23 July 2010

The Good is in the Doing

Last Monday evening COPE Commissioner Loretta Woodcock and I brought a motion to the Board of Parks and Recreation seeking a plebiscite in 2011 on phasing out cetacean (whales and dolphins) exhibits in our parks. This motion was brought forward in order to give the citizens of Vancouver the opportunity to democratically express their wishes on this controversial subject. It was not surprising that over 20 delegates came to speak. It was also not surprising that the Aquarium spoke against this initiative. What was surprising was Vision Vancouver's lack of empathy for the cetaceans in captivity and their continuing bullying tactics with the public. Board Chair Aaron Jasper had repeatedly claimed over the previous week that a plebiscite could bring a legal action against the Board which would cost the taxpayers countless dollars, yet at the table this was not mentioned, instead substituting the mantra, first intoned by the Aquarium, that "a deal is a deal". This confirmed my apprehension that Vision Vancouver believes that local government can sign away our democratic rights. Somehow a 'deal' made with the Aquarium prevents the voters of Vancouver from expressing their will in a ballot initiative.

Then in a truly bizarre twist, after accusing the proponents of the motion of trying to waste taxpayers dollars, Jasper sounded like he made a commitment to hold a stand alone plebiscite in 2015 on this subject, thereby incurring ten of thousands of dollars in costs. 2011 was the last opportunity to hold a plebiscite in conjunction with a civic election, saving you money. As my mum used to say, penny wise and pound foolish.

Despite the motion falling 5-2 I still believe this was the right thing to do. I still believe that the citizens of Vancouver have the right to decide what activities are permissible in our parks. I still believe that contracts and 'deals' cannot usurp the basic democratic rights of citizens. Bringing this motion forward was the right thing to do. As my friend Janos Mate said to me, "the good is in the doing". I believe we have done good.

20 July 2010

Park Board votes down plebiscite on whales, dolphins at aquarium

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Park Board has voted against holding a non-binding plebiscite on whether or not to keep dolphins and whales at the aquarium.

Officials say the final vote was two-to-five, with only Green party park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon and Loretta Woodcock voting for the motion.

Had the motion passed, it would have created a public, non-binding vote on whether or not the aquarium can keep the animals for the fall civic election.

Park Board spokeswoman Joyce Courtney said the meeting was attended by 23 separate delegations, mostly for the motion. Courtney noted, however, that some groups, including the Vancouver Aquarium, were in opposition of the motion, which was originally brought up by Mackinnon.

The discussions were described as "very lively," and around 60 people packed into the room where the meeting was held.

Mackinnon had previously said he thinks the public is ready now to end the practice of capturing whales and dolphins for exhibition.

"My motion is about the democratic process," he said. "The board has agreed it will renew the bylaw concerning captive cetaceans in 2015, and so the referendum should be held next year."

The Vancouver Aquarium is one of the city's major tourist attractions. It is home to five beluga whales and three dolphins, and has housed as many as three killer whales.

Mackinnon's motion would have called for live shows at the aquarium to be phased out, with no new whales or dolphins captured to replace those now at the aquarium.

18 July 2010

Why a plebiscite on captive cetaceans? Why now?

The following is an editorial I wrote for the CityCaucus.com web site.


Post by Stuart Mackinnon in Editorial

A pivotal vote that will affect the Vancouver Aquarium happens Monday evening

Last Monday I submitted a motion to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation to hold a plebiscite during the 2011 civic election on the phasing out of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in captivity in Vancouver parks. The latest death of a beluga whale calf in June 2010 at the Vancouver aquarium has brought up once again the topic of cetaceans in captivity. According to the LifeForce Foundation, at least 36 cetaceans, including 9 orcas, 7 narwhals, 8 belugas and 12 Pacific White Sided Dolphins have died at the Vancouver Aquarium. The academy award winning documentary film, The Cove, has brought to the world’s attention the industrial killing and capture of dolphin populations. The Vancouver Province newspaper on June 23, 2010 wrote, in an editorial, that the public are calling into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive cetaceans that otherwise deserve to be born, live, and die in their natural environment, saying "the latest in a long line of whale deaths at the aquarium — this time one-year-old beluga calf Nala — calls into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive whales and other large marine animals. It is a practice that must end."

