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Council moves closer to scrapping the Vancouver Park Board

Click to play video: 'Vancouver council to vote on Park Board abolition'
Vancouver council to vote on Park Board abolition
Vancouver city council is now sitting for what promises to be a marathon meeting. It's hearing from the public on Mayor Ken Sim's controversial plan to abolish the park board. But the three ABC-turned-independent park board commissioners aren’t going out quietly. Emily Lazatin has the story – Dec 13, 2023

Vancouver’s mayor and council approved a controversial motion — in favour of amending key legislation to allow the abolition of the city’s elected Board of Parks and Recreation.

Councillors voted eight to three in favour of the motion, with councillors Christine Boyle, Pete Fry and Adrienne Carr in opposition.

It follows a marathon day at city hall that heard from more than 160 speakers who signed up for the Standing Committee on City Finance and Services meeting. Each is allocated three minutes to make their case for or against keeping the board that oversees 250 public parks and beaches.

Click to play video: 'First Park Board meeting since mayor vowed to scrap it'
First Park Board meeting since mayor vowed to scrap it

Mayor Ken Sim revealed plans to scrap the board last week and was met with significant backlash from some members of the public and park commissioners, who have already passed their own motion to keep the board. Three of the six commissioners who were elected with Sim’s ABC Vancouver Party split with the mayor over the plan to sit as independents.

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During a break from the meeting Wednesday, Sim said the long-term strategic planning of the park board doesn’t align with the long-term goals of city council.

“The system is completely broken and if we want vibrant parks and recreational facilities in the City of Vancouver, we have to change,” he told Global News.

“When you have two groups accountable for something, no one’s accountable, and what we’re seeing is that things are falling through the cracks.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver park board chair on motion to eliminate board'
Vancouver park board chair on motion to eliminate board

According to the motion, a recent auditor general report had found the board “did not operate an effective framework for achieving revenue-related objectives for its revenue-generating assets and services.”

The motion — expected to pass under Mayor Ken Sim’s ABC majority — is to ask the B.C. government to repeal a section of the governing Vancouver Charter that requires the city to have an elected board of commissioners.

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It also requests that the current powers of the park board be bestowed onto city council, and that the process for revoking or cancelling a designated permanent public park be changed to require a unanimous vote by all council members, with provisions for a referendum.

Click to play video: 'Focus BC: Getting rid of Vancouver Park Board, scrapping childcare wait list fees'
Focus BC: Getting rid of Vancouver Park Board, scrapping childcare wait list fees

Rather than be swiftly scrapped, park board commissioner Brennan Bastyovanszky said the board deserves “both the time and funding from council” to be able to implement the auditor general’s recommendations. He further claimed “the whole city” is behind the park board, regardless of their political stripes.

“You have people from NPA, from Team, from COPE, from Green, from Vision, and the independents are all linked arm-in-arm protected our parks,” he said Wednesday.

“The labour unions, the Conservatives, ABC donors and ABC volunteers have all aligned to oppose the mayor’s motion, so I feel that this has been a political miscalculation by the mayor and council.”

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A coalition of more than 30 former park board commissioners from across the political spectrum recently formed under the banner, ‘Save Our Park Board,’ and registered a number of speakers at Wednesday’s meeting.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver starts process to abolish elected park board'
Vancouver starts process to abolish elected park board

Wednesday’s motion is expected to pass under Sim’s ABC majority on council.

Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr, an elected Vancouver Green Party member, said she doesn’t expect a vote will take place Wednesday, however, given the number of speakers expected to attend. She further has prepared motion amendments in an effort to reach middle ground on the matter.

“My hope is that they see a reason that this is a great institution that we have in Vancouver protecting really one of our most valuable assets, which is our park system,” said Carr.

“If they don’t do that, at the minimum, they should make sure that the electorate has the say in the body that they have been voted for.”

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Click to play video: 'B.C. prepared to make amendments to Vancouver Charter next spring'
B.C. prepared to make amendments to Vancouver Charter next spring

Carr said it’s wrong to take an elected body away from the people who voted for it in the middle of a term. She said council ought to revise its processing for funding the park board instead of abolishing it.

Sim promised to try and scrap the board in 2021, before promising instead to keep it in 2022. Of accusations that his recent decision-making process is undemocratic, he said, “I think people elected us to make bold decisions and work fast.”

“In the past, governments have taken a long time — and I’ll be generous there — so we are absolutely in our rights. We are basically looking at what we’re allowed to do and we’re following that framework.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s Kitsilano Pool leaking 30,000 litres of water every hour'
Vancouver’s Kitsilano Pool leaking 30,000 litres of water every hour

Stewart Prest, a lecturer in the University of British Columbia’s political science department, described the mayor’s recent move as having a “certain abruptness” that caught members of his own ABC Party off-guard and split his caucus.

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“I think that is an indication that perhaps there was an opportunity missed in terms of communicating, consulting with members of the broader public,” he said.

“While there clearly are are challenges in the way in which the park board relates to city council and various issues that continue to be hot button issues for the Park Board, to do away with an institution with this amount of history behind it, and clearly with entrenched interests around it, is not something to be done lightly again.”

Click to play video: 'Carbon storage possibilities beneath Metro Vancouver'
Carbon storage possibilities beneath Metro Vancouver

While there are issues with referendums — such as low voter turnout or engagement — Prest said such a vote may be “desirable” in this context, as it could offer “unassailable legitimacy” on the public’s true desires with regard to the park board, and facilitate swifter action to resolve the matter.

The B.C. government is already set to amend the Vancouver Charter next spring to make changes that deal with housing.

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Wednesday’s motion proposes a Parks and Recreation Transition Working Group be convened to facilitate the “smooth transition” of powers over parks and beaches from the board to council.

— with files from Emily Lazatin and Simon Little 

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