Honeymooning Mayor hangs park board colleagues out to dry

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

12 comments

Hung out to dry
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.

12 Comments

how long have these babies been losing money? Why does it take so long for someone/anyone to admit this fact and to relieve the taxpaper by taking it out of the city budget. If the private sector wants to float the boat - bless them. Just don't expect me to do it.

@Julia

With all due respect, Stanley Park loses money. The Symphony of Fire loses money. Our beaches lose money. Our community centres lose money. Our swimming pools lose money...

There are lots of public amenities funded by the City of Vancouver that lose money. Are you proposing they all close down until their is a business case to fund them in the private sector?

Is this what city building has become under this new Vision government?

If Gregor is successful at creating the 20,000 new "green" jobs he promised a few months ago, there will be more than enough new economic activity to fund all of the above for years to come.

If he's really successful, perhaps even one or two new corporate headquarters might be established in Vancouver...then perhaps as part of their community contribution they might be willing to sponsor the conservatory or petting zoo?

@Daniel

With all due respect, all those public amenities should not be shut down, but should be funded by the users. If there are enough users to support the operation, then it should remain. If there are not enough users, then services should be cut. If services are cut to a point where operation can't be sustained, then those services should be closed down.

I don't think that the entire City should be funding a conservatory that only a very, very small handfull of people benefit from. If those few, such as the Wosk family want to keep the operation going by donation, then great. But once the donations stop, the rest of the City should not have to pick up the tabs.

20,000 green jobs? We'll see. I'm glad you are the optimist and can see the future with corporate headquarters in Vancouver, Vision has a vote in Dec 18th which basically says a 2% property tax increase. 4% for residences and slightly above 0% for the businesses. Do you really think income from the business will fund anything more than basic services? Remeber that the business need services too. In the end, it's the residences that have to bear the brunt of the additional costs.

@ Daniel

the problem with your reply is that the other things you mentioned are popular. I heard the attendance numbers for the conservatory. they are terrible.

what are the costs.....having a few goats and other animals in the petting zoo cant be that much $$$ on an annual basis...This is an item that should remain....I like the donations ideas....and if its still too much cut the animal numbers in 1/2,, I am surprised there arent back yard chickens in the park zoo...yet making eggs for whomever....(we could set up a stand for raising $$ selling eggs!)
The conservatory is more unique...lots of tourists go to little mountain,...and there is no reason why the conservatory could'nt be better marketed (included in tours of the city) ...apparently the world is coming and now china is recommending canada as a tourist dest....The conservatory could easily be made profitable with some investment in advertising...lots of ppl dont even know its there or whats inside....

can't we add some shelter beds to the conservatory and toss some hay around the zoo to sleep on, call it a 'shelter' and tehn it will be funded until the cows come home - even if taxes have to increase.

I and my household pay more for cablevision service than we do for parks and recreation out of our municipal taxes. This gives us access to a wonderful preventative health system of parks, beaches, tennis courts, playing fields, walking trails and much more. We benefit in many ways as well from things the Park Board does for which an admission fee would be impractical: maintaining the urban forest, creating natural habitats, making the city as a whole beautiful. Am I alone in thinking we are getting a great deal for our money? I don't think the private sector could do better, at least not in a way that most of us could afford it.

parks, beaches, public tennis courts, sports fields, trails - ABSOLUTELY. They are free, they are accesible to all, they are ageless, they are focused and intended for the residents of Vancouver. In my opinion, that is and should be the mandate of the Parks Board and where our money should be going. I am more than happy to write a cheque for those services.

Just because we have always done something does not mean we always should. If there is no regular justification for what we spend our tax dollars on, we will be faced with ballooning budgets forever as we add in new projects while retaining the old redundant ones. Purging has its place.

We may not like the 11th hour way this was done and the obvious emotional manipulation that came with it, but the principle of justifying tax funded expenditures is one we desperately need to impliment in all corners of city budgeting.

