01 May 2015

Democracy must always be seen

This blog has been very quiet for the past five months. I wanted to give the new Park Board a chance to find it's feet. It isn't easy being a newly elected. When a Board of seven Commissioners has a turn-over of six, it is even harder. I have the advantage of having sat at the table before, so in fact there are 5 new Commissioners.

I may have sat at the table before, but nothing prepared me for the incredible changes that took place over the three years I was away. While the tone and decorum around the table is much improved--the insults and bullying have disappeared--the loss in democratic process more than makes up for it.

The first hint that something was amiss happened almost immediately, with the new Chair of the Board, John Coupar [NPA], cancelling the December meeting of the Board without consultation with the other Commissioners. Other than the inaugural meeting when the new Commissioners were sworn in, the first meeting of the Park Board was not until January 19th, a full 2 months after being elected and 6 weeks after being sworn in.

The next hint was when the Chair (who by convention appoints Commissioner liaisons to the Community Centre Associations) appointed the four NPA Commissioners to 17 out of the 23 CCA liaison positions. Catherine Evans [Vision] was appointed to one, while Michael Wiebe [Green] was initially given one, but later a second when it was found that the Chair had neglected to appoint a liaison to one community centre, and I was give three. So, that is 17 appointments to the 4 NPA Commissioners, and 6 appointments to the 3 non-NPA Commissioners. This was all done without consultation with the Commissioners involved. (When I was elected in 2008, the Chair, Raj Hundal [Vision], asked each of us what our preferences were and worked to accommodate us as best as he could).

By the first meeting of the Board in January something clearly was amiss when all the Chair and Vice Chair positions were taken by the NPA--clearly they were in charge and were not going share any of the responsibilities.

The second meeting of the Board included the initial meeting of the Park Board Committee. The structure of meetings has not ever been explained to Commissioners, despite my asking on numerous occasions to have a workshop. Commissioners from all parties have struggled with the rules and procedures, with each meeting seemingly having new rules added. No one on staff seems fluent in the rules either, with advice being sought from the City Clerk on more than one occasion.

One of the stranger conventions (adopted without consent), is that while staff reports and recommendations come to Committee meetings (which precede the Board meetings on the same evening) and can have public input, Commissioner motions go directly to the Board meeting, which does not allow for public comment and input. Only at the will of the Board can these motions be sent to Committee for public input. So far none of the motions put forward by Commissioners have been sent to Committee despite requests to do so and so none have had public input. At City Council the convention is that if one person (or more) applies to comment in person, the motion would automatically go to Committee. I believe School Board has a similar procedure. I find this very troubling. As one group on the Park Board has a majority, they can prevent public input at their will.

Another convention seemingly discarded is the idea of Notice of Motion, where Commissioner motions have to be put on the agenda ahead of time (usually submitted at the previous meeting) so that the public and Commissioners know what is coming up. Twice now the NPA have brought motions to the table without notice and rammed them through. Despite challenges to their tactics, each time the Chair has ruled in their own favour.

An inauspicious beginning to a four year term. I am hoping that the rules are explained to everyone so that we are all conversant in them. I also hope that the NPA relax a bit and become more magnanimous in their Chairing of the meetings. In the second year of my first term, then Chair Aaron Jasper, in a fit of pique, declared it a "Government and Opposition" Board and all sense of cooperation died. I'm hoping for better this time. The promises made during the election suggested this. The Park Board Commissioners sit at a round table. I believe this is because we are meant to work together. Trust and understanding comes with cooperation.

An old adage that I like very much (and invoke frequently) is that democracy must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done.

29 April 2015

Vancouver zipline rushed through approval process, says commissioner



By Metro,

 
A Green party commissioner is accusing the Vancouver park board of rushing approval of a temporary zipline in Queen Elizabeth Park this summer without properly consulting nearby residents and businesses that operate in the park.

