Has Mayor Gregor Robertson hung his Vision Park Board caucus out to dry?
It’s official. This is now the worst Vancouver Park Board we’ve seen in decades and there is still 23 months remaining in their mandate. After being left hung out to dry by their fearless leader Mayor Gregor Robertson, the Vision commissioners are in serious damage control mode. After weeks of being pummeled by the media and blogosphere for their hasty and ill-considered decision to close the Bloedel Conservatory and Stanley Park Children's Farm, they are now doing a big political flip-flop.
In a media release issued by commissioner Aaron Jasper (the current chair is on his way out) he states that Vision Vancouver is now prepared to entertain a private sector rescue package for these community attractions. This is despite the fact that only two weeks ago they voted down a motion put forward by NPA Park Board Commissioner Ian Robertson to begin discussions with the Wosk family regarding a $100,000 pledge of support.
The commissioner's eleventh hour confession that they made a another big mistake regarding the conservatory and petting zoo is perhaps the final nail in the coffin for Vision's representatives on the Park Board. That’s because at first people were simply angry at them for the cuts...but now they’re just laughing at them.
This half-hearted attempt to try and keep these public attractions open should have started months ago. In fact, the commissioners were briefed on the dire straits of their 2010 budget as early as last summer. Had they wanted to mount a private-sector campaign to save these institutions, they should have started in June...not mid-December.
Instead, they waited until the last minute, then quietly rolled over when the Mayor requested they cut these types of “luxuries” out of their budget. By doing so on the eve of the Christmas holidays, they only help to fuel voter cynicism that Vision really has no interest in keeping either venue open past next March.
From a purely political perspective, today's flip-flop is the worst case scenario for the four Vision commissioners who control a majority of votes on the Park Board. While the Mayor continues to bask in the glow of the longest media honeymoon in memory (check out the front cover of this week’s Georgia Straight), Vision's Park Board caucus are being portrayed as the Grinch That Stole Christmas. You only have to check out CTV's story this evening regarding the Bloedel closure to see what I mean. A cute 4-year old girl name Maggie melts your heart when she and her playmates show up with placards to protest the closure.
I had previously hoped that someone like Commissioner Aaron Jasper would be more of an independent thinker and voice of reason amongst his Vision colleagues, but there are few signs of this. I’m told that caucus discipline is at an all-time high, and that the Mayor’s office is not prepared to tolerate any dissent from the Vision team. They are repeatedly reminded that the only way they can cling on to power is if they stick together and keep their mouths shut. Vancouver's systems of parks are left with no defense as a result.
If only one Vision commissioner had decided to join the COPE, NPA and Green representatives at the last Park Board meeting, they could have avoided this mess. Rather than looking at creative solutions and seeking opportunities to work with the private sector, all four Vision reps chose to ignore the public by voting to close down the conservatory & children's farm.
It's better late than never, I suppose, but it was a relief to hear today that Vision will welcome private expressions of interest in support of these facilities. Unfortunately, it’s likely about six months too late to make a real difference. Whether voters will remember this series of gaffes come election time in 2011 remains to be seen.