A major B.C. municipality is looking toward the legal system for a solution to an all-consuming jurisdictional feud over the future of one of its major departments.
And for once, we’re not talking about Surrey
The Vancouver Park Board voted Monday to spend up to $20,000 to explore whether there’s a legal option
to prevent its elimination through a mid-term change to the Vancouver Charter — which appears more likely than not after the vote by council and conditional endorsement
by Premier David Eby.
“I have a principle in life that I don't fall down dead until I've been shot,” said Green Party commissioner Tom Digby, who joined with the three former-ABC commissioners to pass the motion.
“This is our opportunity to stand up for ourselves and make it clear to Vancouverites that we intend to defend this elected park board for all the values that it brings to us.”
It may not end up in court, for a variety of reasons: the park board could get advice that the provincial government has full authority to disband the board mid-election, or the province could delay changing the Vancouver Charter until the situation resolves itself another way.
But it means that in B.C.’s two largest cities, there’s now a chance that lawyers and judges will decide the major policy question on the table rather than politicians or voters.
“It’s pretty typical and maybe even face-saving for politicians at the provincial level and even at the local level to do it,” said UBC political scientist Gerald Baier, explaining why politicians often opt for legal challenges over referendums to determine the fate of controversial political decisions.
In other words, there’s little incentive for Brenda Locke, Ken Sim or David Eby to call for a referendum to resolve the issue — but there’s also no mechanism for voters to force one.
On the provincial level, there are mechanisms to recall politicians and to force a referendum, albeit with a prohibitively high bar for each.
Baier said it’s worth considering whether such tools would be helpful in municipalities.
“We have longer terms now from municipal governments than we did 15 years ago,” he said, alluding to the time when politicians had to face voters every three years instead of four.
“The turnover is not as quick. You don't have direct accountability in quite the same way … referendums ultimately say look, if citizens want this, it’s going to be expensive, but at least they show us that they actually want it.”
Voters in Vancouver and Surrey may not get to ultimately show what they want in these two disputes.
But municipal lawyers will continue to have a field day.