The park board voted in favour Monday night of a proposal to install the temporary zipline in Queen Elizabeth Park to help celebrate the park’s 75th anniversary.
Local company Greenheart approached the park board with the idea and will pay for the entire project, which will operate from May to September.
According to a staff report, the 190-metre-long zipline will run from a launch tower built on the west side of Bloedel Conservatory, travelling over the quarry garden before landing on the southwest side of the garden.

But the Green Party’s Stuart Mackinnon, one of two commissioners who voted against the motion, said he is concerned that residents and businesses that use the park, like wedding planners and photographers, weren’t adequately informed of the proposal before it was approved.

“One of the questions I asked last night was ‘had the wedding industry been consulted on this?’ And they had not,” Mackinnon told Metro. “The zipline goes right across the quarry and in summertime, many, many people use that area for wedding photos and family photos. To have people streaking across the sky above them doesn’t fit with that.”

With only two people speaking out against the zipline at Monday’s park board meeting, Mackinnon wondered whether it may have been “overshadowed” by the board’s controversial motion to possibly tear down the Mount Pleasant skateboard park, also up for debate Monday.

Allan Burnett, owner of the Chapel Group, which has a contract with the park board and offers wedding ceremonies at Queen Elizabeth Park, was surprised to hear the zipline had been approved Monday.

Burnett, who had only seen news reports about the zipline, said he wasn’t aware the proposal would be up for debate already.

“It seems to me that it would be good to let contractors and operators in the park know when things like that are happening because obviously we are going to be affected by it one way or another,” he said.

As for whether a zipline could be a disturbance to weddings at Queen Elizabeth Park, Burnett said he isn’t overly concerned.

Burnett said he supports any attraction that can help draw people to the park, regardless of how the increased visitor traffic might affect his business.

“I always tell people the plaza area on a sunny summer day in July or August is like opening day at PNE,” he said. “But I appreciate the fact that it’s being done on a trial basis so at least then we can revisit it if it does seem to become an issue.”

Still, commissioner Mackinnon said he doesn’t believe a zipline is an appropriate fit with Queen Elizabeth Park’s aesthetic.

“Most people see (the park) as a tranquil place of peace in the middle of the city,” he said. “An amusement park type ride just doesn’t fit.”

Although it has been approved as a pilot project, Mackinnon said he is also concerned it could become a permanent fixture if it generates significant revenue for the city.

The city will get a share of the profits if the zipline generates more than $75,000 in revenue.
But NPA board chair John Coupar emphasized the zipline is temporary and will only be in place this summer. If there is public demand for the zipline to return next summer, Coupar said the parks department would issue a request for proposals.

Coupar said Monday’s park meeting was well publicized and that staff followed the process completely to ensure the public was aware of the meeting.

He said he doesn’t expect the zipline to affect weddings as the chapel is located on the opposite side of the park. If anything, he expects to see wedding parties going down the zipline and posing for photos, said Coupar.

“You’re always going to get people who are negative about things,” he said. “But I’ve had a lot of really positive feedback. People think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

 http://metronews.ca/news/vancouver/1353781/vancouver-zipline-rushed-through-approval-process-says-commissioner/

06 January 2015

Vacancies on citizen committees

From the City of Vancouver website: 
http://vancouver.ca/your-government/vacancies-for-advisory-boards-committees.aspx

Vacancies on civic agencies, boards, and committees occur periodically throughout the year.
If you are applying as a representative for another agency (for example, as the SUCCESS representative on the Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee), apply through that agency.

Current vacancies

We are currently accepting applications for the following committees:
  • Active Transportation Policy Council
  • Arts and Culture Policy Council
  • Children, Youth, and Families Advisory Committee
  • Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee
  • Civic Asset Naming Committee
  • Cultural Communities Advisory Committee (formerly Multicultural Advisory Committee)
  • Development Permit Board Advisory Panel
  • First Shaughnessy Advisory Design Panel
  • Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee
  • LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee
  • Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee
  • Public Art Committee
  • Renters Advisory Committee
  • Seniors’ Advisory Committee
  • Urban Aboriginal Peoples' Advisory Committee
  • Urban Design Panel
  • Vancouver City Planning Commission
  • Vancouver Civic Theatres Board
  • Vancouver Food Policy Council
  • Vancouver Heritage Commission
  • Women's Advisory Committee
Applications are due at 5:00pm on Friday, January 30, 2015.