Aaron Jasper, the Vision Vancouver Chair of the Park Board, in a press release last week called into question the legalities of holding a plebiscite, claiming that I am “putting the Park Board at risk of a potential lawsuit, in spite of his prior knowledge of a legally binding agreement with the Vancouver Aquarium.” Commissioner Jasper does not state what this ‘legal binding’ agreement is, nor the basis of a potential lawsuit. Nor does he state that my motion passed through the city’s own legal department and was approved by both the acting GM of the Park Board and himself as Chair.

My motion is not about whales and dolphins in captivity, nor is it about the Aquarium. It is about the rights of the citizens of Vancouver to express their views on what happens in our public parks. Commissioner Jasper would have you believe that this cannot be done, and so now, according to him, the issue becomes one of government liability when conducting the normal business of government. If the government, in this case the city, cannot conduct normal business—in this case conducting a democratic survey in the form of a non-binding plebiscite—by the terms of a lease or contract, then I would ask, is this lease or contract binding or lawful? In other words, can the city sign away the public’s democratic rights in a contract? Now stop and think about that for a moment. Can the city sign away your democratic rights? I don’t think so, and I don’t for a minute believe that the courts would allow for that either. In which case, Commissioner Jasper’s release was simply a red herring and a personal attack.

Animals in captivity have a long and controversial history in Vancouver. In 1993 there was a referendum on the fate of the Stanley Park zoo and 53% of the electorate voted for its closure. The zoo was closed down three years later. In 1996 an NPA Park Board passed a motion which called for a further referendum if the Aquarium wished to expand. In 2005 a majority COPE Board set a referendum on holding cetaceans in captivity—similar to the plebiscite I am calling for—during the 2008 civic election. The next Board, which was dominated once again by the NPA, rescinded both of those previous motions and instead passed a motion stating that “it is the Board’s intention that in 2015 the board review the Parks Control By-law relating to captive cetaceans”. The motion did not deny the Board the right to review the by-law earlier, nor to collect information in order to review the by-law.

The plebiscite I am calling for is non-binding, and would be done in order for the Park Board to collect information for the review. So why hold the plebiscite in 2011, 4 years before the review? The provincial government set up an electoral review commission to look at local governance in British Columbia. This commission reported out this spring and the provincial government accepted all of its recommendations. One recommendation is to change the length of time between civic elections from 3 years to 4 years. As civic elections are held in November, the next election after November 2011 would be November 2015—after the review of the cetacean by-law. Therefore, the 2011 civic election is the last opportunity to hold a plebiscite during a civic vote. To make these bylaw decisions without prior public consultation would be contradictory to our mandate as well as disrespectful and irresponsible.

Whether you agree with keeping cetaceans in captivity or not, I think this motion is important. When politicians attempt to strip us of our democratic rights and hide behind vague and intangible legalese when denying us the right to express our voices, there is something terribly wrong.

I believe the citizens of Vancouver have the right to express their views on this controversial issue. This is why at the next meeting of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation I will be bringing a motion proposing that a plebiscite be held during the 2011 Vancouver civic elections, asking the public if they are in favour of phasing out existing exhibits that contain cetaceans, on land leased from the Vancouver Park Board. The people of Vancouver have the right to choose. I believe this plebiscite is the right thing to do.

- post by Stuart Mackinnon. Stuart Mackinnon is a Green Party member and Vancouver park board commissioner.

16 July 2010

The Legalities of the Plebiscite

Last Monday I submitted a motion to hold a plebiscite on the phasing out of whales and dolphins in captivity in Vancouver parks. The motion was sent to the City of Vancouver's legal department and they returned with a concern, not with the motion, but with one of the whereas clauses. I changed all the whereas clauses, but retained the motion as written. This was accepted by both the Chair of the Park Board, Vision Vancouver's Aaron Jasper, and the Acting General Manager of the Park Board. If the city legal department said it was okay, where is the problem?

Aaron Jasper, in his press release yesterday, chose to personally attack me and my motivation for this motion. This attack has become a well coordinated effort coming from offices much higher than Jasper's. I have to ask myself, what is the real motivation behind this? What does Vision Vancouver have to fear in consulting the public?

15 July 2010

It’s Time for a Plebiscite on Captive Cetaceans

The latest death of a beluga whale calf in June 2010 at the Vancouver aquarium has brought up once again the topic of cetaceans in captivity. According to the LifeForce Foundation, at least 36 cetaceans, including 9 orcas, 7 narwhals, 8 belugas and 12 Pacific White Sided Dolphins have died at the Vancouver Aquarium. The academy award winning documentary film, The Cove, has brought to the world’s attention the industrial killing and capture of dolphin populations, while the Vancouver Province newspaper on June 23, 2010 wrote, in an editorial, that the public are calling into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive cetaceans that otherwise deserve to be born, live, and die in their natural environment. In the editorial, the writer says, "the latest in a long line of whale deaths at the aquarium — this time one-year-old beluga calf Nala — calls into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive whales and other large marine animals. It is a practice that must end."

