In one fell swoop, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim made a move to eliminate the park board while turning a divide in his ABC caucus from a small crack to a gaping chasm.
“We’re now independents,” said Brennan Bastyovanszky, a park board commissioner who just a day ago was part of the ABC Vancouver team that dominates city politics.
Now, he and fellow commissioners Laura Christensen and Scott Jensen are planning to go it alone, working with Green Party commissioner Tom Digby to keep the balance of power on the park board.
Next week, we'll return to the regular format of this newsletter, talking about things as diverse as West Vancouver's mayor being under investigation for campaign spending
, or the Regional District of North Cowichan selling the world's largest hockey stick
For today, here's a brief primer on how ABC Vancouver got to this point — based on conversations with park board commissioners, along with past and present ABC strategists over the last six months.
1. ABC Vancouver insiders considered their campaign to be a successful example of bringing together candidates that would be seen as moderate or conservative. An example on council would be the more conservative Brian Montague and the more moderate Rebecca Bligh (it should be said that the moderates are using this term to describe themselves, while the conservatives feel there’s less of a split).
2. For much of their first year in power, when those two wings have disagreed on policy, they’ve had their arguments in private (sometimes bringing council meetings to a halt). But on the park board, that split became more public in May over the push to fast-track a field hockey turf in Moberley Park, as Bastyovanszky admitted during an On The Coast interview
3. The moderates were able to win the battle for more consultation (although funding was approved by council in a bit of a runaround), but a chill intensified between the two camps on park board. Bastyovanszky, Christensen and Jensen were not informed of the plans to try and abolish the park board until Tuesday evening, after reports of it had already leaked to the media.
4. In addition, last week there was an election on who would be the park board chair in 2024. Sim wanted one of his supporters (Marie-Claire Howard, Jas Virdi and Angela Haer) to be chair, allegedly on an understanding that it would rotate between the two camps. The moderates profess they didn’t share this “understanding” and had their own ideas. With the support of Digby, they kept the chair and vice-chair position within their camp.
5. Nobody believes this played a role in Sim’s decision to try and get rid of the park board, given the amount of time needed to put the proposal together and talk with the province. But a source with knowledge of the situation admitted “it’s certainly bad timing.”
6. The Sim supporters understand the dissent, but are secure in their belief that getting rid of the park board is the right thing to do policy-wise, and will also be popular with the public. At the same time, they don’t want to exacerbate the tensions in their coalition over the conflict and have them spill over to the school board (where Jensen has allies) and council.
7. Sim’s team (watch his interview with CBC here
) is reasonably confident their discussions with the province will pay off and they’ll move quickly to allow the park board to be disbanded. If it’s as popular with the public as it has previously polled, it could turn today’s controversy into a relatively small story.
8. But the province hasn’t tipped their hand on whether they will allow it to take place immediately or at the end of the current term — which could create plenty of conflicts over the next three years. And as longtime city affairs columnist Frances Bula speculated
, “I’m thinking if David Eby is smart, he’ll require a referendum to get rid of the park board (so don’t repeat Surrey fiasco
) and then that will take over the 2026 election in the weirdest way.”
9. Add it up, and it could potentially be the biggest test of whether the ABC coalition can be sturdy for the long haul, a perennial issue in municipal politics — or turn out to be just another Wednesday.