Mayor Ken Sim wants to abolish the seven-member elected Vancouver park board, which includes six commissioners who belong to his own ABC Vancouver party.
The mayor will introduce a motion at the Dec. 13 council meeting to request the B.C. government make necessary changes to the Vancouver Charter — a provincial statute — to begin the process to dissolve the board and transfer legal powers to city council.
“In recent years, it has become abundantly clear, given the poor state of Vancouver’s parks, recreation services and infrastructure that a fundamental change in the governance structure is not only needed, it is the only viable path forward to efficient and effective parks and recreation services for the people of Vancouver,” said the motion, obtained by Glacier Media.
Sim’s motion is expected to get approval from council because his party holds an 8-3 majority at city hall, where he was scheduled to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday to provide further details.
A news release was expected to be issued Wednesday that would include quotes from various community representatives, including Musqueam Indian Band Chief Wayne Sparrow and Lorraine Lowe of Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Garden Society, who support the mayor’s move.
The mayor’s motion pointed out Vancouver’s independent Auditor General Mike Macdonell recently released a performance audit of the park board’s revenue management practices.
“The audit determined that while some processes were used to inform fee-setting, the park board did not operate an effective framework for achieving revenue-related objectives for its revenue-generating assets and services,” the motion said.
In addition, the motion continued, the board “had not proactively engaged with city council to align its priorities with available funding.”
Stanley Park train
Although controversial, Sim’s move will not come as a complete surprise to municipal politics observers who followed his election campaign — and paid attention to a recent announcement related to the Stanley Park Train, a park board asset.
Last month, Sim held a news conference in Stanley Park to say he secured funders that included the Beedie Foundation, Diamond Foundation and others to ensure the train would be operating for the annual “Bright Nights” in the park.
Sim was clearly frustrated by the delays from the park board in getting the train back on track when he spoke to Glacier Media in November.
“We were told we didn't have the resources, it costs a lot of money, we didn't have the expertise, we have supply chain issues, we can't get the parts — we were given dozens of reasons why we can't do it,” the mayor said.
“So we're like, ‘OK, well, we're going to do it, we're just going to pick up the phone.’ We found the money. And now we don't have to justify the use of public funds on a train relative to some other great cause in the city. We can just do it.”
'A park board that failed'
In April 2021, before Sim secured ABC Vancouver’s mayoral nomination, he issued a press release with the subject line, “abolish the park board.”
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.” Those commissioners were scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday at the Bloedel Conservatory.
Source of political friction
Glacier Media contacted incoming board chair, Brennan Bastyovanszky, but he said he didn’t want to comment until commissioners held their news conference. Bastyovanszky is one of six ABC Vancouver commissioners.
In previous years, the board has been a source of political friction in the community, with then-mayor Kennedy Stewart in September 2019 saying he wanted the park board to temporarily cede jurisdiction of Oppenheimer Park to the city.
At the time, Stewart suggested he had a plan in place for the people living in the park that could include seeking an injunction. But, he said, he first needed power transferred to the city, which the board rejected.
The board was first established in 1888 to help oversee Stanley Park. No other major city in Canada has an elected park board.
Vancouver’s parks and recreations assets include 250 public parks and beaches, including Stanley Park, VanDusen Botanical Garden, Bloedel Conservatory, 24 community centres, swimming pools, rinks and arenas, sports playing fields, playgrounds, fitness centres, three championship golf courses, street trees and marinas.