06 April 2014

The time has come to phase out whales and dolphins from Stanley Park

The time has come for a change at the Aquarium. It is time for them to phase out the containment of whales and dolphin (cetaceans). If they won’t do it voluntarily then they must be compelled to. Next year the Park Board will re-negotiate the terms of the Aquariums lease in Stanley Park. Part of that lease must be the phasing out of whales and dolphins.

This week a lot of publicity has surrounded the announcement by two Vision Vancouver Park Commissioners that they want to see the end of whale captivity at Vancouver Aquarium. Sarah Blyth and Constance Barnes say that they want the Aquarium to phase out whales and dolphins. I applaud their statements but I do have some misgivings. Both Commissioners Blyth and Barnes voted against a motion I brought to the Park Board in 2010 for a plebiscite during the 2011 election. Neither have called for a vote in this November’s civic election.  “I’d like to see the question asked, "Should whales be kept in captivity at this time?’” Blyth said (in the Courier). “But we can’t bind another board to a decision we’ve made.” 

There is only limited time to get a plebiscite question onto the November ballot. I hope Commissioners Blyth and Barnes will have the courage of their convictions and bring a motion to the Park Board asking City Council to put the question to the people. Let the citizens of Vancouver have their say.

Both COPE and the Green Party are on record favouring holding a city-wide vote on the phasing out of whales and dolphins. I hope Vision Vancouver will join and real action can be taken this year.

You can speak out by writing to the Park Board and City Council asking for a vote. Write to: 
PBcommissioners@vancouver.ca and mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca

10 March 2014

What is a park?

The development at Oakridge is just a little bit controversial. This new plan will see the corner of Cambie and 41st Avenue transformed from a low rise mall into a highly dense tower city. There are many controversial aspects to this proposal but perhaps none more so than the proposal to include a 'rooftop park'. This got me thinking about what exactly we mean by the word park. Is a park simply an area that is green? Or open? Is it any place where people can see flowers or trees or kick a ball? What makes a park a park rather than simply a green space or a public place?

Dictionary.com defines a park as: 1.an area of land, usually in a largely natural state, for the enjoyment of the public, having facilities for rest and recreation, often owned, set apart, and managed by a city, state, or nation. 2. an enclosed area or a stadium used for sports: a baseball park. 3.a considerable extent of land forming the grounds of a country house. 4.British . a tract of land reserved for wild animals; game preserve. 5. Western U.S. a broad valley in a mountainous region.

The Oxford on-line says:  1. A large public garden or area of land used for recreation 1.1 A large enclosed piece of ground attached to a country house 1.2 A large enclosed area of land used to accommodate wild animals in captivity

 Merriam Webster states:  a piece of public land in or near a city that is kept free of houses and other buildings and can be used for pleasure and exercise;  a large area of public land kept in its natural state to protect plants and animals; sports : a field or stadium where a sport (especially baseball) is played

I could find many other examples, but I will leave it at these three. What do all three have in common? Land. In all three definitions, a park is a piece of land. Not a garage, not a mall, and certainly not a roof. A park is a piece of land.

The developers and the City can call what they are proposing many things. They can call it an amenity. They can call it a garden. They can call it a green space. What they can't call it is a park.

17 December 2013

Our elected leaders need to talk less and listen more.

As we all watched the bizarre proceedings in the city of Toronto, and the consequences of the mayor’s behaviour, I think these events are symptomatic of a larger problem in Canadian politics. The mayor of Toronto will not step aside, no matter what the cost to his city, because he feels an entitlement to his position. I believe there is a culture of entitlement within our political realm that bodes ill for the future of local, regional and national governance.

There is an incredible arrogance in politics today; an elitist sense of entitlement and an attitude that we know better than you so just shut up and let us get on with it. This is evident in Vancouver too. From Mayor Robertson calling people who disagree with him ‘f-ing hacks’, to Cllr Meggs calling Grandview-Woodlands ‘dead in the water’ because some of the residents disagree with Visions development plans.  What has happened to respectful dialogue?

