by Sal Robinson
Through its 133-year history, the elected Vancouver Park Board has struggled to fulfil its mandate against a City Council bent on starving it to near-death. Over decades, increased responsibilities were piled on without commensurate funding or authority, bringing us to this crisis.
The Park Board’s mandate has burgeoned from caring for a single park in 1888, to three in 1890, to some 300 parks, beaches, gardens, playgrounds, fields, courts, pools, ice rinks, golf facilities, splash parks, community centres, marinas, pollinator meadows and more in 2023. Many of them will never earn a dime but are of inestimable value to the livability of our city.
Ken Sim, for reasons we can only guess at, is driven to shut it down. His empty rhetoric about spending 13 months “trying to fix” a governance structure he has concluded is broken is even more farcical given independent Park Board Chairman Bastyovanszky’s statement in The Vancouver Sun that whatever steps Sim has taken in his repair attempt have not involved watching Board meetings, speaking to commissioners, or providing direction on anything. (TEAM for a Livable Vancouver’s 2022 Parks & Recreation platform was all about addressing the baked-in shortcomings of the structure.)
Bastyovanszky added that the Park Board has a list of unfunded initiatives but has been unable to get at audience with the mayor and council.
History repeats itself, as you’ll see.
The mandate of the Park Board differs fundamentally – especially today - from that of a City Council bent on hyper-development and everything being a revenue stream. ABC considers it has kept its election promise to “improve the Park Board by undertaking a full audit of all operations, finances and facilities” when it only looked at how revenue-generating activities are handled. That is a small portion of a very big picture of what the Park Board has authority over. If there’s no money to be made, it wasn’t part of the audit.
“…this Board views with regret a recent attempt to interfere with its affairs on the part of the City Council and as the Board is an independent body, its members being elected by the people, they consider it their duty to protect against and if necessary resist any interference with Park matters on the part of any outside body or corporation.” – Park Commissioners’ 1890 letter to City Council
Thus began the conflict - over money - between Park Board and Council that has been consistent to this day. As noted in the November 2023 Auditor General’s report, the Park Board sets policy and direction independent of City Council, but can’t make any expenditure with Council approval. 1905 was the first year the Park Board commissioners requested a set funding formula, that is, a mill rate levy, and the first of many years that request has been denied by equally many Councils.
To be continued...