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Vancouver mayor moves to abolish city’s elected park board

Ken sim says city 1 of just 2 in North America to operate with such a body
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim speaks in Vancouver, on Friday, June 30, 2023. nbsp;THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Mayor Ken Sim says he’s moving to abolish Vancouver’s elected Park Board, which is the only such body in any Canadian city.

Sim told reporters at a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday that he would move a motion next week to ask the province to amend the Vancouver Charter to bring its parks under city council control.

He said this would involve eliminating the requirement for an elected Park Board, calling it a “long overdue” step representing a “new level of accountability.”

“It’s vitally important that at this moment in time that we take bold action to elevate the care of these essential spaces,” he said.

Sim’s ABC Vancouver party has a strong majority on council, making it likely the motion will pass.

B.C. Municipal Affairs Minister Anne Kang said in a statement that the decision about the fate of the park board rests with Vancouver City Council.

“We will take the necessary steps to implement the decision of their elected city council,” Kang said.

After the press conference, city councillors Christine Boyle and Adriane Carr criticized Sim’s plan as undemocratic.

Boyle said the plan was a “significant distraction from the budget process that we have underway at the city.”

“I am not confident that Mayor Sim knows what the park board does,” she added.

Boyle said the board has been underfunded by city councils past and present, and problems arising from that are “not the fault of an elected park board.”

She said Sim and his party weren’t “getting what they wanted from this park board” and were “massively overreacting as a result.”

Carr said eliminating the elected board was not a surprising decision because three of Sim’s party’s commissioners on the board “went rogue” by not choosing the mayor’s preferred chair.

She said the board exists to manage Vancouver’s “world-class park system” and Sim’s plan is to get “rid of something which is unique and beautiful about Vancouver, and that the citizens love.”

ABC had six commissioners elected to the seven-member Park Board, but only three were on stage with the mayor as he made his announcement.

Commissioner Laura Christensen said in a post on social media on Wednesday morning that she and fellow ABC members Brennan Bastyovanszky and board chair Scott Jensen had been “removed” from the party.

Christensen shared a message on X, formerly known as Twitter, bearing the name of Sim’s chief of staff, Trevor Ford, telling the three they would not take part in the transition “as you have chosen not to support the Mayor on the folding in of the Park Board.”

Sim said the change would ensure long-term viability and growth of parks and recreation services, and the current system of management “just doesn’t work.”

He said the move would bring Vancouver in line with “every single city in North America,” except Minneapolis.

“We don’t see people clamouring to institute an elected park board in these cities,” he said.

The move would result in operational efficiencies, he said, freeing up staff time and getting things done quicker, and allowing management “in harmony with the city’s broader perspectives.”.

He said “anyone who loves our parks, and always wants parks to be parks, and golf courses to be golf courses,” would love the change.

“The system is broken and no amount of tweaking will fix it,” Sim said, adding that there would be “millions of dollars in savings,” although he didn’t give an exact amount.

Aaron Jasper, a former park board chair, told reporters after the news conference that savings would be limited to the salaries of the commissioners being let go, about $140,000 per year.

“That’s how much money will be saved by this, I guarantee it,” he said. “You still need the staff, the park planners, the people working in the community centres, the whole apparatus. A park board doesn’t go away.”

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