Vision Parks Commissioner Aaron Jasper is becoming famous for his re-inventions of the truth when anyone disagrees with him. When I called for a plebiscite on whales in captivity he claimed that my motion 'knowingly put the Park Board at risk of a lawsuit'. This was after the City legal department had vetted the motion and Jasper himself, as Chair of the Board, had put it on the agenda. More recently a Park Board motion, to form an advisory group to review and make recommendations on the Kitsilano /Hadden park portion of the Seaside Greenway Route, was defeated by Vision because, as Jasper said, it proposed the committee would have an ‘overriding power’ to direct the Park Board. The motion said no such thing.

When our elected politicians make up the truth to suit their ends, when they belittle and insult the public because some disagree, when they hold contempt for the very citizens they are supposed to represent, then we know we have a crisis in democracy.

This contempt is not only restricted to the civic level. From Gordon Campbell saying one thing about the GST before the election and another afterward, to the federal crisis in robocalls, Senate expenses and payoffs, and the contempt shown on both sides of the aisle in our legislatures and parliament, I believe our democracy is dire in trouble.

To me leadership isn’t running out in front and expecting everyone else to follow, nor is it telling citizens that we know better than you so shut up and put up. To me leadership is finding out where people want to go and then finding the way to get them there. It’s telling people the hard truths and realities, and helping them adjust to a changing landscape. It is working to better the lives of everyone, not just the ones that think like they do.

 Our elected leaders need to talk less and listen more. They need more humility and less a sense of entitlement. They need to be open-minded and resourceful. 

Honesty and respect may sound old fashioned, but they are the cornerstones of a civil society. Our leaders need to lead by modelling the behaviours we need to face the challenges that lie ahead.

10 November 2013

Act of Remembrance

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

Lest we forget.jpg

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

"For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon.
image from wikipedia

31 October 2013

Is asphalt the new green in Vision’s Vancouver?

The Province, October 31, 2013. 5:22 pm • Section: Opinion

For a political party whose goal is to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world, Vision’s disdain for green space seems oddly out of place. In one of their first budgets, Vision stripped funding for street trees and ripped out the heart of park maintenance. After being re-elected, Mayor Gregor Robertson mused on destroying a green space in Langara to put up affordable housing. The idea of cutting the Langara golf course up to make way for condo towers was surely one of his more bizarre ideas.

Then there was the idea, pushed by Vision, to cover Vancouver’s last natural foreshore on Burrard Inlet, along the waterfront from Kitsilano to Jericho, with a concrete path. The latest is to take green space out of Kitsilano and Haddon parks for a bicycle route so cyclists could have a view of the water.

For a party that promotes itself as green, it appears to have a great affection for concrete and asphalt. Vision Vancouver seems to view our parks as some sort of “land bank” that they can make withdrawals from whenever they feel like it. In fact, our parks and beaches are a legacy left to us by our parents and grandparents and held in trust by us for our children and their children in perpetuity.

Where does this seemingly odd contradiction come from? Could it be that Vision is so beholden to lobby groups and their development donors that they only pay lip service to their green credentials? Or could it be that their vision of green is completely different from what other people see?

Many Vancouverites would agree getting people out of their cars and onto alternative modes of transportation, like bicycles, buses and sidewalks, is the right direction. Many also would agree that we need to build affordable housing. What I don’t think most citizens would agree with is that it should be done at the expense of our parks and natural spaces.

Vancouver has had the silent goal of being a green city since its inception in 1886. The first act of the newly formed city council was to create a park board to manage Stanley Park. This single decision has ensured that Vancouver has always meant that parks and green spaces are a priority and that citizens have a direct say in what their city would be like. Over its history, Vancouver has planted street trees, maintained our beaches and parklands and encouraged the population to enjoy nature in the city.

Until recently that is.

Being green is not some new concept made up by Vision Vancouver no matter how they spin it. Under independents, NPA, TEAM, and COPE administrations, Vancouver has always been a “green” city. It is bizarre that the first administration that actually calls themselves that and has a goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world, would have such a little regard for the green areas of the city. This may ultimately be Vision Vancouver’s downfall — their Achilles heel.

