29 March 2017

Vancouver's poorest community centres will get unique deal

Park board backs Strathcona Community Centre demands for secure funding
Megan Stewart / Vancouver Courier   March 28, 2017 12:19 PM
The community centre in Strathcona is saddled with unique, complex demands that set it apart from most others in the city and should have a distinct contract and secure funding.
This was the unanimous decision taken Monday night by the park board, now wrapping up a year-long effort to sign the city’s 21 community centre associations to a joint operating agreement. Proposing a different deal marks a new direction for Strathcona and potentially other community centres that struggle financially.
The park board is also prepared to put its hand out. It will consider “potential funding partners” that can “develop an interim as well as a long-term strategy for a sustainable funding model.”
The new direction was supported by the community centre association president.
“Over the last several months, it became clear that we couldn’t be supported in very significantly through the JOA,” said Shannon Williams about the joint operating agreement between centres and the park board that could still include an “investment fund” to a small amount of revenue from more to less profitable centres.
“They have really taken the step. It is a significant shift that the park board is saying they need to support community centres such as ours, so we are really heartened by that,” she said. “The board has heard us and understands and appreciates our concerns and those of other centers in similar situations.”
The decisions has two phases and will begin with recommendations specific to Strathcona on a short-term basis before long-term options are considered for it and any other community centre with similar financial limits and burdens.
“Something needed to be done differently,” said Vision commissioner Catherine Evans.
The Strathcona community centre association fundraises $1 million of its annual $1.7 million operating budget each year. Park board staff is tasked with researching models to follow or innovations to dream up and will present interim, short-term suggestions to the board by June 30. Long-term models will be presented by Nov. 30.
 “I would suggest staff was already working toward a solution with Strathcona, but I think it’s important we separate the process and formalize this so the commissioners and staff all recognize and that we are ready to address this,” said NPA commissioner Casey Crawford, who is the park board liaison to the Strathcona Community Centre and proposed an initial motion that he later revised alongside Evans because she had proposed a similar but separate motion of her own.
“Poverty isn’t restricted to one neighbourhood or two or three, it is throughout our city,” said Evans, who did not want the community centre in Strathcona to be mistaken as anything else. “It’s very important it be a community centre in the same way every other centre plays a central role in its community. The fact if faces funding challenges doesn’t change its role. It is just a difference of resources available to it through program fees.”
The Strathcona community centre association had asked the park board for guaranteed funding of $200,000 going forward. Depending on the operational model that is suggested and approved, they could get more, or less, from the park board or could be funded through numerous other government partners and a distinct model. For example, the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre located a few blocks from Strathcona is not strictly a community centre, but provides many similar services and is operated through agreements with their a board of directors along with the city and BC Housing.
“I think most community centres say they would face funding challenges,” said Stuart Mackinnon, with the Green Party, who later commended the work of Strathcona representatives, staff and patrons for opening up about their struggles, both financial and human.
After the vote, a small group of spectators broke into applause. Many of them, including Williams, Ron Suzuki and Veronica Light, had attended every special public meeting held by the park board as the joint operating agreement is ironed out.
“We are really happy the board has heard us,” said Williams.

27 March 2017

Vancouver Park Board launches map showing best places to find flowering cherry blossom trees in city

23 March 2017 The Straight.com

Cherry trees will soon be in bloom around Vancouver, offering residents the chance to capture the city during one of the most beautiful times of the year. Photo by Cynthia Wong

Vancouver’s cherry blossom season is imminent and with it comes an opportunity to capture some seriously gorgeous shots of our city in full bloom.

To help residents make the most of the occasion, which will kick off alongside the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival on March 30, the Vancouver Park Board has put together a handy map presenting the best spots in the city to find the pretty, pink-and-white petals.

The map includes the addresses of over 2,100 cherry trees in Metro Vancouver as well as in municipalities such as Agassiz and Chilliwack. “Festival favourite” locations (aka the most photogenic sites) are marked by red pins, while others are marked by blue ones.

