18 August 2014

What kind of a City do you want? Part 2

The City of Vancouver has entered its second phase of consultation on the 2015-2018 Capital Plan. Here is a blog posting I wrote earlier this year. The link at the end is for the new city website.

In the 9 May 2014 edition of the Vancouver Sun in a section called this day in history, they ran an article entitled "The failed industrial plans for Spanish Banks", describing the plans of the former Municipality of Point Grey (1908-29) to industrialize the area we know today as Spanish Banks beach. The plans included heavy industry, docks and even an airport. Point Grey Road would have continued through Jericho Beach and have become a major thoroughfare.

All a bit of nostalgic fluff? Not at all. This was a town doing what towns do: planning. If not for the amalgamation of Point Grey into Vancouver, the beloved beaches of the west-side might not have existed today. This is why planning is so important. So important that it should not be left solely up to the politicians to make these decisions. It is the residents, the citizens, the taxpayers who must make these important decisions.


We have an opportunity to comment on Vancouver's next Capital Planning right now. The Capital Plan is our financial plan to invest in the City's systems. Make your opinions known. Make your voice heard. Get involved. Share your views of the City's Capital Plan.

The City will allow you to provide feedback on the draft capital plan in various ways:
In addition, in August, an independent professional research firm based in BC will recruit by phone a representative sample of Vancouver residents and business owners to take an online survey in English and Chinese.

For more in information go here.

12 August 2014

Stuart Mackinnon hopes for another term on Vancouver Park Board

 Andrew Fleming / Vancouver Courier
August 12, 2014 01:46 PM

 Stuart Mackinnon.
 Stuart Mackinnon. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Former Green Party park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon wants to get his old job back. Mackinnon, who lost his seat in 2011 after serving one term, is one of only three Green Party candidates ever elected to office in Vancouver.

He is joined on the campaign trail by political newcomers Michael Wiebe in running for park board, as well as Janet Fraser and Mischa Oak for school board.

Mackinnon said he is disappointed with how the seven-member park board has performed while under the control of a Vision Vancouver majority.

“I really think that [it’s] the lack of park maintenance, the lack of respect shown to community centre associations and the lack of attention to what the mandate of the park board is,” he told the Courier. “I’m hoping these are going to be the real issues during this campaign.”

Mackinnon, a special education teacher at Killarney secondary school and vice-president of the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association, was known for his outspoken opposition to keeping cetaceans in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium while in office. He said the recent decision to ban them from breeding was made by commissioners who aren’t seeking re-election as a way to avoid addressing the emotional issue head on.

“I think it is a deferral of any real decision,” said Mackinnon. “What I called for when I was on park board before was a plebiscite to let the people of Vancouver decide what happens on their park land. The aquarium is in a park so it falls under the jurisdiction of the park board and I think the people of Vancouver have a right to say what happens. [Vision] have a very difficult time making those kinds of decisions and so what they’ve done is deferred the real decision-making to another board.”

He acknowledged that, even if both Green candidates are elected, holding a referendum will be a long shot but pointed out that COPE endorses the idea as well.

Mackinnon was the only incumbent park board commissioner not to be re-elected three years ago, coming in twelfth out of 21 candidates. He also ran unsuccessfully last year for the provincial Green Party in the Vancouver-Fraserview riding, coming in a distant third to Liberal candidate Suzanne Anton and NDP runner-up Gabriel Yiu.

Wiebe is the owner of Eight ½ restaurant lounge in Mount Pleasant, which specializes in sustainable food, and is a former lifeguard for the park board.

Fraser has a PhD in chemistry and is a co-founder of neighbourhood organization Marpole Matters, who has also spent the past 10 years volunteering for a parent advisory council. Oak, a substitute teacher who claims to have worked in almost every school in the city, is a former NDP electoral district association president for Vancouver Centre and a board member for the Vancouver Pride Society.

The four candidates still need to receive official party endorsements at a Sept. 7 nomination meeting. The party’s three candidates for city council are Cleta Brown, Pete Fry and incumbent party leader Adriane Carr.

The election is Nov. 15.


© Vancouver Courier

07 August 2014

Green Party of Vancouver announces Park Board and School Board nominees

With 100 days to go to the civic election, Green Party of Vancouver Chair Jacquie Miller is pleased to announce the Party's four nominees for Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation and Vancouver School Board: Stuart Mackinnon and Michael Wiebe for Park Board; and Mischa Oak and Janet Fraser for School Board.