How to apply

  1. Learn about the committee
  2. Check that you meet our criteria
  3. Apply for the vacancy


31 December 2014

Silent Night

It seems strange to me that I haven't had much to blog about since the election on November 15. The new Board was inaugurated on the 1st of December and yet since then the Board has not met openly. A meeting was scheduled for the 7th of December but the new Chair John Coupar unilaterally cancelled it. Nothing to do perhaps? The first scheduled meeting for the new year is January 19th. At this point no agenda has been posted and so we don't know yet what the new priorities will be.

I know my priority is the a new Joint Operating Agreement with all the Community Centre Associations. I hope this is the priority of this new Board too. Community Centre Associations have been a partner with the Park Board for more than 50 years. This partnership has made Vancouver's Community Centres the envy of many jurisdictions. It is this partnership that has made our Centres relevant and necessary parts of our communities. The priorities of the local associations ensure that they reflect the values and needs of each community. What works in Strathcona or Sunset works because the associations reflect the needs and values of their neighbourhoods. A one-size fits all doesn't work in Vancouver because not every neighbourhood is the same. A set of core city-wide services must be a part of our system, but individual needs must be able to be met within each Centre.

Another priority of these first few months must be putting the Park Board in line with the waste management program that as of January 1st will be city-wide. This means that organic waste will be separated and composted. This is necessary for benefit of both the environment and the taxpayers who pay for waste disposal. The Park Board should be the leader in education on waste diversion with a leading zero-waste program. Since its inception, the Park Board has been the leader in green initiatives; it should be now too.

Planning for the future means planning for now as well. We must start planning not just for the next 4 years but for the next 4 seasons. Our parks and gardens have been neglected over the past 6 years and repairing them must be near the top of the list of priorities. Winter is the time for preparing our parks, gardens, and playing fields for the busy seasons of spring and summer. The priorities for our outside workers must be in preparing for the return of both passive and active park usage. Work now means better parks and recreation later.

As we head into a new year it is time we got down to work. Let's role up our sleeves and start on the long road to once again making better parks for Vancouver.



18 November 2014

Some reflections on the election

After a frantic couple of months I am starting to catch my breathe and come to a bit of understanding of what the results of last Saturday mean. I am incredibly humbled and grateful to the voters of Vancouver for their trust. I made some promises which I intend to keep. Respectful negotiations with Community Centre Associations; meaningful consultation with the public, especially around dogs in parks; working to replace the outdoor swimming pool in Mt. Pleasant; work toward a plebiscite on cetaceans in captivity; and maintaining our parks and gardens.

This campaign was different in that I had a running mate (not since 2005 have the Greens run more than one candidate at Parks), and a campaign team. I am so grateful for all the hard work of the volunteers. It made the campaign a lot easier and a lot more fun.

It was different too in that we had some really great independents running. Not only the hard-working and dedicated Jamie Lee Hamilton (actually not an independent, she ran under the IDEA banner), but others like Jenny DiCastris and James Buckshon. It is a shame that party politics have such a stranglehold on Vancouver politics, as these voices were not heard well above the din of the machines lubricated with millions of dollars from developers and other deep pocketed players.

This race was a lot more personal too. Not in a negative way, but in that I was much better known this time around, and people made an effort to tell me they were supporting me and the Green team. Our support came from a very diverse and wide circle. The Green message of openness, collaboration, and working for the common good, resonated in the electorate.

With being elected I will have to step away from my position of Governor of the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, a position I greatly enjoyed. My promise to them is to continue to advocate for all of our parks and gardens and ensure VanDusen continues to be a world-class destination and research garden.

There is much to do over the next four years. We must regain the trust of the public. We must not only do good, but be seen to do good. We must be vigilant against complacency. We must be open, honest, and accessible.

The Vancouver Green's made history. We have elected the largest group of Green members to any government in Canada ever. Two elected to the Park Board is a new milestone, being elected to all three levels of civic government is a new record. We are all grateful to the citizens and know it is an honour and privilege to serve.