Users may search cherry tree scenes by their preferred neighbourhood, cultivar, or a combination of both.

Each spot is accompanied by a timeframe in which the trees there are expected to flower, though these dates were drawn from the 2016 season. Given Vancouver’s unusually long winter, this year’s cherry blossoms may begin flowering at later dates.

The full map may be viewed at maps.vcbf.ca/map/. “Cherry scouts” will also be updating the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s Blooming Now page with images of budding sites.

Taking place from March 30 to April 23, this year’s Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival features a number of concerts, workshops, and art exhibitions happening around town. For more information about the month-long event, click here.

The Georgia Straight is a sponsor of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. 

15 March 2017

BC SPCA supports Park Board decision to prohibit ‘importation and display’ of live cetaceans

 March 10, 2017
The BC SPCA applauds the Vancouver Park Board Commission, whose commissioners voted unanimously in favour of a motion to amend bylaws "to prohibit the importation and display" of live cetaceans — porpoises, whales or dolphins — at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“We are thrilled with this unanimous vote,” says BC SPCA chief scientific officer Dr. Sara Dubois, noting the BC SPCA made bylaw recommendations in April of 2014 to take steps toward the phasing out of cetacean programs at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“The BC SPCA is opposed to the capture, confinement and breeding of marine mammals for entertainment or educational display and this vote is very encouraging.” The BC SPCA sent a letter  (PDF)to the Park Board today thanking them for their brave and compassionate votes that will advance both science and ethical conversations on the issue.

The amendments could be enacted as soon as May 15, once Park Board staff report back.

Read the BC SPCA's position on zoos and aquariums.

The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.

(c) 2017 BC SPCA

11 March 2017

Mackinnon's 'definitive decision' on cetaceans in Vancouver parks

Read the full statement of park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon 

/ Vancouver Courier
March 10, 2017 12:34 AM

 This is a transcript of the text read by Green Party commissioner Stuart Mackinnon after he presented a motion to prohibit the importation and display of whales, dolphins and porpoises at the Vancouver aquarium.

I want to start by thanking all the passionate, knowledgeable people who came out to speak to us over the last two nights.

This is a controversial subject, but one that is pertinent and necessary to discuss. 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 per cent of the electorate voted for its closure. The zoo was closed three years later.

In 1996, an NPA-majority 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 during the 2008 civic election. The next board, an NPA majority, rescinded both of those previous motions and instead passed a new motion stating that “it is the Board’s intention that in 2015 the board review the Parks Control By-law relating to captive cetaceans."

In 2010, as a commissioner, I called for a non-binding plebiscite in 2011 that would have collected information for the 2015 review. 2011 was chosen because that would have been the next time the board could hold a plebiscite in conjunction with a civic election before 2015. My motion was turned down by both the NPA and Vision commissioners.

In 2015 there was supposed to be a review of the keeping of cetaceans in captivity in Vancouver parks. Instead the board debated a breeding ban.

Now it is 2017 and here we are again. It is true that what goes around comes around. This debate has been going on at this table for more than 20 years. It is time to make a definitive decision on the question of having captive cetaceans in our parks.

We have heard a lot about science, and ethics, and morality over the past two nights. Some of the discussion that has stuck with me has been around science. We have the Vancouver Aquarium saying what they do is necessary and important and impossible to replicate elsewhere. I don’t doubt for a minute that the aquarium is made up of dedicated people. I don’t doubt that their intention is to do good. I do however question that this is the only place they can do good science.

We had a scientist and researcher who told us that belugas are adaptable, that they live in small confined areas for parts of their lives — but he didn’t say they live in small confined areas for all their lives, and to me this is important. Sometimes it is what is not said that is important — and I will return to that later.

We had an employee of the aquarium tell us only they know what is best, only they are working on conservation, only they have the best interests of the animals in mind. I find this arrogance intolerable. But I find this arrogance runs right from the top of this organization. We have heard contempt and arrogance for years.

