24 December 2009

Happy Holidays

I want to wish my regular readers and visitors a very happy holiday and all the best for the new year. Let's hope 2010 is a better, greener year for parks in Vancouver.

18 December 2009

Council passes budget-nothing new for Parks

City Council passed their budget today with a general tax increase of 2.26% (this will mean 0.26% for business and 4.26% for residential thanks to the tax shift). The extra 0.26% will go to added funding to libraries to keep the Riley Park branch open for an additional year and keep some of the other branches open longer hours (these were being cut under the original funding to libraries this year). This is good news for libraries and library users.

There was no good news for people who use parks and community centres though. The Park Board was given no additional funding, so expect to see more garbage in your local park--collection will be reduced; fewer flowers at Queen Elizabeth park; longer grass on boulevards and verges; and expect to see the Bloedel Conservatory and Stanley Park Farmyard either closed or in private hands. There will be service reductions at Community Centres; an after school program will not be funded; the Active Communities program will be ended; and less maintenance at your local community centre. And of course there will be fewer trees on the sides of our streets. All this and your taxes will still increase.

an independent Park Board, part 2

"Resolved: That this Board views with regret a recent attempt to interfere with its affairs on the part of the City Council, and as the Board is an independent body, its members being elected by the people and directly responsible to the people, they consider it their duty to protest against and if necessary resist any interference with park matters on the part of any outside body or corporation."

From the minutes of the Park Board in the year 1890

15 December 2009

A brief reprieve for the Bloedel Conservatory

At last night's Park Board meeting the Bloedel Conservatory was given until the 30th of April. In the meantime someone--entrepreneurs? volunteers? benefactors?--are supposed to "submit written business cases/concept plans and other relevant information for the use (in a similar or new capacity) of the Bloedel Conservatory facility in Queen Elizabeth Park". I opposed the motion as I don't support the idea of the Bloedel in a 'new capacity', believing that it was given to the people of Vancouver as a public conservatory and should stay as such. I also don't think an extra 60 days is sufficient for community groups to come together and submit a plan for keeping it public. Once again the vote was 4-3. What was surprising was the continuation of personal attacks. It seems those who want rid of the Conservatory can only argue in a negative manner.

A large contingent from the community came out to plead for the conservatory. One of the highlights was a presentation from the lawyer who wrote the original deed of gift for the Bloedel Foundation. Regardless of any motions passed by this Board, this story is far from over and we should all be hearing a lot more about the Bloedel Conservatory in the weeks and months ahead.

07 December 2009

What will become of the Bloedel Conservatory?

Yesterday marked the 40th birthday of the Bloedel Conservatory and there were a lot of people out to celebrate and sign a petition to save it. At the last meeting of the Park Board, Commissioners voted 4-3 to close it down. No thought was given, however, to what will become of the building.

This is a class 'A' heritage building and can't simply be destroyed. And even if the Park Board wants to take it down, it would probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to deconstruct it and redevelop the land. So, what will become of the Conservatory? I am hoping it will be given a one year reprieve and that the Park Board in association with a community group will come up with a marketing plan to improve and enhance this site as a destination for visitors and residence alike. As I said at both the Park Board meeting and at City Council, budget time is not the time to debate the worthiness of this facility. We need to engage the community and see if the citizens think it is worth preserving and re-investing in. For close to 40 years we have taken this place for granted. Now is the time to ask the tough questions that need asking. To simply close it would be a lost opportunity to engage the citizens in a discussion on what kind of city they want.

06 December 2009

A Surreal Experience with City Council

Last Thursday night I made a presentation to City Council at their public hearings on the budget. I had expected to make my brief (about 3 minutes) statement and then be thanked and sent away--after all there were nearly 90 speakers on the list, and what I had to say wasn't exactly what the majority of council wanted to hear. I was asking them to rethink their strategy of a 2% tax increase and 20 million dollars in cuts. Imagine my surprise when Councillor after Councillor grilled me over my views on everything from animals in captivity to whether there really were any inefficiencies within the city government. Here is a transcript of my remarks:

Your worship, Councillors, my name is Stuart Mackinnon. I have the honour to be both a Trustee of the Vancouver Public Library and a Commissioner of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. Tonight though I speak mostly as a homeowner and taxpayer.

I stand before you tonight to ask that you re-think your budgetary strategy which includes a property tax increase of 2%, a 2% tax shift from business to residential property tax, and an additional $20 million in savings from a combination of increased charges to the public and/or cuts in programs and services. As a homeowner and tax payer I applaud you for your concern for the citizens who pay property or business taxes, but I ask you to re-think this in light of the damage and hurt that will be caused by the imposed short-falls on the Park Board and Library Board.

