28 February 2012

Vision Park Board continues with their Bait & Switch routine

You might remember last year when the Vision dominated Park Board threatened to close washrooms in its bid to slash the budget ordered by City Council. This was a cynical attempt to goad the public into action, only to be saved at the last minute by a relenting Council. Meanwhile all the other cuts went through almost unnoticed.

This year's bait & switch was the proposed cuts to the Life Guard budget. The plan called for the removal of Life Guards from Jericho beach. Once again the public rose to the bait and convinced the elected not to cut this all but essential service. Meanwhile, another million-plus in cuts is coming down the line. More cuts to park maintenance, more cuts recreational facility maintenance. More 'one time only' savings that never seem to get back into the budget.

I thank the incredible work of the community in saving the life guards (and last year in saving our washrooms), but ask that you don't be lulled into a sense of false security--more cuts are coming. Tell the Commissioners and Councillors that enough is enough. Parks and recreation are important. Death by a thousand cuts is not acceptable. Vancouver's beauty is a result of decades of planning, planting, and maintaining our parks, gardens and recreational centres.

Enough is enough. Stop the cuts. Its time for full funding of our park board.

24 February 2012

Jericho Beach lifeguards would disappear under proposed park-board budget cuts

By Carlito Pablo,

For as long as Mike Cotter knows, Vancouver’s Jericho Beach has always been a lifeguarded beach.

But to the dismay of the long-time general manager of the Jericho Centre Sailing Association, lifeguard services may be cut from this popular water destination by the Vision Vancouver-led park board.

A staff report on the February 27 agenda of the park board indicated that lifeguard services will be focused on five beaches only this year.

It’s a cost-cutting measure intended to save $270,000.

For Cotter, this isn’t right.

“The city and the park board have always underestimated the interest that citizens have in using the ocean for recreational purposes,” Cotter told the Straight in a phone interview today (February 24). “And we’re going the other way. The population of the city is growing.”

According to Cotter, the city’s population is also getting younger and sports activities are among their priorities.

“A swim in the city is one thing that you think would be second nature,” he said. “We advertise our beaches as some of the best swimming beaches in the world and I think that is the case. But reducing the safety presence there is a direction the city shouldn’t be going.”

The staff report recommends lifeguard services be concentrated at five beaches: English Bay, Kits Beach, Locarno, Spanish Banks East, and Third Beach.

It’s part of the $1.3-million budget cut being proposed for the park board for 2012.

22 February 2012

Belugas languish at Vancouver Aquarium

Animals rights hyperbole alienates public, hurts cause

Save the whales, from the animal rights folk.

No other North American social movement has been more damaged, more pushed to the fringe, by extremists than the so-called animal rights movement. Regularly, intransigence from hardcode activists alienates the general public. Legitimate concerns about animal wellbeing, whether in pet stores, zoos or aquariums, get lost in the gong show.

For example. Last week, following a Jan. 31 highway collision in Manitoba involving a train, a tractor-trailer and 71 cows, animal rights group PETA called for a roadside memorial. "A memorial sign will serve as a tribute," said PETA spokesperson Emily Lavender, "to those dozens of cows who had been severely injured and killed on their way to slaughter."

The humanization of cows (the other red meat) demonstrates the fatal flaw of the animal rights movement. Rights, bestowed by culture and courts, remain the sole property of human beings who enact laws to, among other things, protect animals from mistreatment. An accident involving dozens of dead cows does not require a Charter challenge-it requires a bulldozer, and maybe some barbecue sauce.

Last Friday, while a light rain fell on the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park, three beluga whales-smooth and white with deep black eyes, averaging more than 3,000 pounds-moved gracefully through blue water in an outdoor tank no bigger than a typical hotel swimming pool. In the wild, belugas cruise Arctic coastlines of the U.S., Canada and Russia, diving for char, squid and crab. In Stanley Park, they float next to a snack bar that sells hamburgers and fish and chips.

According to aquarium officials, seven cetaceans (three whales, three dolphins, one porpoise) live at the aquarium. Every year, one million visitors pay up to $17 to tap the glass at one of Vancouver's most popular attractions. Last week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held its annual meeting in Vancouver. The four-day event included a symposium at the Vancouver Convention Centre where conservationists and ethicists argued against cetaceans in captivity. Oddly, two days earlier, the AAAS staged a media reception at (you guessed it) the Vancouver Aquarium.

When critics such as No Whales in Captivity, a Vancouver-based group, cried foul, the AAAS acknowledged the irony but pled no contest. "We had already paid our deposit fee at the aquarium at that point in time," said Ginger Pinholster, AAAS spokesperson, speaking by phone from Washington, D.C.

No Whales spokesperson Annelise Sorg fired back, telling the Courier: "Here they are promoting the declaration of cetacean rights while at the same time booking the local whale jail for a media reception party. It just doesn't make sense."

I'm with Annelise on that one, hyperbole about the "whale jail" notwithstanding. But what do Vancouverites think?