We are told that science is good. And I agree. We as a species have attained great things through science. But we have also created horrors. Agent orange, DDT, Thalidomide. These are all the result of scientific experiments. In the last century. both the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army committed atrocities in the name of science. So, science is a two-edged sword and we must always balance the good with the bad. Do the ends always justify the means? I think not.

We heard an employee of the aquarium talk passionately about her connection to the animals and how that connection inspired her. She spoke of a captive animal smiling at her through the glass partition. That is just as big an anthropomorphism as any I have heard the conservation community accused of. That smile could easily be interpreted as a grimace of pain and suffering.

The speaker who inspired me the most was the one who asked what greater accomplishments could the aquarium attain if they did not have cetaceans in captivity. What new and innovative ways of doing science would be stimulated if they had to rethink what they do and how they do it.

The topic here tonight is important. Just debating it has led to a new development and offer from the aquarium. Just two years ago, they scoffed at the idea of non-breeding captivity. Now they are proposing it — necessity truly is the mother of invention. They have always said that whales were an integral part of their program and they could not survive without them — now they are proposing to end belugas in captivity in 2029. But more importantly they now say with or without cetaceans, the aquarium will continue.

What they have not said, however, is that if the residents of Vancouver vote in a non-binding plebiscite to end cetacean captivity they will adhere to those results — no, what they have said is that in in 2018 or '19, they will bring back belugas until 2029 and they will not then or in 10 years later end all cetaceans in captivity.

We debate this tonight because it falls within our jurisdiction. The aquarium is in a Vancouver park and therefore falls within the mandate of this elected board. If it was at UBC, it would be a matter for Metro Vancouver. If it was at the quay in New Westminster, it would be for that city to decide. If it was in Langley, it would be those voters. But it is not. It is a matter for this board to decide what happens in our parks.

Commissioners, the time to act is now. The aquarium has no intention of listening to us or listening to the voters. They have no intention of ending captivity for cetaceans themselves. Therefore, we must do it here and now.

That is why I am proposing a change in the by-law to end captivity. We have the power and authority to do so. Let us do so now. The fate of these creatures is in our hands.

As I have often said around this table, we must not only do good, but we must also be seen to do good. Let us do good tonight. Let us be seen to do good. Let us end cetaceans in captivity in Vancouver parks. Please support a by-law change to end cetaceans in captivity.

10 March 2017

Unified park board takes bold stance on Vancouver aquarium

In their words, how seven commissioners supported a ban on captive cetaceans

/ Vancouver Courier
March 10, 2017 12:12 PM

Anti-captivity animal rights activist David Isbister was nearly in tears Thursday night after the park board made a unanimous decision to limit the importation and display of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“I am stunned. I am stunned and still processing,” he said as he stood in front of television cameras. He had stopped to talk with numerous reporters and shake hands with other opponents, as well as politicians in the gallery, and at the board room table.

“I always knew that our pool of caring people, advocates and activists all throughout Vancouver, were able to get this message out. I just didn’t know if the political will also existed.”
He wasn’t the only one who got emotional during the night’s final discussion.
Green Party commissioner Stuart Mackinnon opened with a statement that lasted nearly 10 minutes and ended with an outburst of sustained applause and cheering from the public gallery, as people also took to their feet as a motion came forward to limit the importation and display of cetaceans.

“Commissioners, the time to act is now. The aquarium has no intention of listening to us or listening to the voters. They have no intention of ending captivity for cetaceans themselves. Therefore, we must do it here and now,” he said. “The fate of these creatures is in our hands.”

A voice pipped up in the crowd, “Thank you, Stuart.”

The park board chairman and Green Party commissioner, Michael Wiebe, called for quiet. NPA commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung, a former chairwoman, was quick on the draw to second the motion and later said she did not have prior notice of Mackinnon’s plan.

There was but one question from the board table as NPA commissioner Casey Crawford asked what was behind the timeline to bring back a staff report for May 15. Since he had started preparing his motion earlier that day, Mackinnon said that staff considered the spring date a reasonable deadline.

