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Vancouver library trustee replaced by ABC donor raises concerns of 'cronyism' at city hall

Melody Ma, who has opposed several decisions of Mayor Ken Sim and his ruling ABC party, is concerned about 'cronyism' after a recent city council decision not to reappoint her to the Vancouver Public Library board. (Vancouver Public Library - image credit)
Melody Ma, who has opposed several decisions of Mayor Ken Sim and his ruling ABC party, is concerned about 'cronyism' after a recent city council decision not to reappoint her to the Vancouver Public Library board. (Vancouver Public Library - image credit)

A Vancouver Public Library trustee who has criticized Mayor Ken Sim's ruling party is raising concerns of "cronyism" at city hall after councillors rejected her application for another term and appointed an ABC donor instead.

First-term trustee Melody Ma, a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Vancouver's Chinatown, says the library's board of trustees recommended she be reappointed, but on Wednesday the city clerk's office informed her that Vancouver city council's nomination sub-committee had rejected her application.

Of the five Vancouver Public Library (VPL) board members recommended for renewal, Ma was the only one whose application was not approved, according to decisions from a Nov. 28 in-camera council meeting. Her two-year term will expire on Dec. 31.

She says that's because of her stance as a trustee and advocate, which has often brought her into opposition with Sim and councillors from his ABC Vancouver party.

"I was the one who was singled out, because I've been a critical voice of the ruling party, and replaced with a party insider," Ma told CBC News on Sunday.

"We're witnessing cronyism live in Vancouver folks," Ma said in a Saturday post on X, formerly known as Twitter.


The nomination sub-committee is composed of three councillors: Mike Klassen and Lisa Dominato of ABC, and the Green Party's Pete Fry, who said Sunday he advocated for Ma's reappointment.

The three councillors vote on appointment recommendations for several civic bodies, which are then put to a vote by council.

According to the Nov. 28 council decision, the new appointee to the VPL's 11-person, non-partisan board is Parveen Mangat, a registered pharmacist and strategic adviser at the Canadian Pharmacists Association with ties to ABC and the mayor.

The space where the artwork THE WORDS DON’T FIT THE PICTURE was previously located in Vancouver on Friday, May 15, 2020.
The space where the artwork THE WORDS DON’T FIT THE PICTURE was previously located in Vancouver on Friday, May 15, 2020.

Ma's time on the the Vancouver Public Library's 11-member, non-partisan board, will end Dec. 31. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

ElectionsBC contribution reports show Mangat donated $1,250 — the maximum amount allowable in 2022 — to ABC's municipal campaign last year.

Mangat was a member of the ABC campaign team, according to a December 2022 social media post by Dominato, and was an invited guest at Sim's November 2022 inauguration, according to a guest list obtained through a freedom of information request.

Mangat was also previously appointed to the board of the College of Speech and Hearing Health Professionals of British Columbia by Health Minister Adrian Dix from 2019 to 2020.

Attempts by CBC News to contact Mangat for comment were unsuccessful.

Outside of her VPL role, Ma has campaigned against a controversial Chinatown condo development at 105 Keefer St. that was approved by city staff earlier this year, and against council's decision to ask staff to review the city's view-cone policy.

As a VPL trustee, she opposed the board's decision to align with city council's move to no longer be a certified living wage employer.

ElectionsBC records do not show any political donations by Ma.

Ma says she feels she has been "punished" for her advocacy, and says the decision to reject her application for reappointment is "antithetical" to the freedom of expression VPL holds among its stated core values.

"This is not about pitting one racialized woman of colour against another racialized woman of colour and comparing our background and expertise," said Ma. "This is about a ruling party that doesn't like people who criticize them."

A statement from Sim's office Sunday did not respond to questions about Ma's claims or Mangat's appointment, but said deliberations by the nominations sub-committee are not made public.

"There are a wide range of factors that go into the appointment process for the city's boards and committees, including balancing skill sets and renewal," said the statement emailed to CBC News. "We thank all who serve on our public boards and agencies, past and present."

CBC News contacted Klassen and Dominato, who both directed questions to Sim's office.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is pictured at City Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is pictured at City Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.

Mayor Sim is pictured in his city hall office on Nov. 7. His office declined to comment directly on Ma's concerns. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'Sour grapes'

George Affleck, a political consultant and former city councillor, said it's not unusual for new councils to replace board members appointed by their predecessors, but added it's important boards have a balance of perspectives.

Appointments are also a chance for parties to bring "rising stars" into the fold and prepare them to run in future elections, he said.

"It's not surprising, with somebody who has been very, very controversial at city hall, for a new council to perhaps not see [Ma] as someone that they want," Affleck told CBC News.

"I don't know the backstory here … but it sounds a bit like sour grapes."

In a Sunday social media post, Councillor Fry said he found Ma "to be a smart, productive trustee [who] did not bring unrelated partisan politics to her role."

"I advocated to reappoint Ma, but nomination subcommittee is *not* non-partisan, as one might deduce from membership," he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

ABC councillors recently voted down a motion Fry said would increase transparency around nominations, he added.