Miller says the Party’s Candidate Screening Committee has examined each of the applicants and is impressed that they will make excellent candidates and be highly effective in their elected offices. They join a strong Green Party Vancouver City Council team: Adriane Carr, Cleta Brown and Pete Fry. The Candidate Screening Committee will recommend that the Green Party of Vancouver’s members give their official endorsement to these nominees at a September 7 nomination meeting.

Seeking the Green Party of Vancouver members’ nomination for Vancouver Park Board are:

campaign_2014_colour.jpg Stuart Mackinnon:
       Green Party of Vancouver Park Board Commissioner: 2008-11
       2nd Vice President, VanDusen Botanical Garden Association
       Teacher, 24 years; with Vancouver School District since 2001

Mackinnon is well known for advocating for an end to cetacean captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium during his term on Park Board and in recent debates. Having attended Park Board meetings for years even before being elected to the Board, Mackinnon earned a reputation as the most knowledgeable, well-prepared Park Commissioner while in office. He has been a strong, consistent advocate for maintaining Vancouver’s parks and green spaces in pristine condition.

Mackinnon says, “I'm running for Park Board with the Green Party because I want to return Vancouver to the beautiful city with parks and gardens it once was. A city where everyone can play in their own neighbourhood, and where common sense and community values are what drives decision-making.”
            Learn more about Stuart Mackinnon: www.betterparks.org (blog) 
                                                                      and www.betterparks.ca (website)

Mike.jpg• Michael Wiebe
       Owner, eight ½ restaurant lounge — based on sustainable values
       Vice President, Mt Pleasant Business Improvement Association
        Co-founder, Vancouver Lifeguard Association

Wiebe has had a love affair with Vancouver’s parks and recreational facilities since childhood when he mapped out the wheelchair accessibility of Stanley Park’s entire trail system at age 12. He went on to become a lifeguard for Vancouver Park Board at age 16. In 2003, Wiebe co-founded the Vancouver Lifeguard Association; he continues his love for parks, using them for ultimate frisbee, bocce, soccer, and more.

“I’m running for Parks Board Commissioner because the voices of our city have been lost,” says Wiebe. “I noticed this firsthand on the Mount Pleasant Implementation Committee. We need to take advantage of the opportunities this city has during a time of growth to work together to maximize our resources and build more natural parks and a healthier food system; foster grassroots community initiatives; and create a sustainable waste management program. ”
              Learn more about Michael Wiebe: becascadian.com

Seeking the Green Party of Vancouver members’ nomination for Vancouver School Board are:

Mischa_Oak-2449.jpg• Mischa Oak
   Teacher-on-call, Vancouver School District
   Vancouver Centre NDP Electoral District Association President, 2012-13
     Vancouver Pride Society: former Board Member & Volunteer Coordinator
Oak is strongly motivated by his own experiences in Vancouver schools both as a teacher-on-call who has worked in almost every school in the city, and as a student growing up in Vancouver schools. Prior to embarking on a career in education, Oak obtained a degree in Commerce from Queen’s University. He has been active in a wide range of community and political organisations.

“I’ve been a Vancouver teacher since 2008 and have experienced firsthand the challenges our schools face,” says Oak. “As your school trustee I will work to get the Vancouver School Board to stand up to BC’s provincial government and demand fair funding for public education. Too many kids and families face discrimination and fear at school, so I have a plan to move our schools to be more LGBTQ + Diversity Proud.”
            Learn more about Mischa Oak: www.voteoak.com

JanetFraser_C_2014_07.JPG• Janet Fraser
      PAC Chair / Co-Chair for 10 years
      Co-founder: Marpole Matters, a neighbourhood organisation
      PhD chemist: 10 years’ experience in Vancouver’s biotech industry

As an active parent of school-aged children and engaged resident of her Marpole community, Fraser knows the issues facing Vancouver’s schools inside and out. As co-founder of the neighbourhood organisation Marpole Matters, she has a reputation for thoroughly informing herself on community issues and educating her neighbours about matters affecting them.

