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Vancouver park commissioner seeks legal advice over mayor's move to abolish board

Green Party's Tom Digby: "We are unfortunately forced into a situation not of our making."
Park commissioner Tom Digby (far right in tan jacket) plans to introduce a motion Feb. 5 that could see the board spent up to $20,000 on lawyers to fight Mayor Ken Sim’s move to abolish the elected board.

Green Party park commissioner Tom Digby plans to introduce a motion at the Feb. 5 park board meeting to request up to $20,000 be spent on lawyers to seek legal advice on “the merits and probability of success” of quashing Mayor Ken Sim’s move to abolish the elected board.

The request is in response to Sim’s announcement in December and later motion approved by his ABC majority of councillors to abolish the board and bring parks and recreation under control of city council.

“We are unfortunately forced into a situation not of our making,” Digby said. “And we feel there is a strong basis to push back against the mayor on legal grounds, as well as political grounds. But we need at least these two prongs of the strategy working in tandem.”

Digby’s motion specifically requests independent counsel. He explained that in-house lawyers working for the City of Vancouver cannot be tasked with mediating an issue between the city and the park board.

Tied to Digby’s request is another motion that he and the three former ABC commissioners passed in December 2023 to direct park board staff not to participate in any transition plans that would lead to abolition of the board.

Digby said he believes his request to seek legal advice will pass, noting he has the support of former ABC commissioners Laura Christensen, Scott Jensen and Brennan Bastyovanszky. Bastyovanszky outlined his support in a news release from the Greens.

“This issue was not on the mayor’s election platform, and council has no democratic mandate to abolish another elected body,” he said in the release.

Sim’s move to scrap the board requires an amendment change to the Vancouver Charter, which has to be approved by the provincial government. Premier David Eby has not pushed back against the request, but has said it’s not his government’s top priority.

“Local democracy is never a done deal,” said Digby in response to Eby not balking at Sim’s request.

“Local democracy matters to all of us, and we've built this park system with public input for 135 years. People are saying it's a done deal, but there's no basis for that. It may just be an undone deal.”

At a news conference last week, Sim and city manager Paul Mochrie explained that consultation continues with First Nations, unions and others who could or would be affected by the abolition of the elected board.

Glacier Media asked Sim at the news conference whether abolition was legal.

He first responded by saying that he and his party were “very clear” before the October 2022 election that his team of candidates was going to try to “fix the structure of the elected park board and if it didn’t work, we would go to the province to make changes.”

Then he said: “It's very clear that all we need to do is make a Charter change in the Vancouver Charter. And that's the process. It's pretty spelled out there.”

In April 2021, before Sim secured ABC Vancouver’s mayoral nomination, he issued a press release with the subject line, “abolish the park board.”

In August 2022, Glacier Media asked Sim about whether he was going to make good on his promise to scrap the board. He didn’t provide a yes or no answer.

“We can't wait two to three years for legislative changes to the Vancouver Charter [to cede jurisdiction to city hall],” he said at the time.

“We believe the provincial government is going to be preoccupied [with the NDP leadership race], so it won't get the full attention that we need from them. Our infrastructure is crumbling, and we have to jump in now. So we pivoted. We are running a bunch of incredibly talented candidates with diverse lived experiences that are going to help us reshape our parks.”

Meanwhile, Digby’s colleagues on council — Pete Fry and Adriane Carr — will host a town hall meeting Feb. 1 at city hall with OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle regarding the mayor’s plan to scrap the board.

The meeting runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The Feb. 5 park board meeting, where Digby will introduce his motion, begins at 6:30 p.m. at the board’s office in Stanley Park.

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