There were no amendments to the motion calling for a ban, no disagreement around the table. Rather, one by one, the people representing three separate political parties, as well as an independent, voiced their support and spoke of their own personal connection with the aquarium. Some also showed emotion, the kind of feeling and “sincerity,” to use the word of Kirby-Yung, that spurred many to run for public office in the first place.

Catherine Evans, the lone Vision representative at the table, said changing public sentiment compelled her to support a ban on captive cetaceans and she didn’t need a plebiscite to confirm that.

“It has changed even dramatically in the three to four years and support is plummeting, frankly,” she said, noting there is less tolerance for keeping large, free-ranging animals in what are “unnatural environments for them.”

In one aspect, the ban came about because of the good work of the aquarium itself and its commitment to education and awareness of graceful mammals such as beluga whales and playful displays from rescue dolphins and other animals.

“There is no criticism of the care that the aquarium gives to cetaceans implied in our motion — that is not the issue. It is more fundamental than that. It really is an ethical issue about humane treatment,” said Evans, noting the historical abuse of animals in entertainment, agriculture and science laboratories did not change without being forced to.

As NPA commissioner Casey Crawford would a few minutes later, Evans described a learning experience that opened her mind to the complexities of nature and biodiversity. It happened at the aquarium and featured a wooden, spinning wheel that displayed the salmon lifecycle and a “tiny, tiny, tiny” chance of survival because of natural and man-made obstacles.

 Her eyes were glossy and she said, “No live salmon were involved in that learning.”
Wiebe said he wants to see the aquarium feature local wildlife and indigenous culture as well as seafood in an effort to promote environmental conservation.

“I grew up with the aquarium,  I had a sticker on the back of my car, I was there for a lot of the births,” he said. “I understand what it does to a child when you learn, but I understand that things have changed and I continue to watch this change. And I am now happy to be a part of it.”

John Coupar, a former board chairman who's with the NPA, began his comments, as he sometimes does, with a reference to his late father, a park board arborist and an advocate for public places who was born 100 years ago.

“We have made some positive changes in the city but we have also made changes that have been negative,” said the two-term commissioner. “We brought smelts back in False Creek. I was, a couple a weeks ago, along those creosote piles that we have now wrapped. […] I have tremendous value for the marine environment and consider myself an environmentalist.”

He said his decision was not a foregone conclusion, far from it. In fact, activists afterwards said they were particularly surprised Coupar voted in favour of a ban.

The commissioner said, “Listening to the speakers tonight, I heard [aquarium CEO] John Nightingale say a couple times in the media that commissioners had made up their minds in advance, and I think that is untrue. I think commissioners listen very carefully and take these decisions to heart — really, really think them through.

“The aquarium has done some tremendous work over the years in terms of, at the time, what was needed for us to understand and change our thinking. I come to the position where I think the time has come for us not to have cetaceans in captivity in Vancouver. It’s just time.”

With stated support from a majority four commissioners and no amendments on the table, the motion was set to pass. The following three board members made the decision unanimous. 

Fellow NPA commissioner Casey Crawford paused briefly, with a catch in his breath, as he spoke about his late mother, the head docent at the Vancouver Aquarium, where he spent many days as a child interacting with animals such as iguanas, fish and sea cucumbers. The orca whale of his childhood is gone, and so, too, are the beluga whales that his children came to know.

“Now the tanks are empty and the conversation has become, what are the benefits of returning beluga to the tank and do these benefits outweigh the concerns,” he said. “Frankly, I have not been convinced that valuable and vital research is dependent on the return of beluga to the Vancouver Aquarium.”

Thinking ahead to 2029, he asked what would happen then once the aquarium promised to phase out cetaceans. “But then what? What will the future be for them?”

Crawford said his family gets as much, if not more, out of other exhibits, such as jellyfish and sloths, than of the cetaceans. He was optimistic of what’s to come.

