A deep and fresh fracture within the Vancouver park board was clear on Monday night as commissioners gathered for the first time since Mayor Ken Sim revealed his aim to do away with the board.
As new board chair Brennan Bastyovanszky thanked outgoing chair Scott Jensen at the start of the meeting, he went on to note that Sim’s announcement last week was made without public or political consultation.
This drew an immediate rebuke from ABC Vancouver commissioner Jaspreet Virdi, asking whether Bastyovanszky’s comments were “an announcement or a speech.”
Less than a week ago the two men were members of ABC Vancouver, which in October 2022 secured six of the seven seats on the park board — with the remaining seat going to Vancouver Green party commissioner Tom Digby.
Sim had threatened to do away with the Vancouver park board before last year’s election, claiming it could be operated more efficiently under the rule of city council.
Instead, he ran a team that ultimately seized total control of the park board — until last week, when Bastyovanszky and two other ABC commissioners, Laura Christensen and Scott Jensen, refused to abide by Sim’s plan and are now sitting as independents.
The remaining ABC Vancouver commissioners are Virdi, Marie-Claire Howard and Angela Haer, with the balance of power now in Digby’s hands.
At the start of Monday’s meeting, Digby asked that certain rules be suspended which would allow him to put forward an emergency motion relating to Sim’s recent announcement. The vote went four to three, which was not enough to secure a two-thirds majority needed in this particular case.
As a result it was voted down, leading to one loud boo from the packed public gallery, which included many former park commissioners, including three-time commissioner John Coupar, and former longtime city councillor Melissa De Genova.
Digby tried again to get his emergency motion passed later in the meeting but that also failed. He was later critical of a motion put forward by Haer to create a beach chair and umbrella rental service.
Virdi said that if council was in control they would be able to quickly make a decision on a beach rental service. The motion failed.
At the end of the meeting, Bastyovanszky was permitted to submit an urgent motion asking commissioners to “save the park board.” This drew a hefty round of applause.
Jensen said that he has had no contact with Sim in at least six months. Jensen and Virdi then had a loud squabble over Sim’s decision.
Virdi said the board was redundant and a waste of money, including the meals that were served to commissioners. He also said large motions passed by the park board tend to go nowhere because they still need council approval.
Bastyovanszky’s motion passed four to three.
The meeting was adjourned at 10 p.m., at which point two former parks board commissioners and a member of the public accosted Virdi and criticized his statements. This interaction lasted for eight minutes after which Virdi said “it’s a tough place to be right now.”
The City of Vancouver will need permission from the provincial government to amend the Vancouver Charter to allow the disbandment of the park board. The province could also ask for a referendum.
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