Vancouver's economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Tourist dollars form the tide that floats all boats, providing employment to thousands in the city and helping to make Vancouver a more enjoyable, fun city for those of us who live here as well.

Unfortunately, tourism is already down due to the hardening of the border by our neighbours to the south, our higher dollar, and recent severe global economic dislocations.

Cutting tourist attractions in this environment is short-sighted and erodes corecity assets it is this government's responsibility to preserve.

Also, isn't the greenest building the one already standing? From the point of view of heritage, environment, tourism and infrastructure, this decision never made sense. I'm glad Vision finally recognized their mistake.

My hope is that next time this kind of decision isn't made in isolation, ad hoc, but within the context of an actual tourism development plan for the city encompassing a comprehensive analysis of the city's existing tourist infrastructure and what if anything we're missing.

That type of review could help bring the entire city together in a celebration of the greatness of what we have, instead of dividing us over short-sighted cuts that leave us worse off and less able to compete in the current economic environment.

Daniel is quite correct on this and has posted superbly here..

In answer to the naysayers who think these amenities shoud have gone away, let me help you with some perspective.

The reason, for example, that other Park Board or City facilities work, is becaUSE they are a mix of union and non-union (or volunteer) jobs.

What Aaron Jasper isn't telling you is that they are towing a soft line because they don't want to lose favour with their union bagmen. If they push too hard on realizing efficiencies where the conservatory is concerned, we'll all soon find that it's entirely top-scale union jobs.

The problem I have always had with unions is clearly found in even a cursory review of both the zoo and the conservatory: Union demands first and public best interest be damned.

Poor Aaron Jasper, the incoming Chair of the Park Board for 2010.

First off, Vision Vancouver convinces Mr. Jasper to jettison his ties to COPE and come on board the good ship VV 'We're So Green We Create Oxygen for the Environment All on Our Own'. Promises are made. Jasper's longtime nemesis, Councillor Tim Stevenson, welcomes Jasper to the fold (Jasper should have figured out that something was up when Vision assigned Stevenson to head up a welcoming committee for him). And Jasper soon found himself elected to Park Board.

For the past year, though, Jasper has been left to hang out to dry. Early on, City Finance Chair Raymond Louie assumes responsibility for half of the Park Board budget, with nary a peep from Jasper and his fellow VV Park Board cronies. Support for the Stanley Park horse drawn 'carriage' is withdrawn. The VV Park Board votes to close the Bloedel Conservatory at QE Park and the Children's Petting Zoo at Stanley Park, and cuts funding for a community outreach programme encouraging fitness. Community Centre hours are cut, and 58 Park Board employees are cut from the payroll.

Way to defend the interests of the mandate of the Park Board, Mr. Jasper.

All of the above would appear to be part of Stevenson's / Robertson's Chief of Staff Mike Magee's long term plan for Jasper -- finish off any hope Jasper might have of a future political career (you see, Jasper is seen as being just a tad too 'ambitious', and therefore a threat).

Jasper has been successfully painted by Stevenson and Magee as "the cutter without a heart," "a destroyer of the mandate of the Park Board to protect the interest of parks in Vancouver," and "an anti-democrat more than willing to sacrifice the public interest" in support of his own political ambition.

And it'll only get worse for Jasper from here on in (just wait til Jasper is asked by his VV colleagues to sign onto the massive redevelopment of the St. Paul's site, so that the value of Peter Wall's Burrard Street properties can realize their 'true' value).

Politics. It's a dirty business.

Aaron Jasper has dug his own grave. He consistently flip flops to the side in which he views as making him the most popular.

He was originally a voice AGAINST these cuts. He took it upon himself to go as far as to visit the Farmyard and appeal to the workers, letting them know he understands and that it should be "about people and not just money"

At the next meeting he was the strongest voice FOR the cuts.

Now, due to the public outcry, he has again flipflopped because he is interested solely in HIS image, and his image alone. Not the parks board.

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