Other than Sim, the only two other candidates in Metro Vancouver penalized for failing to file by deadline were registered as “Spike” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Neither of those candidates were elected.
“You say to yourself, how can you be the oldest and largest party in this province, with all the resources that you’ve got, and you can’t seem to file something on time?” said Konorti, who resigned his board position the day before the NPA’s November 2019 AGM, he said, because of his concerns about the board’s direction.
Elections B.C. hit the NPA with thousands of dollars in late penalties, and the party eventually filed disclosures late in February 2019.
But, a year later, the NPA’s disclosures are still under a “compliance review,” Elections B.C. spokesman Andrew Watson said this week.
“We have asked them for clarification on a number of items, and they’ve been cooperative with providing those clarifications,” Watson said. “There are still some outstanding issues to work through.”
Out of the 3,553 campaign financing disclosure statements filed throughout B.C. for the 2018, less than two per cent of them are currently under review, including Sim’s candidate disclosure as well as the NPA’s main campaign.
NPA staffer Harry Cockell said this week: “I think the party has turned a corner. And in my capacity as executive administrator, I’m not going to allow the actions or perceived actions of a few deter from the good work that the party is carrying forward with now, and will carry with into the next election.”