As Abraham Lincoln is attributed as saying “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. Come election day next November, the citizens of Vancouver may not wish to be played the fool for a third time.

Stuart Mackinnon is a Vancouver teacher and former Green Party Vancouver park board commissioner. 
["Is Asphalt the New Green?" is quickly becoming the slogan when talking about the Vision PB. Thank you John Hudson for coining these words.]

21 October 2013

It’s an ill wind that blows against Vision’s empire

 The Province, October 21, 2013. 12:41 pm • Section: Opinion

Vision began as a protest movement, fighting against what its members saw as the radical agenda of the leftist COPE party. Many saw them as opportunists wanting re-election more than putting forward the policies they were elected on.

COPE was in favour of electoral reform, strengthening neighbourhoods and citizen participation. They were against mega-stores and big money developers. Vision has rejected electoral reform and embraced any kind of development to the point where they are now the party of choice for developers’ donations.

While they send out messages that they listen to the citizenry through public hearings and open government, they have alienated more neighbourhoods in the past seven years than arguably any other civic government since Tom Campbell.

For the past several years, media stories have been filled with individuals, community groups and whole neighbourhoods complaining that city hall has been forcing ill-conceived plans and developments on them with nothing but the most cursory of public process.

The park board has seen its fair share as well. A public meeting that went on well into the early hours of the morning with little if anything to show for it; lawsuits brought against it; and changes in the rules and process of meetings that many see as a Harper-inspired stranglehold on democracy.

Only the school board seems to have been able to keep public support; however that might be because the NPA opposition has been bizarrely linked to American far right wing/evangelical causes and seen as nothing more than fringe players.

Yet despite this growing upset and opposition, Vision Vancouver appears on the verge of a third sweep at the polls next year. Rather than solidify the opposition, the disparate groups have chosen to splinter and splutter into small movements without direction or cause.

New parties like Vancouver First and the Cedar Party appear to be little more than cults of personality or one-issue ponies while dissatisfied NPAers jumped the proverbial sinking ship for the all new TEAM that looks anything but new.

After several years in the wilderness, COPE appears to be putting its house in order, but it may be a case of too little, too late for the next electoral go-round.

Today, Vision is probably better organized and better funded than at any other time in its existence. With the deep pockets of the development community, the wealth of organizational skills of street-smart young marketers and a splintered opposition, it looks, 13 months out, to be a slam-dunk for Mayor Gregor Robertson and his group.

If an opposition to the incumbents wants to rally its forces and take a shot at wresting city hall from the ruling party, it is going to have to do some serious thinking and come up with a common front.

A strong independent candidate for mayor who is not saddled with the NIMBY or wing-nut label may be the only hope for change at 12th and Cambie. A strong candidate who could bring along five or six other independents onto council could break the electoral behemoth of Vision.

Is there such a person? A few years ago that knight in shining armour was seen as Carole Taylor, who chose to stay out. Today there doesn’t seem to be anyone waiting in the wings. On the right, former park board commissioner Ian Robertson was once seen as a solidifying force; on the left the likes of David Cadman are long lost.

Without the presence of people like these former politicians, it doesn’t seem likely at this point that there will be much change in civic politics in Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver may think that it is an ill wind that blows against their empire, but fresh air always follows the worst of storms.

Stuart Mackinnon is a former Green Party 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.

19 October 2013

Park Board needs a better communication plan

What is with the Park Board? They pass a motion to put a new bicycle path through Kitsilano and Haddon Parks and then crumble when the public object. The motion came with a map clearly showing the route would put the path through both passive and active green areas. An unknown citizen took that map and marked it out on the ground and all hell breaks loose in the neighbourhood.

Most of the community had no idea this path was coming. Park Board did their usual drive-by consultation of sending out a survey-taker and interviewed some park users with an ambiguous question asking if they think a dedicated path is necessary. Having got the answer they wanted, they proceeded to draw up their plans without consulting the neighbourhood.