Once again, I will take Glissando Remmy's wise words as my creed: ‘I’ll do the best I can, with the resources at hand, for all the people of Vancouver. Period.’

16 November 2014

Better Parks are coming (back) to Vancouver

"Thank you Vancouver for electing me to the Board of Parks and Recreation. An awesome responsibility that I accept with humility and gratitude. Vancouver's natural beauty is worth protecting. Neighbourhood services are worth preserving. And you agreed"

That quote was from 2008 when I was first elected to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.  It still pretty well sums up my feelings this time. Only things are bit different now. Now there are two Green's on the Park Board. My running-mate, Michael Wiebe and I were both elected. This is tremendous as now I will have a partner in this endeavour. It is unfortunate that we are once again facing a majority Board--last time it was Vision Vancouver, this time it is the NPA--which could mean more of the same, but I am optimistic. Optimistic that the NPA majority will be collaborative and not simply wield their majority as though no one else matters. The proof of that may come sooner rather than later.

Already the newly elected NPA have said they will rescind the cetacean breeding ban. How they do this may set the tone for the next four years. Will they simply bring in a motion and use their majority to pass it, or will they set up a collaborative process to examine the decision in more detail. I am hoping for the latter. I sat for three years with a Vision dominated Board who viewed the round table not as a metaphor for collaborative decision-making but as a wheel for crushing anyone who dared to disagree with them.

Regardless of the tone the NPA sets, Michael and I will be there to advocate for natural spaces, parks as parks, collaborative approaches, community consultation, and real Green ideals.We will be part of a larger Green caucus in Vancouver that joins City Councillor Adriane Carr and School Trustee Janet Fraser. We won't be making decisions in secret but will support each other as we face the difficult tasks of managing a city, collaborating on ideas to bring forth, and bringing the public back into the decision making process.

Thank you for giving me another chance to serve my community. Thank you for believing in better parks for Vancouver.

13 November 2014

Vote with your heart and your head

“Remember something, if you will, about voting: Voting is not a horse race, you're not going there thinking "Gee, I gotta pick the winner so I can brag to my friends 'Oh, I picked so-and-so and he or she won'". Voting is voting your heart and voting your conscience and when you've done that, don't ever, EVER let [anyone] tell you that you've wasted your vote because the fact is, if you DON'T vote your heart and conscience then you HAVE wasted your vote.”
― Jesse Ventura

In the quote above, Jesse Ventura was referring to the American electorate and the two party Democratic/Republican system. But it can easily be translated to Vancouver and the 2 party system we have had here over the last 60+ years. In this election we are lucky to have a real choice as the 2 developer-backed parties are being challenged by smaller parties not beholden to any monied backers.

I'm proud to be one of those challenging the status quo. I'm proud to be running on a team with 7 great candidates. In this election the Green Party of Vancouver offers a real alternative. No matter where you put your Xs in Saturday's vote I hope you will consider voting for a mixed Council, School Board and Park Board. And I hope that mix includes 7 Green candidates.

Cleta Brown, Adriane Carr, and Pete Fry for City Council. Janet Fraser and Mischa Oak for School Board. And Michael Wiebe and me, Stuart Mackinnon for Park Board. Candidates that believe in people centred planning. People who believe in consultation. People who believe in independent thought.

Whatever your choice, vote with your heart and your head. There is no split vote; there is no wasted vote--except if you choose not to vote. That would be a waste.

27 October 2014

Dogs Dogs Dogs

By far the most e-mail I received as both a Commissioner (from 2008-2011) and as a candidate (past and present) is about dogs. This is also the hottest button issue at the Park Board and has been for some years. Mostly it is advocates of off-leash areas who write, but occasionally I receive mail from people who think there are too many dogs in the city.