Back in 1993, a referendum sunk the Stanley Park zoo when 53 per cent of voters called for its closure. Yet the aquarium, a non-profit organization, remains open for business on public land thanks to an agreement with the park board.

The board has kicked around the cetacean issue for years. Former park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon, who lost his reelection bid last November, wanted a plebiscite added to the 2011 civic election ballot. Whales and dolphins, said Mackinnon, should be phased out of Vancouver. However, Vision park commissioner Aaron Jasper nixed the plebiscite, claiming it put the "the park board at risk of a potential lawsuit" because of the board's legal arrangement with the aquarium.

Incidentally, that arrangement includes $90,000 in rent each year from the aquarium to the board. Not to mention an untold number of tourist dollars for the economy and the cachet all great cities, especially the "most livable city in the world," require. Whales are big business. And they aren't leaving Vancouver anytime soon.

To be fair, the aquarium says captive whales spawn valuable research, which aids conservation efforts in the wild. No doubt that's true. But last Friday I watched three belugas logroll in a virtual puddle while kids pointed and cameras flashed. Such scenes seem unworthy of scientific research. Moreover, despite requests from the Courier, aquarium officials refuse to disclose documentation about the origin and transportation of belugas and other cetaceans. What's the park board think about that?

Two weeks ago, a U.S. federal court dismissed a PETA lawsuit, which accused SeaWorld of violating the "constitutional rights" of killer whales because the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865. Whatever your views on captive whales, you likely don't equate them with black slaves.

If activists focused on reality when pushing aquariums and their political allies, more people would listen. The caging of magnificent animals seems out-of-step with humanity's forward march.


Twitter: @MarkHasiuk

11 February 2012

Prevent Maternal Mortality in Africa – March 8 national fundraiser

On Thursday, March 8th from 10am to 6pm, CNIS and Ten Thousand Villages will partner for a one-day fundraiser to celebrate International Women’s Day, and to support CNIS’ efforts in providing ‘safe birthing practices to low-income communities in Africa.

44 Ten Thousand Villages stores across the country will participate in this in-store event. Customers who present a coupon will have 15% of their purchase donated to CNIS. The coupons will be available through our web sites and the participating stores, prior to the event. We cannot give out the coupons on the day of the event, so please make sure you print out and pass around the coupon in advance.

01 February 2012

An inauspicious beginning for the opposition at the Park Board

With another Vision majority on the Park Board we have 3 more years of them doing pretty much whatever they want. That is the nature of democracy and I respect that. I have not always agreed with the direction they have taken and voiced my concern while I was sitting at the table. A well informed opposition is necessary in a democracy--especially when one group has a majority.

The NPA have the only 2 non-Vision seats at the table and for many people they will be the only voices that can hold Vision's feet to the fire when necessary. The last Board had 4 different parties represented-- Vision, NPA, COPE and Green. The idea at the beginning was to work by consensus, but this soon fell apart when at the second budget debate Vision Commissioner Aaron Jasper declared that the Board would henceforth be adversarial in a 'government and opposition' format. This saddened me but with a majority, they could run things pretty much as they wished.

I was pleased when Constance Barnes was elected as the new chair of the Board and promised to work with all members. My experience of working with Commissioner Barnes is that she truly is a consensus builder and wants to work for the betterment of all. I did not always agree with her policy stands but always was pleased by her respectful approach to disagreement.

So I was very disappointed that with only 3 meetings into the new mandate the NPA has attempted to not only reverse previous Board decisions, but in a recent motion wanted to go against long standing community wishes and pander to a small group of activists.

At the first meeting of the Board, Cmmr. Barnes brought a motion to re-affirm the Board's commitment to daycare by re-instating the Joint Council on Childcare. A fairly innocuous motion bringing back a committee, however NPA Cmmr Melissa DeGenova, in a press offensive, questioned the costs (none) and the role of daycare at the Board (Park Board provides space for daycare in Community Centres and elsewhere). The motion required no additional funding, and would allow Park Board staff to have wider policy input into a service already being provided by the Board.

At the third meeting, Cmmr. DeGenova brought forward a motion to halt the demolition of the old Riley Park community centre. This facility was replaced by the new Hillcrest centre across the street. The community was well consulted on this before Hillcrest was built, and it was the community that insisted that there be no net-loss of green space when the new centre was built. Thus the old building must come down to replace the footprint of the new facility. The building permit for the new centre was predicated on this wish. In addition, the old building would require about $8 million dollars in renovations to bring it up to safety standards. All of this at a time when we do not have enough funds to build the new Marpole CC during this mandate. It is true that a small group from the community has been agitating for this since last summer, but they do not have wide-spread support.

Thankfully the daycare motion passed and the Riley motion failed.

If the NPA want to be a viable opposition they need to pick issues that resonate in the wider community. There is no point opposing simply to be contrary. They need to look at what is in the best interests of the whole community. If the last 3 years are any indication, I am sure there will be enough issues over the next 3 years where the majority on the Board is out of synch with the wishes of the community. This is when the NPA should strike out and make their opposition known. Politics for politics sake shouldn't have a place in the 21st century. It is time for a new enlightened politic in the city.