The survey results were accurate. A dedicated bicycle path is necessary. It is necessary for both commuters and recreational users. It is necessary for the safety of both riders and pedestrians. What is not necessary is the route mapped out in the plan.

Rather than a clear communication plan to ease the fears and instead educate and consult with the community, they send out Vice-chair Aaron Jasper to say too bad it's a done deal."To be clear" Jasper said to the Vancouver Courier "this decision will not be reversed". This is working with the community? This is engaging residents? This is responsible government?

And now after a week of citizen protest, the Park Board Chair sends out, on a Friday, a press release saying the route hasn't been chosen yet. That everyone should calm down and that consultation with the community will take place.

This is a communication plan? Make a decision, send out the pit-bull to defend it and then back away saying everyone opposing the plan was confused and wrong? The bullying tactics the Vision Commissioners started in their first term continue. Meaningful consultation means working with the community, not telling them after decisions are made to suck it up. Good government means working for the people, not against them. It means bringing communities together, not pitting them against each other.

A good communications plan lays out the decision making process so that everyone can see a transparent and fair process. Once again the Vision Vancouver commissioners have shown that they have neither the communication skills nor the leadership at Park Board to bring about change within the city. Once again our elected have failed us.

21 September 2013

Another lawsuit against the City

West End Neighbours (WEN) has launched a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia against the City of Vancouver. Earlier the My Community Centre group also launched a suit against the City and Park Board. Is this the new way citizens protest against city government? Here is an article about WENs actions from the Vancouver Sun:

West End residents take on Vancouver city council over rental rules

By Mike Hager, Vancouver Sun September 20, 2013

A group of West End residents is taking the city to provincial Supreme Court over an affordable housing strategy it says has failed to bring about cheaper rentals and needs to be more transparent.
West End Neighbours (WEN), a non-profit society made up of about 50 dedicated members, served the city Thursday with a petition contending that Vancouver Charter doesn’t authorize city council to let the city manager determine what is “affordable rental housing” or to waive Development Cost Levies for developments that create for-profit market rental housing.

WEN spokeswoman Virginia Richards said the city’s STIR (Short Term Rental Incentives) and Rental 100 programs were launched with good intentions, but have not created affordable housing.

“We hope that the city will rethink the bylaws that they have introduced STIR and Rental 100 under,” Richards said.

WEN also wants the city to explain when it decides to waive the DCLs — which generated $78.8 million from new developments for the city last year.

“There’s been no public process,” Richards said.

No one from the city was available for comment late Friday afternoon, but Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs has said the affordable housing programs were never intended to provide subsidized housing, but rather market-rent units for individuals and families looking for a more affordable option than buying.

Meggs has said higher-than-average rental rates won’t mean STIR was a failure. “We consider it a win because we are generating much more rental housing on an annual basis than we did before,” he said.

The city’s 2012 Annual Report on DCLs shows that $78.8 million was generated in DCL revenue for 9.8 million square feet of new construction. Density rezonings brought in an additional $68 million in public benefits, plus 1,011 secured market rental units, paid for through community amenity contributions, the city’s 2012 Annual Report on Public Benefits from Approvals of Additional Density shows.

Community amenity contributions are paid by developers in return for higher density; the city uses these funds to pay for things such as affordable housing or daycare centres. Forty-four developments adding 2.4 million square feet in additional density in Vancouver were approved in 2012, the report shows.

DCLs are similar to CACs in that they also pay for public benefits such as parks, child care facilities or social housing, but they apply to all developments. DCLs also pay for engineering infrastructure, such as replacing water, sewer, drainage and sidewalks. A development that requires a rezoning is charged both fees.

In 2012, DCL funds spent include $11.4 million for parks and $1.9 million for engineering infrastructure, the report states. Three child care projects were approved but DCL funding will not be required until 2013 or 2014.

In 2012, CACs paid $23 million for heritage preservation, $17 million for affordable housing, $13 million for community facilities and $7 million for parks and public art. In addition, the city approved six projects in 2012 that will lead to the construction of 1,011 units of secured market rental housing in lieu of paying CACs, the report states.

