Vancouver mayoral candidate Ken Sim promises to abolish the Park Board

Apr 16 2021, 6:59 pm

If elected as the Mayor of Vancouver, Ken Sim is promising to abolish the elected body of commissioners that govern the Vancouver Park Board.

The mayoral candidate announced his first platform commitment today, following Thursday’s announcement by Ocean Wise Conservation Association that it had no other option but to sell the Vancouver Aquarium to prevent its permanent closure this spring.

Ocean Wise has been facing a financial crisis due to the high costs of maintaining the aquarium’s animal care and habitats, but without the revenue that comes from visitors.

Atlanta-based Herschend Enterprises, which owns and operates theme park attractions such as Dollywood and two other aquariums in the US, is now the new owner of the aquarium.

Sim says he is taking issue with the Park Board’s apparent inaction with helping save the not-for-profit aquarium from being sold to a foreign private company.

Ocean Wise has indicated the Park Board approved the transfer of the site lease for the aquarium to the company, which is an agreement made in 2019 that allows the aquarium to remain in Stanley Park through at least 2054. The aquarium first opened at Stanley Park in 1956.

“The Vancouver Aquarium is a Crown Jewel of our Vancouver Parks, a place where generations of Vancouverites have learned about and come to understand conservation and the priceless value of our coastal ecosystem. The Vancouver Aquarium has drawn people in, and has helped them engage in the great work that Ocean Wise continues to do,” said Sim in a statement.

“This isn’t about the business decision, it’s about a Park Board that failed, it’s about elected officials who either did not, or could not succeed in securing the necessary funding from higher levels of government to protect a treasure at the heart of Vancouver’s greatest park.”

Ken Sim

Vancouver mayoral candidate Ken Sim. (Clement Louineau/Daily Hive)

Sim says he will run on a platform to abolish the elected body of the Park Board, and transfer their jurisdiction and responsibilities to Vancouver City Council.

He adds that if he is successful in securing the mayoral nomination from a party, he will also look to recruit Park Board candidates who will be “committed to being the last elected Park Board Commissioners.”

The seven-member body, comprised of elected commissioners, is the only body of its kind in Canada that overseees municipal parks and recreational facilities.

The process of removing the Park Board’s elected body would necessitate changing the Vancouver Charter through the provincial government.

During the 2018 civic election, Sim was the NPA’s candidate for mayor, losing narrowly to independent Kennedy Stewart by under 1,000 votes. He is expected to run for another slate in the October 2022 election.

The NPA board recently privately nominated Park Board commissioner John Coupar as its mayoral candidate.

“It’s time to take the politics out of our parks, and focus on good governance for Vancouver,” said Sim.

Over the past decade, the Park Board has been combative with the aquarium over the matter of cetaceans, and this led to a 2019 lawsuit against the Park Board and the City of Vancouver over the $4 million drop in revenue between 2017 and 2018. At the time, the aquarium argued the Park Board was acting beyond its jurisdictional authority, and claimed it lost a major private donation of $7.5 million that would cover the cost of expansion and renovations. It wrote off $2.2 million in planning costs for the project.

At one point, the aquarium said the Park Board and the municipal government would be liable for as much as $50 million in costs.

The matter was later settled outside of the courts, with the signing of the extended lease agreement that would have otherwise expired in 2029. As well, the aquarium would not be required to pay rent for the first five years.

stanley park drive

Bike lane through the parking lot of The Teahouse Restaurant in Stanley Park in Summer 2021. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The Park Board’s elected body has also attracted criticism over the controversial temporary bike lane on Stanley Park Drive, which is expected to return later this spring through the end of October. The majority of Park Board commissioners approved the return of the bike lane in a meeting last month.

Last week, several Stanley Park businesses impacted by the bike lane last year filed a petition to BC Supreme Court to reverse the Park Board’s decision.

Additionally, the Park Board has seen much controversy over its handling of the prolonged Oppenheimer Park and Strathcona Park encampments, where there have been deaths, illicit activity, and violent crime. These conditions affecting public safety have led to resentment from the area’s residents and businesses.

After nearly a year, the Strathcona Park encampment will be dismantled by the end of this month, under the direction of the provincial government. But critics of the encampments have argued the Park Board was within its powers to use an enforced court injunction to remove the campers from both locations much sooner.

Prior to the pandemic, there was also criticism over falling standards of maintenance and good repair of parks, open spaces, and recreational facilities under the jurisdiction of the Park Board.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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