“I’m seeking the Green Party nomination to run as a school board trustee to make sure all of Vancouver’s children have the opportunity to thrive at school and become engaged and successful citizens,” Fraser says. “The core value I’ll bring to my role as School Trustee is sustainability — sustainability of the school community, the student family, and school infrastructure and processes.”

           Learn more about Janet Fraser: www.vangreens.ca/schoolnominees

Green Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr urges Vancouverites to elect the entire Green Team this November: “These are excellent candidates with extensive community experience who will bring a much-needed balance to our City Council, Park Board and School Board. They’ve all got enthusiasm, a strong work ethic and dedication to creating a better Vancouver. I couldn’t be happier with our entire team.”
* * *
Green Party of Vancouver’s official nomination meeting for Park and School Board candidates: September 7, 11 a.m.; Alliance for Arts and Culture Boardroom, 938 Howe St., Vancouver. Click here for more info or to RSVP.

01 August 2014

Former park commissioners: Cetacean captivity at Vancouver Aquarium has outlived its usefulness

 This letter was sent to the Vancouver Park Board Commissioners and published in the Straight.com on-line newspaper.
July 31, 2014.


As former Park Board Commissioners, we would like to give our support to ending the captivity and display of marine mammals, particularly cetaceans, in Vancouver Parks at the Vancouver Aquarium.
The display of whales and dolphins is a practice that has outlived its usefulness both for public education and for research. The most desperately needed research in these areas is to work on limiting the impact that humans have on the marine environment, research that cannot be done in captivity.

We feel that the aquarium tanks, regardless of current and future expansions, are inadequate for the humane support of dolphins, belugas or any other type of large marine mammal.

The “showing” of these animals in an artificial environment does not serve current educational practices. The environmental message that citizens, young and old, in Vancouver need to receive is that we need to care for the natural ocean habitat and its inhabitants. Marine mammals sequestered in tanks and performing in shows reinforce a 20th century idea that humans should have dominion over these animals. It is antiquated and harmful to the animals.

The scientific consensus of researchers outside of the Vancouver Aquarium is that these animals are much better off in their natural environment than in the miniscule tanks.

We urge the board to use its powers as landlord to the Vancouver Aquarium and as the elected voice of the people of Vancouver on these matters to phase out the keeping of marine mammals in captivity.

Stuart Mackinnon,
Parks Commissioner ’08-’11

Donna Morgan
Parks Commissioner ’93-’96

Dermot Foley
Parks Commissioner ’90-’93

Anita Romaniuk
Former Parks Board Chair and Commissioner ’02-’05

Tim Louis
Parks Commissioner '90-'96

28 July 2014

Come celebrate diversity and equality at the 36th Annual Pride Parade

This coming Sunday will mark the 36th annual Pride Parade in Vancouver (August 3 @ 12:00 pm - 3:00 pm). Vancouver Pride describes the event as "attracting crowds of more than 650,000, the Pride Parade is renowned on the international stage as one of the largest and most successful LGBTQ events in the world."

This is one of the premier events of summer in Vancouver and has become a huge family event. Whether you are a member of the LGBTQ community or not, there is lots to do and see at Pride Vancouver. I have been honoured with a place in the parade in 4 different years, marching with the Green Party, the Park Board, the Vancouver Public Library and the Vancouver School Board.

Although the event celebrates LGBTQ pride, every citizen of Vancouver can 'take pride' in the tremendous leaps we as a society have made in respecting diversity and difference. We live in not only a multicultural society, but one that celebrates the various diverse communities within our own larger community. We celebrate the differences, knowing that really we are all the same. We are Vancouverites, British Columbians, Canadians, but mostly we are people who share this beautiful planet that we have inherited from our parents and bequeath to our children.

The Pride movement celebrates both our differences and our sameness, which is why I think it has become such an important event in our city. I'll be at Pride to celebrate. I hope you will be too. It is a fun way to declare your support for diversity and equality.

20 July 2014

July? Must be the silly season in Vancouver politics

Being an election year, this summer is a lot more political than usual. In non-election years the local press often has difficulty finding stories of interest on the civic scene. Not this year. Not a day goes by that there isn't some sort of story to shake things up.

What seems lost in most of these stories is what I think is most important to voters: Vancouver. Not infidelity, not youthful exuberance, not the internal machinations of giant political machines. Vancouver. The city and its problems. Its future. Its plans.

