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Vancouver Aquarium referendum sinking from view

Green Coun. Adriane Carr blasted by council opponents for treading on park board’s turf
A motion by Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr proposing a plebiscite about keeping cetaceans in captivity was voted down by council Wednesday. Photo Dan Toulgoet

A referendum regarding keeping whales and dolphins in captivity is unlikely to be on the ballot in the November civic election despite repeated requests from some residents, activists and politicians.

Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr brought a motion to council Wednesday afternoon asking that a plebiscite on keeping cetaceans in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium be added to the ballot of the fall election. But the negative response to Carr’s motion from her fellow Vision Vancouver and NPA councillors made it clear they will be leaving the responsibility of such a decision squarely with the park board.

Carr’s motion was akin to throwing a ticking verbal time bomb into council chambers Wednesday with the lone Green Party councillor accused of being out of order, bargaining in bad faith and being out of the loop. That last accusation came from Vision Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson who wrongly assumed Carr had not participated in private meetings he and other councillors had held with Vancouver Aquarium president John Nightingale.

The clock is ticking on getting a captivity question added to the ballot because deadlines must be met. Exactly how many weeks prior to the election such a plebiscite question must be approved by was unclear at the time of Wednesday’s meeting.

In her motion, Carr noted the plebiscite would only take place if between now and then the park board and aquarium don’t reach an agreement to phase out cetaceans in captivity.

Carr said keeping cetaceans in captivity contradicts the city’s goal to be the greenest in the world by 2020 and noted under the Vancouver Charter, city council, not the park board, has the authority to submit a plebiscite question to voters.

Carr added despite the fact Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has said publicly he wants cetaceans phased out at the aquarium and hopes the park board will work with the facility to see that accomplished, a review of the bylaw allowing the aquarium to keep whales and dolphins is scheduled for 2015 so the work must begin now.

But her fellow councillors, in particular Vision’s Kerry Jang, said a decision by the park board approved Monday to have staff create a report and review of the aquarium’s operations and relationship with the board was reason enough to reject the idea of a plebiscite. Jang accused Carr of overriding the park board’s authority and added he was bothered he had to participate in debate in which Carr was treading on the park board’s turf.

“That’s not democracy as I see it,” Jang told council.

Vision Vancouver park board chair Aaron Jasper said the park board wants to see a report from staff before any bylaw changes will be made.

“But there will be change,” Jasper told the Courier Thursday morning. “It is not our intent to pass this onto another park board. I predict the issue of keeping cetaceans in captivity will be dealt with before our off-leash dog problems are.”

Nightingale spoke at Wednesday’s meeting and said the aquarium is backing the park board’s approach not to hold a plebiscite and instead complete a report and review.

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