Vancouver is the only city in Canada that still has a separate park board. That means that there is a separately funded staff that exclusively manages parks and recreational centres, and reports directly to Vancouver City Council on their budget. The mandate of the Park Board is to “provide, preserve, and advocate for parks and recreation services to benefit all people, communities, and the environment.”
Part 23 of the Vancouver Charter sets out what the Park Board does, and allows for seven Park commissioners to be elected at the same time as the City of Vancouver’s council is elected. This section is pretty clear that the mandate of the Park Commissioners is for parks, things that happen in parks and recreational activities/buildings that are associated with parks operations.
For 2020 the Vancouver Park Board had an operating budget of 136 million dollars, with 63 million dollars coming from revenue and 73 million dollars coming from taxes. The Commissioners themselves receive $17,600 a year with the chair of the Park Commissioners receiving $22,000 a year. The Park Commissioners meet once or twice a month and you can view their schedule here. The meetings can be a bit surprising to listen to, and it appears that sometimes the Commissioners forget that the public are listening in to their chat on Zoom.
The Park Board has been a bit of a training ground for the politically minded that then go on to try for a Councillor position at the City of Vancouver. The highly regarded Mayor Philip Owen was first a park commissioner. He went on to serve on City Council and then was elected for three terms as Mayor, in 1993, 1996, and 1999.
There are two more years before the next Civic election and that may explain some of the posturing that is being seen as Park Commissioners publicly comment on things that are clearly outside their jurisdiction.
One Park Commissioner has been making unfortunate remarks on how the City of Vancouver manages its own Slow Streets and other initiatives outside of Stanley Park, specifically on Beach Avenue.
There has been engagement on social media about perceived challenges on the city’s pilot projects or shared streets that are clearly in the City’s jurisdiction and completely outside of the Park Board’s purview.
This sadly is a missed opportunity for Park Commissioners to work with Council and the appropriate City staff to educate themselves on the City’s processes, street safety, and to refer community questions and comments about any perceived difficulties. That shows leadership and learning.
This seems to be the year of everyone’s discontent when it comes to the Park Board Commissioners and the members of Vancouver’s City Council. There’s still time to show the ability to work together and prudently refer questions and requests to the right jurisdiction that can do a follow up. It’s much more impactful than a social media posture.
That also would demonstrate the kind of leadership residents sorely need for the remaining two years until the 2022 civic elections. It is what citizens deserve.