This debate is not new. Recent history goes back to the 1990's. A history of the debate is summarized by the group Whale Friends:

"Many citizens in Vancouver have for decades been advocating for the phase out of cetacean captivity in the Vancouver Aquarium. Many also call for an end to all marine mammal captivity in Stanley Park.

The Park Board has received over twenty thousand signatures asking for a city wide referendum on the question of phasing out the cetacean captivity program of the Vancouver Aquarium. In addition, opinion polls have indicated that the majority of citizens in Greater Vancouver oppose keeping these intelligent beings in captivity.

Being respectful of the spirit of citizen involvement in our municipal democracy an NPA dominated Parks Board in 1996 decided that should the Aquarium request permission to expand in Stanley Park, a city wide referendum would be held. In the same spirit of the civic democracy, a COPE dominated Park Board in 2005 decided that the question of phasing out cetacean captivity in Stanley Park should be put to a city wide referendum. Unfortunately, in 2006, the last NPA Parks Board … rescinded both of those earlier decisions."

I believe the citizens of Vancouver have the right to express their views on this controversial issue. At the July 19th meeting of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation I will be bringing a motion proposing that a plebiscite be held during the 2011 Vancouver civic elections, asking the public if they are in favour of phasing out existing exhibits that contain cetaceans, on land leased from the Vancouver Park Board. I believe the people of Vancouver have the right to choose. I believe this plebiscite is the right thing to do.

The meeting will be held Monday night at the Park board office: 2099 Beach Avenue. To speak you must register before noon on Monday by calling: 604-257-8451

13 July 2010

Hold citywide vote on whales in captivity, Vancouver park commissioner suggests

Georgia Straight

Vancouver residents may get a chance next year to vote on a divisive issue.

The question boils down to this: Is it right to keep cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins, in captivity?

Green park commissioner Stuart Mackinnon is bringing forward a motion to a meeting of the Vancouver park board on Monday (July 19) suggesting a plebiscite on the matter.

In a phone interview, Mackinnon said that the plebiscite would ask the public if it is in favour of phasing out cetacean exhibits and banning the future containment of these marine mammals on land leased by the Vancouver park board.

The commissioner is recommending that the non-binding vote take place during the next civic election in November 2011.

Mackinnon recalled to the Straight that in a special meeting on November 27, 2006, the board passed a motion to review the bylaw relating to cetaceans in 2015.

“If the park is going to reevaluate the bylaw in 2015, it would be a good idea to find out what the people feel about it,” Mackinnon said.

The death last month of Nala, a one-year-old baby beluga, at the Vancouver Aquarium has revived questions about the wisdom of keeping captive dolphins and whales for public display.

Nala died in the evening of June 21. Her airway was found blocked by a couple of rocks and a penny.

(c) Georgia Straight

03 July 2010

Stanley Park: What’s in a name?

A lot it would seem. At the opening of the Klahowya village display a suggestion was made by a member of the Squamish people that Stanley Park should be re-named Xwayxway in honour and recognition that this was Squamish territory. An interesting idea, but one fraught with difficulties. Not only was Xwayxway not the name of the entire peninsula, but the area we know as Stanley Park was once home to other First Nations peoples as well as the Squamish. The Musqueum and the Tsleil-Waututh also had villages in this area, and I’m sure they will have something to say about this re-naming.

The park itself is the creation of the first city council of Vancouver in 1887. The city council created the Park Board to manage this new park. It was named for and dedicated by Canada’s Governor-General, Lord Stanley, in 1888 when it first opened. Just prior to this it had been extensively logged but was protected from development because it was designated a military reserve.

Xwayxway was the name of a Squamish village in the area now known as Lumberman’s Arch. I like the idea of honouring the First Nations history in this area. One way would be to recognize the area of the village of Xwayxway with commemorative markers recognizing the history of the area. Other areas of the park could be recognized for the other villages that once stood there. I would endorse the recognition of areas of the park for the aboriginal villages that once stood there, but the park itself, as a creation of the city, should remain as Stanley Park.