23 July 2009

We "mean business", warns Vancouver park board chair Raj Hundal

By Matthew Burrows, Georgia Straight - Vancouver,British Columbia,Canada
Publish Date: July 23, 2009

Vision Vancouver park board chair Raj Hundal told the Straight that he’s putting the Vision Vancouver–controlled city council on notice after it withheld part of the board’s capital budget last month.

"We do have to work together with council, along with management, to look at ways of providing the services that are needed across the city of Vancouver," Hundal said during the July 20 board meeting. "But [we need to] be mindful that we will always push back, and to let the folks over at council know that we are independent, that we are elected."

Hundal added: "We do mean business at the park board."

The park board’s capital budget—this year totalling $66.6 million and approved by the electorate in November 2008—is normally allocated in the first year. On June 11, council voted to allocate only $30.4 million, which covers "planning" and initial funding for the renewal of Trout Lake Community Centre and buildings at VanDusen Botanical Garden, as well as the conversion of the Hillcrest curling venue after the Olympics.

On June 1, prior to council’s action, Vision commissioner Aaron Jasper moved a motion, which passed unanimously, demanding that the city provide the full $66.6 million. "I guess I look at this as, ‘We might have lost the battle, but we haven’t lost the war,’ " Jasper said to the Straighton July 20. "What sends a strong signal to city council is when you have a unanimous board, so I think we do have a backbone."

Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon told the Straight that Jasper’s motion was "a step in the right direction", but said he still felt that council displayed "a lack of trust" in the park board, and that he would like to see "a stronger stance" taken to defend park-board interests. He acknowledged that not all projects have come in on time and on budget, but blamed that on factors beyond the board’s control, such as rising construction costs.

"I think we’ve always done our due diligence, and would wish that city council would show a continuing trust and support in us," Mackinnon said by phone.

Lone NPA commissioner Ian Robertson said he has developed a "respect" for Jasper, but believes a Vision-led council, along with city manager Penny Ballem, is "trying to muzzle the park board".

"You have to be able to stand up and say, ‘This is not good enough,’ " Robertson said. "I’m not seeing that type of backbone developing with this particular group, except of course for Aaron, who is beginning to understand that."

Vision councillor Raymond Louie, chair of the finance committee, did not return a call by Straight deadline.

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