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Commissioners vote 4-3 against Vancouver mayor’s plan to abolish elected park board

Brennan Bastyovanszky, Laura Christensen, Scott Jensen, Tom Digby push to stop Ken Sim’s move to scrap board
Brennan Bastyovanszky and Jas Virdi shared opposing views at Monday night’s park board meeting regarding Mayor Ken Sim’s plan to abolish the seven-member elected board.

Three park board commissioners whose relationship with Mayor Ken Sim’s ABC Vancouver party become strained last week made it clear Monday that they oppose their former leader’s plan to abolish the elected board.

That message was delivered at a tense park board meeting via a motion from Brennan Bastyovanszky, who got the support from former ABC colleagues Laura Christensen and Scott Jensen, along with Green Party commissioner Tom Digby.

“The mayor's office has no jurisdiction in park board, they have no authority to recommend the abolition of it,” said Bastyovanszky, who introduced himself at the meeting as an “independent” commissioner.

Bastyovanszky’s motion requested commissioners reaffirm their oath of office, reaffirm the board’s independence and to direct staff to continue with all planning and projects — and not to reprioritize any work in light of Sim’s motion.

In addition, he successfully requested staff not to allocate any resources towards a so-called transition working group to dissolve the board.

A letter will also be sent by the park board’s chairperson to Premier David Eby and Municipal Affairs Minister Anne Kang, if Sim convinces council Wednesday to begin the process to scrap the board.

“Never in Canadian history has an elected board been removed in this way, and with no mandate from the province or the city,” said Bastyovanszky, whose motion was opposed by ABC Vancouver commissioners Marie-Claire Howard, Angela Haer and Jas Virdi.

Mayor Ken Sim at a Dec. 6 news conference with ABC commissioners Angela Haer, Jas Virdi and Marie-Claire Howard. Photo Mike Howell

'I feel sick to my stomach'

Virdi said he thought when he got elected in October 2022 that change was going to come to the park board. He said that hasn’t happened in the past year, with his motions getting piled up in a category called “unfunded motions.”

“When I first got elected, I was so happy to be a part of the park board,” he said. “I thought we're going to make changes — we have a full majority, we're going to do things. And later on, I learned that all our motions get passed, but nothing gets done.”

Virdi said Vancouver doesn’t need two elected bodies making decisions, noting park board gets its budget approved by city council.

“When council makes a decision, they have skin in the game because they're the ones ultimately funding the motion,” he said.

“I feel sick to my stomach that I come here every day, and I eat food [with] taxpayers’ money. We go to events, we waste taxpayers’ money, and we get nothing done.”

Added Virdi: “Our board is redundant, and it's inefficient, and that's how I honestly feel.”

Former commissioners pack gallery

The gallery Monday night at the park board office in Stanley Park was filled with former commissioners, including John Coupar, Aaron Jasper, Sarah Blyth-Gerszak and Michael Wiebe, who were there to show their support for an elected board.

Those commissioners were among 27 who signed their names to the #saveourparkboard campaign that launched last week after Sim announced Dec. 6 that he wants to abolish the board.

“The mayor of Vancouver has no legal nor political right to unilaterally eliminate an independently and democratically elected board,” read a statement from the former commissioners, who represented all political stripes. “Nor does the B.C. government have any mandate to act on such a unilateral attempt.”

Sim will introduce a motion at the Dec. 13 council meeting to begin the process to abolish the board via an amendment to the Vancouver Charter. He told reporters at a news conference last week that his move was not a criticism of the seven commissioners.

“It's not about the people,” he said. “It's about the structure, and no amount of tinkering with that current structure is going to fix it.”

Some examples he provided of what he described as a “broken system” included the facade of the Vancouver Aquatic Centre falling off, a jurisdictional dispute over a water pipe at Spanish Banks and issues related to getting the Stanley Park train operating for the holiday season.

Sim wanted park board gone in 2021

Sim was on record two years ago of wanting to abolish the park board.

He made that clear in an April 2021 news release — prior to securing the mayoral nomination for ABC Vancouver —where he called for the board to be scrapped.

The release was triggered by news that the board approved the sale of the Vancouver Aquarium from Ocean Wise Conservation Association to Herschend Enterprises, a U.S. company that owns aquariums in New Jersey and Kentucky.

Calling the aquarium a “crown jewel,” Sim criticized the board of the day for the sale.

“This isn’t about the business decision, it’s about a park board that failed, it’s about elected officials who either did not, or could not succeed in securing the necessary funding from higher levels of government to protect a treasure at the heart of Vancouver’s greatest park,” he said at the time.

He went on to say that if he became mayor, he would commit to abolishing the elected board “and rolling it back under the authority of city council, where it belongs.” 

At the same time, he said he would look to recruit candidates “who will be committed to being the last elected park board commissioners.”

Bastyovanszky told Glacier Media last week that he, Christensen and Jensen will serve as independent commissioners and plan to be on the job until the 2026 election.

Bastyovanszky and Christensen also plan to be among the many speakers at Wednesday’s council meeting, where Sim is expected to get support from his ABC council majority to abolish the board.

The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m.

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