I hope we can all get back to what is important soon. For me and for this blog that would be parks and recreation. I hope that in this year's election we can have a real debate about what the Park Board actually does. The Park Board website describes it this way:

"exclusive possession, jurisdiction, and control over more than 230 public parks in Vancouver and a large public recreation system of community centres, pools, rinks, fitness centres, golf courses, street trees, marinas, playing fields, and more" 

I hope in this election this is what we will discuss.

We need to talk about the state of our parks and playing fields. We need to discuss governance and volunteerism at our Community Centres. We need to debate fees and access. We need to talk about future growth and current maintenance. We need the electorate to understand the importance of these public assets. We need candidates that are concerned about the things the Park Board actually does.

So here's a challenge: From now until the election on November 15th, let's talk about Parks and Recreation.

26 June 2014

Beluga battle: Vancouver Aquarium defends captive whales as good science

Amid calls that whales and dolphins in captivity are "cruel" - the Vancouver Aquarium showcases research aimed at improving belugas' lives in a warming Arctic

In a PR push apparently aimed at winning Vancouverites’ hearts and minds over a controversial beluga captivity program, the Vancouver Aquarium put forward its pioneering whale communication scientist for a media blitz to showcase why the whales are needed for important Arctic research.

“I am very proud of the research that we are doing,” said Dr. Valeria Vergara, who will be headed to the high Arctic next week to study the effects of melting ice and increased boat traffic on belugas.
“The long term acoustic communication research that was conducted here on the belugas in the aquarium is a real catalyst for research in the wild.” 

Vergara said years of listening to belugas at the aquarium’s whale tanks led to her discovery of one of the creature’s most important biological conversations – how a mother calls out to her baby calves. 
“At the aquarium, I discovered contact calls – this is essential, because we knew nothing of the function of the hundreds of calls that belugas produce.”

But in the wild, she said, that beluga communication is increasingly threatened by an explosion of loud ship traffic in the Arctic.  The number of vessels in the region has spiked 35 per cent since 2007, according to Canadian Coast Guard records.

“The [beluga] signals can very easily be masked by boat noise.  And an enormous amount of [Arctic] channels that were not navigable in the past are opening up to all sorts of oil and gas exploration activities, shipping, eco-tourism – even research – and belugas are acoustic animals and extremely sensitive to noise.” 

Despite the sheer vastness of the high north waters, belugas are loyal to little coves and estuaries, where ships might roam.
The aquarium in Stanley Park is home to two female belugas.  “Aurora” gave birth to her daughter “Qila” at the facility.  The aquarium only uses whales born in captivity, or those rescued from the wild but no longer deemed able to survive on their own.

Phasing out of belugas demanded

But several politicians, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Adriane Carr have said they want the belugas and dolphins phased out.  Citizen’s groups have also pushed this idea for more than a decade.

“I believe the only reason the whales are kept in captivity is to make money, not to do research or conservation,” said Annelise Sorg, President of No Whales In Captivity.
“A water circus is not education.”

She said several aquaria worldwide have divested dolphins and whales.  The West Edmonton Mall rid itself of its dolphin shows after some of the creatures died, and a former Victoria public aquarium (that closed in 1992) also ended its orca program.

Former Green Party Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon has also long opposed cetaceans in captivity.

“These are highly evolved creatures, and to do experiments or to keep them in tiny pools is actually cruel.”

“I imagine [the beluga’s life in captivity] would be the same if they put you or myself in a basketball court for the rest of our lives, and never let us out.”

“These are creatures that in their natural habitat swim thousands of miles, and we’re putting them into a small pool.”

Mackinnon said research shows captivity gives whales handicaps, because of the small space where the creatures seem to circle endlessly.

An online petition to push the City hold a referendum on the captivity issue during the November 15th civic election now has 16,000 signatures.

Vergara said she wants what is best for the belugas – and for her, that means doing research aimed at improving their lives in the wild.

“I think the question to ask is how best to help beluga whales -- we all care about them.  We’re in this together, it shouldn’t be a dichotomy.”

“One of the things we can do is use the whales under human care as ambassadors for their wild counterparts, and one of the ways to do that is to do really good research,” said Vergara at a press conference Wednesday.