Here is my response to the Dog Owners Group (DOG Vancouver) and also what I send out to people who write:

As a dog owner for most of my life, including presently (I have a 13 year old Shiba Inu named Kiku) I know the importance of space for dogs to run about. I also know that dog ownership comes with responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to not interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of others, both at home and in public. Off-leash dogs has been the biggest issue at the Park Board for more than 20 years. The Park Board has not been able to find a solution, so best practice would suggest that we look at other jurisdictions and see what has been successful.

Calgary is the closest Canadian city of comparable size and they have had a very successful policy for some time now. Calgary has a comprehensive dog off leash program which includes:
·         lots of parks and amenities;
·         real engagement with dog owners as stakeholders and park stewards and self-policing;
·         programming and outreach to encourage responsible ownership and engaging the community;
·         school outreach programs to teach kids about safe dog interaction;
·         partnerships with private sector to provide amenities (like stations and poo-bags courtesy of pet
      stores);

But it also has:
·         zero tolerance enforcement;
·         high licensing compliance rate;
·         completely self-financed animal control (ours needs to be subsidized because of licensing
       non-compliance);
·          
I think Vancouver could model our policies after Calgary’s as they have been very successful.  I look forward to hearing from the public on this issue. I will hear all input and perspectives with an open mind (setting my dog owner's hat aside), first as a candidate and, if elected, as a Commissioner. As a Park Board Commissioner from 2008-2011 the one thing I learned is that it is very hard to please everyone and accommodate every need. The best anyone can do is to welcome all input and work with all those concerned to come up with reasonable solutions that satisfy the vast majority of people.


24 October 2014

MEDIA RELEASE: Green Park Board candidates call for time out in community centre association negotiations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 24, 2014 

 Both sides need to reboot with new ideas for agreements 

After dozens of meetings and thousands of hours invested, and still no agreement in sight, everyone needs to cool off and take a time-out in negotiations between the City of Vancouver’s Board of Parks and Recreation and local Community Centre Associations for new Joint Operating Agreements (JOAs), say Green Party of Vancouver Park Board candidates.

“It’s time to pause and reboot,” says Green Park Board candidate Stuart Mackinnon, a Park Commissioner in 2010, when the process began after the Park Board started revisiting JOAs that are more than 40 years old.

"The atmosphere has been toxic from the start with mistrust from the CCAs and entrenched positions from the Park Board. The mistrust is understandable — you can't negotiate with someone who says it’s my way or the highway.

“There’s so much tension, negativity and animosity in the air that everybody just needs to take a breather then start again on better footing with a new Park Board.”

Mackinnon is calling for a halt in the talks, including the City’s threat that the CCAs will be “thrown out of their community centres.”

“With the election we have a natural opportunity to cool off, maintain the status quo and then resume negotiations in better faith with new park commissioners and new ideas at the table after November 15,” he adds.

Alternatives to sharing revenues do exist, says Mackinnon. For instance, CCAs could pay a fee for the facilities and utilities they use, with smaller centres paying less and larger ones more. The funds gathered could be used to offset disparities in programming across the city.

Another approach, similar to one used in some school districts to equalize the diversity of income in various neighbourhoods, would see the Park Board taking a percentage of all revenues after expenses generated by CCAs that would be put into a fund to be shared equitably across the system for programming.

“The kind of centralization we’re seeing with the proposed JOAs is only part of what’s been plaguing our city lately — the dismantling of local neighbourhood initiatives or values with little or poor consultation with the people most affected,” says Michael Wiebe, also running for Park Board for GPV.

“The community knows what services and programming works best in their neighbourhood so they have to be equal leaders in this.”

The six CCAs involved in the current lawsuit are Killarney, Kensington, Kerrisdale, Hastings, Sunset, and Riley Park Hillcrest.   

-30- 

Media contacts:
Stuart Mackinnon, Green Park Board candidate:778-389-1956
betterparks@gmail.com
Michael Wiebe, Green Park Board candidate:(604) 616-1220
becascadian@gmail.com
Glenda Bartosh, Media Liaison:604-669-3669
gbartosh@telus.net

12 October 2014

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving. Hoping for a world of peace and harmony



On Thursday, January 31, 1957, the Parliament of Canada proclaimed: A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.