Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Vancouver park board 'Transition Team' messages deleted

Even if the messages still existed, Vancouver's information access director said the city would not release them.  
Former park board commissioner Sarah Blyth-Gerszak's photograph of ABC commissioner Marie-Claire Howard's smartphone at the Dec. 11 park board meeting. City hall says the "Transition Team" messages no longer exist.

Something caught a former commissioner’s eye on Dec. 11 when the Vancouver park board met for the first time after Mayor Ken Sim declared his intention to abolish the elected body.

Sarah Blyth-Gerszak, twice-elected with Vision Vancouver, was among the ex-politicians from across the spectrum who united to oppose Sim’s Dec. 6 announcement. She photographed the smartphone held at the meeting table by Marie-Claire Howard, one of three park board commissioners remaining in Sim’s ABC Vancouver party. 

Under the heading “Transition Team,” Howard’s screen read: “Just talked to [development consultant and party donor] Gary Pooni and he is hearing only overwhelmingly great feedback! So congratulations to all of you!”

The name of the sender was not visible in the photo that Blyth-Gerszak published on X, formerly Twitter. The next day, a reporter applied under the freedom of information law for all of the “Transition Team” messages sent and received by Howard and fellow ABC commissioners Angela Haer and Jas Virdi from Dec. 5, when Sim secretly informed most commissioners about his plan, to Dec. 11, the night Blyth-Gerszak snapped Howard’s screen. 

Cobi Falconer, the city’s information access director, replied Feb. 13 to say that the messages were deleted. Even if they still existed, she said the city would not release them.  

“Based upon its investigations, the city understands that the requested records do not relate to the business of the city,” Falconer wrote. “In any event, records were not retained and were no longer in existence at the time your request was received.”

“Pathetic,” said park board chair Brennan Bastyovanszky, one of three commissioners ejected from the ABC caucus for disagreeing with Sim. “It doesn't seem right, does it?” 

Pooni said the morning after the meeting that he had no involvement with the park board decision or the “Transition Team.” 

Asked how his name ended up in the group chat, he responded: “That’s a great question, Mr. Mackin. I saw that, and I have no idea. Please let me know what you find out, and if you could fill me in — I would greatly appreciate it.”

The FOI office did release the calendar for Sim’s chief of staff, Trevor Ford. It shows a “Park Board discussion” via Microsoft Teams on Nov. 23 and phone call the next day with Matt Smith, Premier David Eby’s chief of staff. 

There is also this Dec. 1 entry: “Meet with Gary P.” 

The address listed in Ford’s calendar is the same as the Pooni Group office in Guinness Tower. 

There is no mention of Pooni in Howard’s calendar. Howard did not respond to a query about the FOI office’s response. 

Pooni Group’s website describes the firm as a “technical urban planning and communications company.” Clients include the Bonnis Properties 800 Granville project. Pooni is an NDP supporter, who made $4,657 in donations since mid-2020. He also donated $1,250 to Sim’s campaign in February 2022. But $3,764.50 in 2021 donations to ABC were classified as “prohibited” under Elections BC rules and returned to Pooni before last Christmas. 

Neither Pooni nor Ford responded to requests for details about the Dec. 1 meeting. 

Bastyovanszky said he was unaware of any of the meetings in Ford’s calendar, but said it is part of the Mayor’s Office’s pattern of secrecy and undermining of elected officials. 

“The email that we got from Trevor kicking us out of ABC was done through personal email, which is super odd, right?” Bastyovanszky said. “Because it was obviously clearly city business, where that party is going to give up control of park board.”

Bastyovanszky also pointed to integrity commissioner Lisa Southern’s Feb. 21 finding that Sim breached the code of conduct for excluding Comm. Laura Christensen, a newborn mother, from the Dec. 5 meeting and Dec. 6 news conference. Southern’s report contains two explicit references to the “transition team.” 

Bastyovanszky said Sim and his staff underestimated opposition to dissolving the board, naively hoping the NDP cabinet would rubber-stamp the proposal behind closed doors. Instead, the city needs to provide a transition plan with formal support from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and the city’s two unions. Sim appointed a five-member transition working group on Jan. 25 with a six-month mandate. One of the members is Catherine Evans, a Vision Vancouver commissioner from 2014 to 2018. 

On Feb. 5, Bastyovanszky, Christensen, Scott Jensen and Green commissioner Tom Digby voted to spend $20,000 for a lawyer’s opinion on whether Sim’s move is unconstitutional. Haer, Howard and Virdi voted in the minority. 

“Ken’s playing no-limit, Texas hold’em,” Bastyovanszky said. “He's gone all-in, he's already shown his cards and the rest of the deck hasn't been dealt yet.”