As a sign of how concerned the public aquarium is to public opposition, gleeful MCs – who oversee the daily belugas shows, where whales jump for fish and splash unsuspecting tourists – now invite visitors to contact politicians to let them know they support the institution’s work.

The aquarium’s website also has an e-mail sign-up form to facilitate letters of support to go to elected officials.  A social media campaign with the hashtag -- #ISupportVanAqua – is also promoted.
The aquarium is now building a $100 million expansion with public and private dollars.  But it's not clear if more whales will be part of that future.

The Vancouver Park Board must decide the fate of the whales and dolphins soon -- a bylaw regarding their captivity must be renewed next year.  The board has ordered staff to provide a report on best practices by July. 

In 1996, the Vancouver Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to no longer capture whales and dolphins from the wild.  It ended its orca program in 2001.

The aquarium says it only keeps dolphins and whales that were:
  • captured before 1996
  • already being kept in a zoo or aquarium before 1996
  • born in a zoo or aquarium
  • rescued from the wild and rehabilitated, but deemed non-releasable by the government authorities

22 June 2014

Letter of the week: I’ll vote based on my dream for a far better Vancouver

The Province June 22, 2014. • Section: Opinion

Imagine a better city. Imagine a civic government that engaged citizens as partners rather than adversaries. Imagine a city where the civil service is empowered to speak out and speak with taxpayers. Imagine a city where civil discourse and debate is respectful of all, regardless of your point of view. Idealistic? Not possible? Dreaming? No. Many cities in Canada and around the world have civic governments that work by consensus and respect rather than adversary and insult. Vancouver can too.

I think of a city government that focuses on civic issues, issues that matter to the residents and are within the purview of the city charter. I think of a city government that isn’t built on elected officials beholden to developer donors who pay for campaigns with their deep pockets. I think of a civic government that puts people first and focuses on community development.

I want a city that moves people by engaging them, not demonizing them. There is room for pedestrians, bicycles, and cars in our city. Demeaning one group isn’t helpful. Can you imagine a city that couldn’t move goods and services? Our road network is necessary for transportation of goods, services and people. It has to be accessible to all.

Envisage a city that focuses on the root causes of poverty and helps those who, for whatever reason, can’t help themselves, with an integrated housing, health, and education plan. A city that has affordable housing for everyone.

I imagine a beautiful city with parks and gardens open to all. A city where children, families, elders, and youth can play in their own neighbourhoods. Where summer outdoor swimming is as close as a public library or community centre should be.

I can imagine such a city. I can imagine that this city is Vancouver. In five months, the citizens of Vancouver will choose what kind of a city they want. I’ll be choosing a better city.

Stuart Mackinnon, former Vancouver park board commissioner

The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at gclark@theprovince.com. Letters to the editor can be sent to provletters@theprovince.com.

20 June 2014

Will the Seniors Centre be the loser with all the political bickering?

Last night the Southeast Vancouver Seniors Arts and Cultural Society held its AGM at Killarney Community Centre. The SVSACS is the community organization pressing for a Seniors Centre attached to the Killarney Community Centre. With contributions from all 3 levels of government totalling close to 10 million dollars, the centre should be well on its way to being built.

What should have been a time of celebration turned into a political spat between different levels of government and a he said/she said squabble that simply alienated most members of the association in attendance. Conservative MP Wai Young, BC Liberal MLA Susan Anton and Vision Vancouver Counsellor Raymond Louie seemed more interested in scoring petty political points off of each other than answering the real questions of the seniors. Questions like why hasn’t there been real consultation with the community and the stakeholders? When will the shovels be in the ground? And when will the doors finally open?

In a truly bizarre exchange with Keith Jacobs, former President of the Killarney Community Centre Association, who asked for real consultation with the stakeholders, Cllr Louie replied that consultation would take more time, but if the community wanted to wait while they were consulted then that could be done.

This kind of passive/aggressive answer has no place in the discussion of this important amenity in the Southeast sector of the city. Of course there should be consultation. There should have been consultation all along. But for Cllr Louie to threaten a slowdown because the community wants input is a shameful abuse of his authority.

The Conservative MP and BC Liberal MLA were no better with their finger pointing and holier-than-thou attitudes towards the City. Surely all levels of government can put away their partisan politics to do some good for our seniors. Surely for the sake of our elders we can work together and can all come out as winners.

It’s time to put politics aside and work for the common good.