These shortfalls are on top of shortfalls that each Board had to deal with last year. These shortfalls mean that libraries will close earlier, that fewer books will be purchased and that fewer workers will be available to help the public. These shortfalls mean that two iconic destinations in Vancouver—the Children’s farmyard and the Bloedel conservatory will be closed forever. Fewer trees will be planted on our streets, fewer flowers will be planted in Queen Elizabeth Park, an after school care facility will close, hours will shortened at community centres and there will be fewer programs. The closures will affect everyone who lives in or visits Vancouver. The reduction in hours and services will most probably affect most the people who can least afford them—the very people we were elected to help. This recession has affected everyone, but it has affected most those on limited incomes, those on fixed incomes and those without incomes. These people use libraries, community centres and parks because they can’t afford to pay for movies or other entertainments that cost more.

Your 2% tax increase is admirable, but it is arbitrary. It is not fixed in stone. It is your choice. No one likes to pay more taxes, but equally no one wants to lose the valuable services and programs that this city offers. You can choose to raise the taxes to 4 or 5 or 6% and each percentage will allow the Library and Park Boards to fulfil their mandates to serve to citizens of our great city.

You will hear tonight many people asking you to save this or that particular service or amenity. I am asking you to save them all, to not cut the heart out of our city. I am asking you to re-think and re-adjust you budgetary expenditures.

Thank you.

All but three of the Councillors plus the Mayor asked me questions resulting in an astounding 40 minutes of dialogue--all the while 80+ others were waiting to speak. Cllr Jang and Cllr Louie both seemed to take it as an affront that I would speak against their plans, with Cllr Louie badgering me on how I would spend an extra hundred thousand dollars. I had thought he was asking what I, in my capacity as an elected official, would spend it on, and so replied that I couldn't make that decision as I didn't have the authority. In what can only be described as a surreal exchange I finally declared that if I was the sole arbiter of the money, then I would spend it on the trees on the street program. For those in attendance, they must have been wondering what was going on. Why were two city politicians spending so much time in conversation when they wanted to speak.

Surely the most bizarre exchange had to have been with Cllr Stevenson who stated that there were no inefficiencies in the city so no savings could be made there--this after City Council spent tens of thousands of dollars on a Core Services review to find inefficiencies and duplications. If there are no inefficiencies does Cllr Stevenson think this was tax dollars well spent?

I had tried in my submission to be non political, tried to keep partisan politics out it. I can only think that the Vision councillors were so angry that I had had the nerve to speak out against their budget that they had wanted to punish and embarrass me in public. All they manged to do was to look extremely mean and petty and ended up embarrassing themselves.

05 December 2009

Of Zoos and Animals in Captivity

In a petty attempt to embarrass me and score cheap political points at last Thursday’s public consultation on the city budget, Cllr Jang started off his questioning of my presentation by asking after my dog. He then went on to ask my views on zoos and animals in captivity, attempting to find fault with my perceived support of the farmyard at Stanley Park. If Cllr Jang had done his homework he would know that I do not support wild animals in captivity. The petting zoo keeps lizards and other reptiles in glass cages and I have always thought that this made it into more of a zoo than a farmyard. I said as much to Cllr Jang and then went on to say that I was ambivalent to the keeping of farm animals in Stanley Park.

It is believed that humans domesticated animals during the Mesolithic Period (more than 10,000 years ago) and that this is what led to our development of sedentary cultures. A documentary I show my students suggest that without the domestication of dogs, civilization could never have begun. Farm animals are domesticated for work and for food. Without them most of us wouldn’t be able to have meat for our suppers.

I think that if people want to show their children farm animals they would be better off visiting a working farm, but for some city dwellers this isn’t possible and so the Farmyard at Stanley Park is the next best thing. I told Cllr Jang that while I was personally ambivalent towards the Farmyard, I would not oppose it if the citizens of Vancouver indicated they wanted to keep it. The Farmyard has already indicated that they are willing to stop keeping wild animals.

The White Ribbon

Twenty years ago, on the 6th of December 1989, I was working at the student information counter in the Hall Building in downtown Montreal's Concordia University. It was a calm afternoon, close to Christmas break and all was quiet as students made their way home. A news announcement that was to shatter all of our lives was brought to me: a gunman had shot students at the Universite de Montreal. It was later that we learned that he had entered a classroom and separated the men from the women and then executed the women. Why? Because they were women. In news reports his name is often still mentioned, but it is their names that I want to remember:

Geneviève Bergeron, 21
Hélène Colgan, 23
Nathalie Croteau, 23
Barbara Daigneault, 22
Anne-Marie Edward, 21
Maud Haviernick, 29
Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz, 31
Maryse Laganière, 25
Maryse Leclair, 23
Anne-Marie Lemay, 27
Sonia Pelletier, 23
Michèle Richard, 21
Annie St-Arneault, 23
Annie Turcotte, 21

I wear the white ribbon to remember these women. I wear the white ribbon to remember all the women who have been killed, injured or harmed by men. I wear the white ribbon to remember the pledge I made to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls. Have you made the pledge?