31 January 2017

No More Cetaceans in Our Parks. Ever.

At the last Park Board meeting (23 January 2017), on a 4-3 vote, the Commissioners deferred a motion on asking City Council to hold a plebiscite (assent question) on keeping cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. The motion to refer to staff was done for different reasons depending on the Commissioner who supported it. 

For Cmmr Evans it was to hear back from staff if there are alternatives to a plebiscite within our legal mandate. For Cmmr Wiebe it was to get more information on our relationship, contractually, with the Vancouver Aquarium. I'm not sure about Cmmr Shum as I don't recall her speaking. For me it was to be able to hear from the public. Our strange rules don't allow the public to speak at Park Board meetings, but they can at Park Board Committee meetings. The referral moves this item to the Committee where the public can express their views. 

The motion itself was interesting as Part A specifically named the Aquarium in the plebiscite question, rather than Vancouver Parks. This oversight could have the consequence of banning cetaceans at the Aquarium but not other places in our park system.

Part C of the motion asks the Park Board to "Write to the Vancouver Aquarium asking it consider not bringing cetaceans into the facility until after the results of the 2018 plebiscite are received" This, in my opinion, is a very weak part of the motion as it does very little toward what many have sought--a moratorium on importation of cetaceans from other Aquaria. It does not specifically ask them for a moratorium, but only to 'consider not bringing in' any cetaceans until 2018. 

I have been on record as opposed to cetaceans--in fact all aquatic mammals--in captivity since at least 2005 when I was first a candidate for local government in Vancouver. (I have actually opposed this since the 1970's when I watched the baby beluga die at the aquarium and saw the terrible conditions the otters, seals, and bears were in at the zoo.) At that time, and up until the recent past, my preference for a plebiscite has been based on the notion that we would have to fight to get a plebiscite passed. I am no longer sure that that is true. I believe the public has moved considerably on this issue and there may be another way to achieve our goal. 

If you go back on this blog to July 2010 you can see my comments on the plebiscite motion I brought forward to the Board then. Interestingly, it was the NPA along with Vision Vancouver who opposed my 2010 motion. Today the NPA have seemingly moved toward a vote, though they have flip/flopped numerous times. In 1996 they supported, in 2003 and 2004 they opposed. Again in 2010 they opposed and now they are supporting. 

Democracy can appear slow and awkward at times, but if we are to do this, we must do it right. I don't want another Board reversing (as happened in 2004) this decision. I want this to be settled once and for all. No more cetaceans in captivity in Vancouver parks. Ever.

27 January 2017

Seawall improvements under way in advance of summer season

Next week, the City of Vancouver begins construction to upgrade the seawall in South False Creek in order to enhance the safety and comfort of all users. The first section of seawall improvements will take place between Old Bridge Walk and Alder Bay Walk.
The seawall along South False Creek, from Cambie to Burrard Bridge, is the oldest section of Vancouver's Seaside Greenway, dating back to 1975.
“Getting around by walking, cycling or rolling (such as on a skateboard) is the best way to stay healthy,” says Lon LaClaire, Director of Transportation for the City of Vancouver. “Building and maintaining public spaces like the seawall that are welcoming, safe, and comfortable is one thing that we can do as a City to make those options more attractive to our residents.”
Starting next week the seawall will be fully closed just east of Granville Island from Old Bridge Walk to the Castings with a detour in place. The seawall will be fully reopened in early May for the summer season, when usage is highest.
Upgrades through Sutcliffe Park will include:
·         Widening the pathway to separate walking and cycling.
·         Installing new pathway lighting, seating and signage.
·         Improved landscaping to enhance the character of the area.
The seawall improvements are being made in alignment with the comprehensive neighbourhood planning program for South False Creek that will begin in 2017.
Council approved the seawall upgrades on May 4, 2016. Learn more about the project and see the designs at vancouver.ca/seawall.
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Corporate communications

24 January 2017

Ending Cetaceans in Captivity--Doing it right.

Last night at the Park Board meeting I supported the motion to refer the cetaceans in captivity plebiscite motion to staff for a report back to the Committee. I did this because it is only at the Committee that members of the public can speak--a rule I oppose. The public should be able to speak to every Commissioner motion (these only come to Board meetings).

I still firmly believe in a plebiscite, but am willing to entertain other ideas to end the captivity of cetaceans in Vancouver parks sooner. It is through public process that ideas can be shared.

Shame on the opportunistic pundits/politicians who accuse me of changing my mind on this. I have been steadfast in my opposition to captivity since I began my political 'career'. I just happen to believe that we 'must not only do right, but must be seen to do right'. By listening to the public we can be seen to do right. This is the essence of democracy.

12 January 2017

Community Centres As Warming Centres

Tonight at a "Special Meeting" of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation we will discuss just one topic: Using Community Centres as warming centres. This special meeting was called by three of my fellow Commissioners. This a right under the Vancouver Charter. However I have no idea as to why they would call this extraordinary meeting, when this could be discussed at our next scheduled meeting.

For the past several weeks Vancouver has experienced very unusual weather. While we usually have a climate of warm summers and cool winters, our weather pattern this year has changed significantly bringing us very cold temperatures with snow and freezing rain. For most of us this has been an inconvenience. For those without shelter this has been devastating. People without shelter can become frostbitten and even die in these conditions.

As a stop-gap measure our senior management team partnered with the City of Vancouver to find warming centres for people without homes to find a little warmth and shelter. A few of our Community Centres were included in these warming centres. For the most part these have been very successful and have worked smoothly. An unfortunate incident at one centre resulted in a child finding a used needle in a washroom. This is, of course, unacceptable, and should not have happened. However, this could have happened at any centre, at any time of the day. Our washrooms are not policed and cannot be kept spotless all day long. They are all cleaned regularly. Luckily there was no harm caused by this incident.

I am proud that my City tries to help the most vulnerable and I am very proud to be part of a Park Board that believes every resident should be cared for.

Tonight I will speak to this issue. I will talk about the social contract: the voluntary agreement among individuals by which organized society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare.

It is the social contract that dictates that, although I do not have school age children, I pay school tax as this is the best way to ensure an educated and thoughtful citizenry. It is why I am happy for BC to participate in federal transfer payments to areas of the country whose economy isn't as robust as ours here. Why I am glad my taxes go to programs like welfare to help those less fortunate than I am. Why I am happy to pay into CPP and OAP so our seniors don't live their last years in poverty. And why I am glad that my parks and Community Centres are open to all, including the most vulnerable.

Am I my brother's keeper? I certainly am. And my sister's too.

I believe warming centres are important for the safety and welfare of the most vulnerable of our society. I am very proud that the Park Board has been a partner in this initiative. I will continue to work for this important partnership.

*****Update: 13 January 2017*****

A motion brought forward last night by NPA Commissioners Sarah Kirby-Yung, John Coupar, and Casey Crawford to close current Community Centre warming centres and not open any more was defeated. I was one of 3 Commissioners, along with Michael Weibe and Erin Shum, to oppose the motion. In fact, I tried to amend the motion so it would formally approve the centres and give the General Manager the formal authority to open them as he saw the need. 

This amendment was defeated on a 3-3 vote, as indeed the original motion to close the centres was. Had our 7th Commissioner, Catherine Evans, been available (she was out of town when this 'special' meeting was called) I have no doubt that my amendment would have carried and this issue would have been laid to rest once and for all. As it stands the GM continues to have informal authority to open warming centres--as he did the very next night when he authorized the re-opening of the West End CC.