Duck pond or family entertainment attraction: Which vision will win out for the PNE?
In yet another sneaky move, the Vision Council dropped in a "late distribution" report hoping to avoid detection by City Hall watchers. This one is sure to capture peoples' attention. The report, which appears to have the Mayor's fingerprints all over it, recommends that the current PNE board be dissolved and replaced with one dominated by politicians and political patronage appointments.
This decision to politicize the PNE board by making the chair a politician does not bode well for the future of this 100-year old fair. Before long, local NIMBYs and community activists will be given the platform they have long been waiting for. After all, they now have a left-leaning Mayor who is very interested in ripping up asphalt and replacing it with more Gregor Gardens.
I'm advised by a couple of local media that NDP MLA Shane Simpson, a long-time advocate to get rid of the PNE from the local neighbourhood, was provided with an advance copy of the staff report. He apparently had a copy of it even before NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton or Park Board Commissioner Ian Robertson were able to get their hands on it.
You can just imagine that the PNE could be turned into the Ultimate Gregor Garden (UGG) if Robertson and his endless American sustainability supporters have their way.
I must confess that during my time working for the previous Mayor, I took a big interest in the governance of the PNE. In fact, I was actually a big advocate for shaking up the current structure whereby the PNE board is made up solely of City bureaucrats.
My view was the PNE and Playland were huge potential revenue generators for the City of Vancouver and its board should reflect that reality. The fact there was nobody on the board with any business acumen was of real concern. That's why I pushed former City Manager Judy Rogers to look at a wholesale review of the governance structure. My request was not met with warm applause, but she agreed to look into what options might be available.
As I was told, the reason there were only bureaucrats on the board was the fact the PNE was a very valuable asset to Vancouver, and to allow the board of governors to be controlled by outside forces was simply not acceptable. While under control of the Province, the PNE became a perpetual money-loser. When controlled by the City, it turned a modest multi-million dollar profit. As a result, the then NPA-run Council eventually approved the existing structure and board until June 2009.
I never dreamt for a moment that a staff report from the non-partisan public service would ever come back requesting that politicians take over the helm of the PNE board. Things must have really changed at Vancouver City Hall in a short period of time, in my opinion, for the worse.
I made a few phone calls today and have all but confirmed the Mayor's office is driving the bus on this change to the PNE's governance. Yes, there were staff who worked on it, however, the overall tone and direction of the report came from His Worship et al.
When was the last time you heard of any bureaucrats willingly recommending they hand over their power base to a bunch of politicians and political patronage appointees? Not a common occurrence unless they're strongly encouraged to do so by their political masters.
All of these political shenanigans do not bode well for the future of the PNE and Playland. You can expect almost immediate pressure from local community activists to transform Hastings Park into a "real park." That means taking out more asphalt and rides and replacing them with green open space and trees. Say bye bye, Hellavator, and hello duck pond!
If you haven't been to Hastings Park lately, the "green space" some local activists lobbied previous NPA councils for years ago is all but abandoned during daylight hours. That is with the exception of the occasional homeless person or drug addict who regularly wanders through the "sanctuary." The greening of the park has been a complete failure for both local residents and the PNE. Have a stroll through it for yourself, this ain't no Stanley Park.
Meanwhile, the PNE and Playland, two major tourist attractions that create thousands of jobs and help to generate millions of economic activity are being strangled. They have been kept in limbo for decades as politicians wrestle with whether to expand the amusement park, or shut it down all together. Rather than preparing bold plans to expand the park over the next 100 years, and create the true Eastside celebration space the city desperately needs, PNE management have had their hands tied by civic administrations of all political stripes.
I, for one, am a huge fan of both the PNE and Playland. I don't think I'm alone. In fact, if you count the millions of spectators that cross the gates every year, this is the biggest attraction in British Columbia - bar none. Rather than killing it off, I would love to see it expand into a series of attractions held year-round, perhaps with different themes such as food and agriculture, environmental fairs or home improvement spectacles.
I believe this underhanded move by a Vision Vancouver Council hell-bent on politicizing the public service will backfire on Mayor Robertson and his crew. There are simply too many fans of the PNE and Playland who won't let them get away with winding down the amusement park in favour of daylighting long buried waterways.
Backyard chickens, closing down lanes on Burrard Bridge, costly inaugural parties, 8% tax hikes, and now this move to politicize the PNE board are shaping up to be the true legacy of Mayor Robertson's adminstration.
Check out our online poll on this subject at www.CityCaucus.com.