British Columbia·Analysis

'Stay Awesome': Ken Sim invites Metro Vancouver mayors for a weekday afternoon of yacht-based diplomacy

The region's leaders spent Tuesday afternoon cruising the waters of the Burrard Inlet, invited by Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim for a "chance to kick back and relax and get to know each other a little bit away from the office," as the email provided to CBC News put it.

It was another example of the Vancouver mayor's focus on networking, regional collaboration — and yes, swagger

Metro Vancouver mayors hit the high seas

4 months ago
Duration 0:43
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim invited area mayors aboard West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager's yacht on Tuesday.

Team-building exercises come in all shapes and sizes — but when you're a Metro Vancouver mayor, it can be a little fancier than most. 

The region's leaders spent Tuesday afternoon cruising the waters of the Burrard Inlet, invited by Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim for a "chance to kick back and relax and get to know each other a little bit away from the office," as the email provided to CBC News put it.

And the host? None other than the mayor of West Vancouver.

"The theme is just enjoy this beautiful sunny day," said Mark Sager, owner of the 96-foot yacht Oriana, who said he and Sim came up with the idea after discussing the need for mayors to talk among each other more. 

"I think both the mayor of Vancouver and I, we like a collaborative environment, and clearly getting to know one another helps with that, I think."

The optics of a group of politicians spending a weekday on a private yacht might seem elitist to some, even if Sim said the trip was "100 per cent not funded by the taxpayers" since the boat was owned by a fellow mayor. 

But the aims of what Sim was hoping to accomplish — and why it might work — were consistent with what he's tried to make happen since taking office.

A man in sunglasses bumps fists with another man in a baseball cap while a third man looks on.
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim greets other regional mayors prior to their cruise. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

21 municipalities, 1 voice

Sim's boat summit fits with two of his big priorities since becoming mayor.

One is a policy outcome: to have the City of Vancouver play a bigger role in leading the region, as befits the biggest municipality. 

On transportation, there's a $20 billion ask to higher levels of government through TransLink. On infrastructure, there's more than $10 billion due in the next few years for wastewater upgrades across the region

While Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and other major cities speak with one voice, Sim has said he wants Vancouver to have a greater presence in the sometimes byzantine debates that decide funding priorities for the 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver. 

He can make that clear to people in formal settings, of course. But when mayors meet for Metro Vancouver or TransLink meetings, they typically don't have a lot of free time for chatter.

In other words, there's something to be said for a more nautical conversation. 

"The only agenda is we're going to be talking about how we get more support from senior levels of government on things like transit and housing," said Sim to CBC News right before boarding the vessel. 

"It's also a time where we can enjoy a little sunshine."

On vibes and swagger

Another focus of Sim has been to inject the mayor's office with what could be considered, for a lack of better term, "swagger" — a term he coined at his first State of the City address in January

Many mayors in Metro Vancouver believed Kennedy Stewart to be overly focused on Vancouver at the expense of the region when lobbying senior levels of government and while engaging in one-on-one settings. Stewart was seen as transactional in groups. Sim, by contrast, is much more similar to former Mayor Gregor Robertson: a former businessman for a high-profile Vancouver company, embracing the limelight and putting a beacon of positivity whenever possible on his actions.

It might be why he signed off on his email to the other mayors with the words, "Stay Awesome!"

Whether or not everyone in Vancouver is staying awesome as housing prices remain out of reach for many and a public health emergency enters its eighth year is debatable. 

But for Ken Sim on a sunny Tuesday in June? 

It was the type of mayoral networking where he likely felt nothing like a fish out of water. 


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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