Already prevented from managing Hastings Park as it does the city’s other parks, the Vancouver Park Board could be further elbowed out of governing the so-called Stanley Park of the East Side.
On Wednesday, the city will decide if it will make changes to the PNE governance and its board of directors, including eliminating one seat of the nine-person board that is designated for a park board commissioner.
“The lack of elected park board oversight for one of our city’s largest parks represents a huge step backward,” said park board chairperson and NPA commissioner John Coupar on Monday afternoon. “It’s called a park for a reason.”
Perhaps only in name is it a park. The PNE, governed by a board, which also oversees Hastings Park, is a provincial crown corporation that has been independent of the park board since the city cleaved off responsibility in 2004.
(The racecourse is operated separately by the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and the park board maintains governance of Plateau Park and Empire Field.)
The city laid out a master plan in 2010 to guide capital investment for the cultural, economic and entertainment development of the roughly 150 acre site. In 2013, despite pushback from citizens groups that the park board manage the land, independent auditors upheld the city’s plans.
Now, in recommendation from city staff, council is encouraged to update the bylaws that govern the PNE to “align with the Business Corporations Act of B.C. and to assist the new [Board] of Directors in the management of the business and affairs of the PNE and Hastings Park.”
The report says the “significant update” is required for bylaws that were written in 1995.
Coupar said oversight is more important than ever because of the city’s unknown yet ambitious direction for Hastings Park.
“For many decades, the Vancouver Park Board has been looking after the [master] plan to turn it into more of a park and less of a fair and you can see those results with the sanctuary, with the Italian garden, with the greenways that run through the PNE,” said Coupar. “Two years ago, against the wishes of the park board, [city counsellors] voted to keep jurisdiction of the park from the park board and give control, or most of it, to the PNE.
“Now were seeing the final step, which is removal of a park board member from the PNE board. It’s a step back, as far as I’m concerned. Quite honestly, I’m concerned about what is the plan there.”
If the recommendations are approved, the nine-person PNE Board would include four city employees, four representatives not employed by the city and an elected city councillor.