Former Vancouver Park Board commissioners call on city to keep the park board

A group of former elected Park Board Commissioners is calling on the city to stop its plans to get rid of the board.

The group is made up of dozens of former commissioners who served as far back as 1972, and party affiliations include ABC, COPE, Green Party, NPA, TEAM Vision, and independents.

Mayor Ken Sim made an announcement last week calling for a motion to amend the Vancouver Charter to remove the requirement for an elected park board. He called the board a “broken system” and added that getting rid of it would mean millions of dollars in savings for the city.

Sim also said that bringing the management of parks under the control of City Hall would make for more streamlined decision-making processes, ultimately leading to better management of Vancouver parks.

Former commissioner Libby Davies, who was also a city councillor between 1982 and 1993 and the MP for Vancouver East from 1997 to 2015, says the Park Board is an important democratic institution that residents can deal with directly, adding that it’s needed to ensure public accountability.

“It’s not an appointed body. This is elected by the voters and people know they can go to the park board,” Davies said.

“I can tell you there’s been many battles at the Park Board where the public showed up in force and said ‘don’t you dare do this’ or ‘we want that’, and there was accountability. To undo that 130 years of democratic institution is really quite outrageous and shocking.”

As well, Davies says, Sim doesn’t have a mandate to get rid of the park board, since he didn’t campaign on that.

“This should have been in their platform, it should have been clear, it should have been unequivocal so that when people voted, they could vote on that question,” Davies told CityNews.

“If he wanted a referendum, he should have said, ‘I’m going to bring in a referendum,’ so people can weigh that up during a general civic election, which we had last year. None of that happened.”

Former Park Board Chair John Coupar echoed those concerns, saying he hopes Sim changes his mind.

“I don’t think it’s ever happened where an elected group has been removed from office during their term. I don’t think it would even be legal,” he said.

When asked if the group would consider a legal challenge or a judicial review of a move to dissolve the Park Board, Coupar said there are “a lot of avenues”, but he says the best path forward is for the public to show their support for the Park Board.

“I think he’s made a huge mistake,” Coupar said.

“I think it will come back to bite him and bite his political party.”

The former commissioners plan to speak at a Park Board meeting on Monday and a city council meeting on Wednesday, where council will debate the motion to get rid of the board. The commissioners are calling on the public to show up and speak in favour of keeping the board.

Vancouver is the only city in Canada with an elected park board.

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