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Vancouver mayor appoints five people to group to abolish elected park board

Ken Sim: "I do want to be very clear here — this change is bigger than any one person or political party."
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Mayor Ken Sim announced Thursday at a city hall that five people have joined the “transition working group” to abolish the elected park board.

Mayor Ken Sim is forging ahead with his plan to abolish the elected Vancouver park board and announced five additional members Thursday to the “transition working group” to bring parks and recreation under the direct oversight of city council.

The new members are:

• Catherine Evans, a former Vision Vancouver park commissioner.

• Shauna Wilton, former deputy general manager of the park board.

• Jennifer Wood, board director of BC Diving.

• Gregor Young, executive director of the Vancouver United Football Club.

• Jordan Nijjar, a soccer coach described as a leader in the South Asian community.

They will work with Sim, ABC Vancouver councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Rebecca Bligh, the mayor’s chief of staff Trevor Ford and current ABC park commissioner Marie-Claire Howard on the transition over the next six months.

“I do want to be very clear here — this change is bigger than any one person or political party,” Sim told reporters at a city hall news conference. “It's about prioritizing the needs of all Vancouverites and ensuring that our parks and recreation facilities can serve our community to their fullest potential.”

Sim announced Dec. 6 that he would pursue an amendment to the Vancouver Charter to wipe out the seven-member board that included six of his own ABC Vancouver commissioners.

The announcement caught three of his own ABC commissioners off guard.

Brennan Bastyovanszky, Scott Jensen and Laura Christensen now sit as independents and are being supported by former commissioners from all political stripes in their fight to keep the elected board.

Sim’s rationale for abolishing the board — some of which he reiterated at the news conference — was based on what he described as a “broken system,” which he said is not working in the best interests of citizens.

Examples he provided 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.

A leaky Kitsilano pool was another example.

First Nations consultation

The mayor’s plan is far from a done deal, with Minister of Municipal Affairs Anne Kang saying in a Dec. 14 statement that “a number of items” need to be addressed before the provincial government will allow an amendment to the Charter.

Those items include questions over land ownership, the future of workers at the park board and consultation with the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish First Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

Glacier Media contacted the ministry Thursday to see if Sim had fulfilled any of the obligations, but had not received a response before this story was posted.

Premier David Eby told reporters at an unrelated news conference Thursday that he was aware the future of the park board was "top of mind for a handful of people" in Vancouver, but was not the number one priority for the provincial government. He said government is focused on tackling housing, cost-of-living, health care and ensuring the province's economy is strong.

"That said, we're working closely with the City of Vancouver because we do understand this is something that they want to bring forward," the premier said.

"We've been clear with them about what needs to be in place for it to be on the legislative agenda. I understand they're working hard to achieve those deliverables, and I look forward to hearing from them when they're ready to go."

At the news conference, Sim said his team has been “working in partnership” with the three nations on the transition, noting Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow had signed a letter of support for the transition.

A copy of that letter was included in press materials released at the news conference.

“I know under Vancouver city council’s management, parks and recreation will run more effectively and reconciliation will always be at the forefront of their decision making,” Sparrow wrote.

The mayor said his team had also “been engaged with our union partners.”

'People can challenge whatever they want'

He argued the move was legal and allowed under the Charter, despite voters successfully choosing candidates who were supposed to serve the board until the next election in 2026.

“Look,” Sim said, “people can challenge whatever they want. But at the end of the day, we're very clear what we're going to do and the process is set out. You can make a Charter change…and you can change the corporate governance structure.”

Christensen attended the news conference and told reporters after the event that she was disappointed that Sim was forging ahead with what she described as “an undemocratic move” to abolish the elected board.

“This is not what he campaigned on,” she said. “I know he said otherwise at the press conference. But as somebody who was involved in the campaign closely, and campaigned with ABC, that was not my understanding during the campaign.”

She said the campaign promise was that ABC was going to “fix the park board.”

“There was never any comment about removing the park board in any way,” she said. “If that had been the case, I would not have run with ABC or run for the park board.”

Legal recourse to abolition of park board

In response to Sim’s comments regarding a “broken system,” Christensen said maintenance of Kitsilano pool and the Aquatic Centre is the city’s jurisdiction, not the park board.

“They took those under their control, and since then the maintenance has really declined and have been falling apart,” she said, noting her colleagues are exploring legal recourse on the mayor’s move to abolish the board. “That's not the park board being broken. That's the city poorly maintaining its assets.”

Christensen and her two former ABC commissioners, along with Green Party commissioner Tom Digby, successfully passed a motion in December to direct park board staff not to participate in the transition process.

City manager Paul Mochrie noted that motion in comments he made to reporters Thursday, acknowledging that it was “legitimate direction for the park board to provide, they have that authority and we respect that.”

“But it will present a delay in that detailed operational planning,” Mochrie said.

Note: This story has been updated since first posted to include comments from Premier David Eby.

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

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