At the end of 2012, there was $8 million in unallocated CAC funds and $139.1 million in DCL funds. The reason some funds remain unallocated is that it takes the city a while to spend the money that’s coming in, said Brian Jackson, the City of Vancouver’s general manager of planning.

“The large infrastructure upgrades that we do take many years to spend the money. Sometimes it takes two to three years for a project to be completed,” Jackson said.

The development industry would like to see the funds spent in a timely manner, said Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute.

The city report states that the elevated DCL balance is unlikely to continue into the future because 2012 was the first year of the city’s three-year capital plan, so planned projects will begin the acquisition and construction phase, which will require more funds. Also, the city has a new financial planning framework, which will mean unused funding from prior years will be depleted and a higher portion of current DCL funds will be used during the current year
In addition, $22 million in DCLs have been allocated in the 2013 budget.

Jackson also noted that in the future, public benefit strategies will be developed as part of community planning, so the same time lag shouldn’t exist.

Approximately $5 million of the unallocated CAC funds will go toward the Cambie Corridor and $3 million will go toward Southeast False Creek. The report states that all unallocated funds are set aside and can only be spent on public benefits that council approves. Of the CACs, McMullin said UDI would like to see a fixed process to determine the amounts, with a detailed plan to support the process.

© Copyright (c) Vancouver Sun

07 September 2013

Sue Me, Sue You Blues: What's going on at the Park Board?

The gloves are off, finally. The My Vancouver Community Centres group is taking the City and the Park Board to court and the Park Board has retaliated by issuing the 90 day notice of severing the Joint Operations Agreement with those community centre associations. Surreal to say the least. And so predictable unfortunately. One Community Centre Association - Hastings CC - has had a partnership with the Park Board for almost 80 years. Now that is all water under the bridge. What's gone wrong? If you have been reading this blog, or the Op-Ed pieces I have written for The Province, you'll get my perspective, but here is another great backgrounder on the issues at play. CityHallWatch has managed to briefly put the time-line into a great posting entitled "Park Board intends to terminate agreements with 6 Community Centre Associations – The back story and some pieces of the puzzle . I encourage you to read it. In the meantime, here's a little something from George Harrison;

17 July 2013

More alcohol in public spaces?

In a July 17 article in 24 hours, local pundit Daniel Fontaine asks the question, is it time to legalize booze at the beach? He also includes the idea of legalizing the consumption of alcohol in our parks as well. The idea of more alcohol in our public spaces has been in the public eye for some time now. A few years ago some members of the hospitality industry started the 'No Fun Vancouver' campaign which was really about extending liquor hours for bars. They were quite successful and the no fun slogan is still trotted out when talking about our liquor laws.

In his article, Fontaine talks about the European experience and how their laws differ from ours. Interesting how some writers only choose what they like when making their point--he doesn't talk about their progressive taxation policies or moves away from GMOs. I would suggest that European values are not the same as ours and so one can't hand pick laws to compare.

In a reply to Fontaine's tweet :"Should we be making criminals out of people sipping a glass of wine on the beach", Park Board Chair Sarah Blyth tweeted "I dont think its good to promote alcohol use as ive seen a lot of lives ruined by it." This is interesting as I can't recall a single application to sell or  expand liquor sales at special functions in parks and at beaches in the past 5 years that has been turned down by the Park Board, or that Commissioner Blyth has ever spoken out against them. When I was a commissioner I questioned the need for this on each occasion and voted against them on several. Not because I am against alcohol, but like local journalist Frances Bula, who tweeted "do we have to turn EVERY place in the city into an open-air bar?", I don't think our public spaces should always be open to alcohol.

 When did alcohol consumption become the only way to have fun? There are plenty of places to drink in Vancouver without taking over our public spaces. I actually agree with Commissioner Blyth, and think that the Park Board should not be promoting alcohol consumption, which is why I voted against sales and consumption of alcohol on our public golf courses. I hope that she will use this argument the next time a liquor permit application comes before the Park Board and that she can use her position to convince her Vision Vancouver colleagues that it isn't necessary to consume liquor in public spaces in order to have fun.