“I had a fascinating experience at the aquarium that was more than just cetaceans,” he said. “It’s a brilliant place and I can’t speak more highly of it, but it is a complete package that is not just cetaceans. […] There is a future for the aquarium in Vancouver and I am proud to have this world-class facility in Stanley Park.”

Independent commissioner Erin Shum asked that staff include broader concerns to help mitigate any legal action brought forward by the aquarium, which had raised millions in fundraising and grants to build a massive expansion project that has not only not yet begun but has already been scaled back for a possible conversion to a time when they would willingly not house cetaceans.

“I am concerned that we do need to address some of the legal and financial implications,” said Shum. 

The last to speak was Kirby-Yung, who previously worked in the communications department at the aquarium and considered many there colleagues. She said afterwards the experience was very difficult but she had no doubt the elected board had the authority to take a decision that reflected the public will of voters.

“I would suggest it is entirely appropriate because that is democracy,” she said at the table, referencing a comment from the aquarium CEO John Nightingale that politicians are too influenced by ideology rather than expertise in the field.

“Public policy is based on ideology and it is the job of elected officials to listen to the public,” said Kirby-Yung. “It is the right time to have a conversation around what the future of the Vancouver Aquarium looks like because there are no longer whales there and the expansion […] hasn’t yet begun. If there is going to be change, I think now is the time to talk about it. The plan that was proposed is described by [Nightingale] as a compromise, and I don’t think, on a topic as important as this, that it should be about compromise.

“I have tremendous respect for the people at the aquarium, my former colleagues, and personally this is a very challenging topic for me,” she said. “I have tremendous appreciation for what they have done and I also have every confidence they can turn their significant capability and passion and intellect towards looking at what the aquarium of the future might look like.”

Before the vote was officially counted, Nightingale stood and left the gallery. 

He exited out the back door toward the parking lot and did not stop for interviews. However, communications staff were prepared with printed copies of a prepared statement.

In terms of amending park board by-laws, staff will return with a report by May 15, 2017.

As well as legal and financial concerns, the report may also consider the fate of five beluga owned by the aquarium currently on loan at marine parks around North America.


Twitter: @MHStewart

 Link to article: http://www.vancourier.com/news/unified-park-board-takes-bold-stance-on-vancouver-aquarium-1.11511725

Unanimous Support for Green Commissioner Mackinnon's Motion on Cetacean Bylaw

For Immediate Release - Friday, March 10, 2017

Unanimous Support for Green Commissioner
Mackinnon's Motion on Cetacean Bylaw

Vancouver, BC - Last night, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation unanimously voted to amend the Parks Control By-law to prohibit cetacean captivity in Vancouver Parks.

The Park Board considered four options and heard from speakers over the course of two consecutive evenings. The options included:
  1. Call on City Council to include an assent question (plebiscite) in the 2018 municipal election.
  2. Accept the Aquarium's February 20th announced plans (bring back belugas from other institutions to the Vancouver Aquarium but discontinue display of belugas by 2029).
  3. Amend the Parks Control By-laws (including a ban).
  4. Maintain the status quo.

After hearing from speakers, Green Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon moved and NPA Commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung seconded the following motion:

"THAT the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation directs staff to bring forward for enactment by the Board an amendment to the Parks Control By-law to prohibit the importation and display of live cetaceans in Vancouver parks and report back not later than May 15, 2017."

In 2010, Commissioner Mackinnon moved a motion calling for a plebiscite on the future of cetaceans in captivity in Vancouver Parks in the 2011 Vancouver municipal election. While that motion did not succeed, his latest motion calling for a ban was supported unanimously.  After hearing from speakers, one by one, each of the seven commissioners voted in support of the motion.

"Tonight is the culmination of thousands of caring people's work. I stand shoulder to shoulder in pride with them. It was a very good night," said Mackinnon of the outcome of the vote.


For more information, contact:
Stuart Mackinnon: 778-389-1956

 Green Party of Vancouver