The only Vancouver party that promised to get rid of the park board has reversed its position

·3 min read
The Vancouver Park Board operates more than 240 separate parks across the city.  (Justin McElroy/CBC News - image credit)
The Vancouver Park Board operates more than 240 separate parks across the city. (Justin McElroy/CBC News - image credit)

The Vancouver mayoral candidate who promised to get rid of the city's independent park board is now saying he'd like to keep it.

"Vancouverites deserve well run parks now. We can't wait three to four years to make an administrative change," said A Better City (ABC) mayoral candidate Ken Sim, who announced his party's park board candidates and platform Thursday morning.

The candidates are Brennan Bastyovanszky, Laura Christensen, Angela Haer, Scott Jensen, Marie-Claire Howard and Jas Virdi.

They will be running on a platform of repairing aging infrastructure, doing a financial audit of the park board, improving the Stanley Park bike lane, and making permanent the pilot allowing drinking in parks, expanding it to all major parks and starting a separate pilot for drinking at beaches.

It's a reversal of Sim's first major campaign promise, where he promised to lobby the provincial government to put the park board's responsibilities under the direct management of council.

Any bid to remove the park board would need provincial approval because it would require changing the Vancouver Charter.

"I don't think we'll get the immediate time and attention we need to make a legislative change in Victoria," said Sim, alluding to the NDP leadership race underway.

"So what we're going to do is we're going to run a bunch of strong candidates to win a majority on the elected park board, people with incredible lived experiences who have the skills to fix our parks."

Murray Titus/CBC News
Murray Titus/CBC News

Unique role

In much the same way that Vancouver is a municipal governance outlier in Canada in having several political parties and electing councillors city-wide instead of neighbourhoods, it's different when it comes to how it manages parks.

In the rest of Canada, mayor and council directly oversee the park board and its budget, similar to engineering or finance departments.

Vancouver is the only municipality in the country with a separately elected park board and senior staff. While council is in charge of setting their budget and approving a capital plan, overseeing the city's 240-plus parks and dozens of recreation facilities falls to the seven elected commissioners and separate park board management.

The concept is somewhat divisive. Some argue the park board ensures council can't develop green spaces, while others applauded the park board's decision to not quickly evict tent encampments in Oppenheimer and Strathcona parks over the past four years.

At the same time, support for getting rid of the board seems to have increased in recent years as the number of issues dividing park board and council has grown. In a June 2022 online poll by Research Co., 52 per cent of likely voters said they agreed with eliminating the park board, compared to 25 per cent who wanted to keep it.

"An ABC Vancouver government will not base our decisions on polls," said Sim.

"Right now, our parks are in a lot of trouble. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. And we can't wait three to four years."

With Sim's announcement, all 10 political parties running in this October's local elections support retaining the park board. Other parties that have released their parks platforms include Colleen Hardwick's Team Vancouver and VOTE Socialist.

Link to the Research Co. poll here. Likely voters were pre-screened by the company. For comparison purposes only, the margin of error for a random sample of the same size would be +/-4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. 

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