Vancouver establishes Park Board transition group, still looks for First Nations support

Vancouver’s Mayor has unveiled a working group, which will oversee the dismantling of the Vancouver Park Board. But the province and First Nations still need to approve the abolishment of the board.

The City of Vancouver has created a group to spearhead and oversee its hopeful dissolution of the Vancouver Park Board.

If the city is allowed to move forward with its plan, the board would cease to exist as an independent body and would instead report to city council.

“Today, we continue to forge ahead into a new era of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. It’s important to acknowledge the significant step taken last month, passing a motion to request the provincial government to dissolve our elected Park Board,” Mayor Ken Sim said.

“This step was very long overdue. The current system is broken and no amount of tweaking will fix it.”

In a news conference Thursday morning, Sim said the group is made up of several ABC Vancouver councillors, as well as staff and volunteers from within the community.

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The group includes Vancouver City Manager Paul Mochrie, Park Board General Manager Steve Jackson, Deputy City Manager Sandra Singh, Chief of Staff Trevor Ford, couns. Sarah Kirby-Yung and Rebecca Bligh, and Park Board Commissioner Marie-Claire Howard.

“The working group members announced today will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge ensuring a smooth transition,” Sim said.

According to the mayor, council has received a letter of support from xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam First Nation) but is still in talks with Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilw̓ətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations regarding the city’s plan.

As the province has legal requirements under its UNDRIP legislation to consult with local First Nations, the request for a Vancouver Charter change to abolish the Park Board must be approved and signed off on by the local Host Nations.

“We’re in constant talks,” Sim said of the potential Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations support, adding the city needs support from the Nations on a “whole host of issues, not just the elected Park Board.”

“Our administration, we believe in true reconciliation and being partners, so, yeah, we want them to have an active voice — a seat at the table.”

Sim says the elected 135-year-old Park Board has done “amazing work” and adds the transition has “nothing to do with the people or the love and care that they — the elected Park Board — show, we are talking about a broken city.”

“This move will bring Parks and Recreation under the direct oversight of city council. This aligns the management structure for our parks and recreation with how it’s done in literally every single city in Canada, and with the exception of Minneapolis, every single city in North America,” the mayor said.

The City of Vancouver still needs the approval of the provincial government before a change to the Park Board can happen.

The province has said it will rubber-stamp the mayor’s efforts as long as the city has done its due diligence.

The plan to have the city assume responsibility for the Park Board has been slammed by critics, including sitting city councillors and current-serving Park Board commissioners.

In its last sitting of 2023, the Vancouver Park Board voted to reaffirm the Park Board’s independence and “save the park board.”

‘It’s not what he campaigned on,’ Park Board commissioner says of Sim’s plan to dissolve VPB

Speaking to CityNews Thursday, former ABC Vancouver-turned-independent Park Board Commissioner Laura Christensen said she’s disappointed that Sim has continued with his plan to dissolve the Park Board, calling the move “undemocratic.”

Sim said Thursday that it was “clear” before voters went to the polls in 2022 that ABC would move to disband the board.

“We told everyone before the election that we were going to try to fix the structure of the elected Park Board, and if that didn’t work, we would go to the province to make changes and it’s very clear that all we need to do is make a charter change in the Vancouver Charter,” Sim told reporters.

But Christensen says that is a lie.

“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 we were going to fix the Park Board. There was never any comment about removing the Park Board in any way.

“If that had been the case, I would not have run with ABC, or run for the Park Board, in my case,” she added.

When she was asked to run for ABC Vancouver, Christensen says the party stood for “good governance and pragmatic decision making.”

“Unfortunately, I really haven’t seen that to date. A lot of the decisions have been hasty, poorly thought out, and really, I don’t think are in the best interest of the city,” she explained.

Christensen says the Park Board has since written a letter to the province asking to meet with the respective representatives about the city’s plan, and specifically, the city’s consultation with local First Nations.

“They do need all three Nations on board for this, and I do hope they consult closely with them and take their input and get their full support on this before anything moves forward.

“And I hope that the province will not proceed with this until they do have the full support of the three Nations.”

In a statement to CityNews, Tsleil-Wautuh says, “At this time, səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) does not have anything to say on this matter since discussions are still ongoing between leadership and the City of Vancouver.” CityNews has reached out to the Squamish Nation for comment.

Listen live to CityNews 1130 to keep up to date with this developing story. You can also subscribe to breaking news alerts sent directly to your inbox.

-With files from Mike Lloyd

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