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Vancouver mayor Ken Sim gets earful over plan to abolish elected park board

More than 160 people registered to speak Wednesday to mayor’s motion
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Brennan Bastyovanszky, elected chair of the Vancouver park board, urged Mayor Ken Sim and councillors Wednesday not to begin the process to abolish the board.

Update: Just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, the eight-member ABC Vancouver majority voted to approve Mayor Ken Sim's motion to abolish the park board. One City Coun. Christine Boyle and Green councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry voted against the motion.

Current and former Vancouver park board commissioners of all political stripes lined up at city hall Wednesday to urge Mayor Ken Sim not to follow through with his plan to abolish the elected park board.

Sim heard first from park board chair Brennan Bastyovanszky, who was elected in October 2022 as a member of the mayor’s ABC Vancouver party, but now serves as an independent after being blindsided by the party’s directive to fall in line with the mayor’s plan.

“There's no mandate for an elected park board to be removed mid-term, as the [ABC] majority on council and the park board were elected on the platform to retain the park board and to undertake an audit, the first of which was only recently released,” Bastyovanszky said from a lectern in the council chamber.

“The auditor general will provide the board a report every year on areas to improve. The park board should be provided the time and resources to implement the auditor’s recommendations.”

'I am here today to refute that'

The mayor and councillors then heard from Laura Christensen and Scott Jensen, the two other commissioners elected with ABC who now serve as independents. Christensen was at city hall, Jensen called in by phone.

“Over the last week, I have seen the mayor and ABC city councillors and park board commissioners state in the media that abolishing the park board was a campaign promise, and that they have a mandate for its removal,” Christensen said. “I am here today to refute that.”

Christensen said when she agreed to run with ABC in the summer of 2022, the party was “very clear that Ken was not planning to abolish the park board.” She said she was told many times during the party’s campaign that the party line was that “we are going to fix the park board.”

“This is what I told every person who asked me while I was knocking on hundreds of doors and attending community events,” she said. “Because of this, I absolutely do not believe that Ken Sim has the mandate to abolish the park board.”

Jensen used a portion of his three minutes to address council by listing ABC’s accomplishments since elected, including allowing alcohol in parks and some beaches, adding more public washrooms, seeing “hundreds of trees” planted and making it easier to obtain permits.

“We are working to expand our sport hosting portfolio by working with the Invictus Games, and with the Gay Games,” he said of his first year in office.

“We have provided more space for critical arts and culture. Park board is working on the creation of expanded patios. We approved $26 million in sports infrastructure improvements that will invest in sports field across the city.”

Added Jensen: “These are promises that we made collectively as candidates. I'm very proud of this.”

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Mayor Ken Sim at city hall Wednesday, where he heard from speakers about his desire to abolish the park board. Photo Mike Howell

'Stakes are way too high'

Sim announced Dec. 6 that he would introduce a motion Wednesday to seek to amend the Vancouver Charter to dissolve the board. If approved by council, the provincial government would then respond to the request.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs told Glacier Media via email last week that “this is a decision for Vancouver city council. We will take the necessary steps to implement the decision of their elected city council.”

In an interview prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Sim said the “the stakes are way too high” to keep an elected park board and that it’s time parks and recreation come under control of city council.

“I can tell you having two different groups accountable for the same thing will fail every single time,” he said. “The stakes are way too high. We're talking about the future of our parks in the city of Vancouver. These are generational assets.”

Added Sim: “At some point in time, I'm not going to be mayor anymore, and I'll be a resident of Vancouver again, and I want our parks to be vibrant. So this is, I truly believe, the best way to make that happen, or it's an important first step.”

John Coupar, Sarah Blyth-Gerszak, Anita Romaniuk

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, council was still hearing from speakers. It was unclear whether another day would be needed to hear from all speakers, which included former commissioners John Coupar (NPA), Sarah Blyth-Gerszak (Vision Vancouver) and Anita Romaniuk (COPE).

Coupar said the mayor’s move came without any widespread consultation of community centre associations, senior centres, aquatic clubs, marina associations or all First Nations on whose unceded territories people live, work and play.

“Please step back, reflect on the moment, don't abandon democracy,” Coupar urged Sim. “Don't let this be your legacy. It will be a stain on our great city, and you will be judged by history as failing democracy.”

Blyth-Gerszak echoed concerns raised by Coupar and others about lack of consultation. She urged Sim to run on his desire to abolish the board in the 2026 election to determine whether residents want to keep the board.

“This is really, really sad what you're doing and I really need you to at least consider not doing this and consult with the public,” she said.

Romaniuk, who is vice-president of Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association, said the city would not gain financially by the mayor’s move to abolish the board; Sim has said having parks and recreation under control of the city would “yield millions” in savings, but has not specified how that would be achieved.

She said park board is being underfunded by council.

“Please council do something about that — and don't destroy the park board that is accountable to all the people of Vancouver,” Romaniuk said.

4-3 vote at Monday's park board meeting

Wednesday’s meeting came two days after Bastyovansky, Christensen and Jensen — along with Green Party commissioner Tom Digby — voted at Monday night’s park board meeting to stop abolition of the park board.

ABC commissioners Jas Virdi, Angela Haer and Marie-Claire Howard, who have publicly stated their support for the mayor’s desire to scrap the board, voted against.

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 to begin the process to scrap the board.

'Focus on big prize'

Asked to respond to the 4-3 vote at park board, Sim said Wednesday the board “can do whatever is in their rights, and we have to make our case to the province why an elected park board doesn't make sense.”

Asked what he would say to voters who elected ABC commissioners — and volunteers who worked on his party’s campaign — Sim said:

“I think what we need to focus on the big prize here — we have parks and recreational facilities that should be world class gems that are falling apart. We have a broken system. And so instead of focusing on a bunch of side noise, let's focus on what's really important. I can tell you all the Vancouverites that I speak with, they just want world-class parks.”

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

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