Vancouver mayor announces plan to remove city’s independent park board

Vancouver mayor announces plan to remove city’s independent park board

Vancouver’s mayor says he will bring forward a motion to ask the province to change the city charter so the city’s independent, elected park board can be removed and its responsibilities shifted to council.

Ken Sim made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday morning.

The mayor said his council motion asking the provincial government to amend the Vancouver Charter, which governs the city, “is long overdue” to address systemic issues of having two elected bodies governing in the city.

“The system is broken and no amount of tweaking will fix it,” Sim said. “We have two groups. It just doesn’t work. It’s hard to see who has jurisdiction over what, that’s why there’s squabbling over a bunch of different things.”

Vancouver is the only large city in Canada with a separately elected park board. 

While council is in charge of setting the parks budget and approving a capital plan, oversight of the city’s 240-plus parks and dozens of recreation facilities falls to seven elected park commissioners and separate park board management.

WATCH | Sim says having two separate elected bodies in Vancouver doesn’t work:

Vancouver mayor defends plan to remove independent board in charge of city parks

Ken Sim said residents will support his move to shift responsibility for Vancouver’s 240-plus parks from the park board to city council.

Unique role

While the Vancouver Park Board has existed since 1888 — originally to help oversee maintenance of Stanley Park — its existence has become the subject of debate in recent years.

In 2020 and 2021, there were disagreements between the park board and city council over management of the tent encampment at Strathcona Park. Previous park boards in the past decade have faced disputes over cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium and the board’s relationship with the community centres it manages.

On Wednesday, Sim listed off other park board issues he linked to poor governance structure, such as a broken water pipe at Spanish Banks that won’t be fixed until next year, the collapse of part of the Vancouver Aquatic Centre’s facade in March 2022, and the ongoing loss of trees in Stanley Park due to an infestation of moths.

“We’re going to make the bold decision to do this because our parks can’t wait another three years,” he said, while shrugging off questions that voters elected park board commissioners last year to be accountable.

‘We will let the voters decide in October of 2026. We will hold ourselves accountable,” the mayor said.

Sim originally campaigned to get rid of the park board but reversed his decision last summer, months before he was elected alongside all six council candidates from his ABC Vancouver party. 

ABC also won six of the seven park board commissioner seats.

Dissenting ABC commissioners

On Wednesday morning, ABC commissioner Scott Jensen said on X, formerly Twitter, that he and fellow commissioners Laura Christensen and Brennan Bastyovanszky had been left off a transition team.

“As an ABC candidate, I knocked on a lot of doors with my fellow candidates and promised to keep our elected board and to manage it professionally,” wrote Jensen. “I intend on keeping that promise.”

WATCH | Park board chair says plan to eliminate elected body is a power grab:

Vancouver Park Board chair calls on councillors to defy mayor’s plan to eliminate elected body

Brennan Bastyovanszky, a member of the mayor’s ABC Vancouver party, said at a news conference in Queen Elizabeth Park that the city would be worse off if governance of parks was brought under city council’s control.

At the same time as Sim’s news conference, park board chair Bastyovanszky held his own in Queen Elizabeth Park.

He made an impassioned speech about keeping the park board in place and asked councillors to vote against Sim’s motion next week. He also called on the public to write to councillors over the issue.

“Abolishing the park board is an erosion of democracy and a centralization of power,” he said.

Sim appeared at the news conference with three other ABC commissioners and Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung, a former commissioner and park board chair, who said they supported Sim’s move and an eventual elimination of the board.

‘Land grab’ concerns

Earlier this month, park board commissioners endorsed a performance audit conducted by the city’s auditor general over its revenue management. 

It found that the board did not operate an effective framework over realizing revenue-related objectives to maintain its assets and provide services. The audit made six recommendations, including more engagement with council over management plans.

Aaron Jasper, who served on the park board as a commissioner and chair from 2008 to 2014 says he’s concerned that Sim and council want to wrest power from the independent body and ultimately seek to develop some of the green space, such as the city’s golf courses, which it’s responsible for.

“My worst fear … is a potential land grab,” said Jasper. “No board that has ever been in power would ever allow green space, park space to be carved off for any other purpose, housing or anything, and my concern is that mayor and council are eyeing some of those green assets.”

A signboard displays an area of a picturesque beach for an 'Alcohol on beaches pilot Locarno Beach', with text from the Vancouver Park Board laying out some guidelines.
The Vancouver Park Board has come under fire for many decisions, including its much publicized pilot program to allow drinking in parks. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

Jasper says current commissioners should be at least given to the end of their mandate to improve governance and transparency over their work.

“I think they’re doing the work that they promised to do in the last election and, so, Ken Sim needs to keep his word,” said Jasper. “He needs to keep the park board and give his commissioners the next three years to fix it.”

Jasper said any planned changes should go to residents for a vote.

On Wednesday, Sim dismissed concerns that green space in the city would be lost if council assumed responsibilities for parks.

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.

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. Likely voters were pre-screened by the company.

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