November 3, 2006
Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation
2099 Beach Avenue
RE: IMPROPER RE-SCHEDULING OF THE NOVEMBER 27 PARK BOARD MEETING
This is a formal complaint, submitted to the Vancouver Park Board on behalf of No Whales In Captivity and in the interests of the Vancouver public, about the proposed re-scheduling of the November 27, 2006 meeting of the Park Board.
Throughout the past year, that meeting has been scheduled and continues to be publicly advertised as a regular board meeting of the Park Board. Now your staff has informed us that it has been proposed that it be changed to a "Special Board Meeting" with only one item in the agenda (the Vancouver Aquarium presentation) and that it commences at 5 pm instead of 7 pm. The only purpose of the change is to give preferential treatment to the Vancouver Aquarium, to allow it to present its proposal for expansion at a time of day when the meeting will be poorly attended and at a date calculated to rush the Park Board into making a decision without public input and without proper time for deliberation.
Until this change in schedule, which has not been well advertised, it was expected that at the regular monthly meeting, among other items in the agenda, the Aquarium would be allowed 20 minutes to do an oral presentation to the Park Board and provide you with copies of a written report giving the results of their most recent public relations campaign. Instead, by changing the regular monthly meeting to a SPECIAL BOARD MEETING, it would allow the Aquarium's public relations firm Kirk & Co. to use the whole meeting, up on stage, to convince the commissioners and the public that another commercial restaurant and new enormous dolphin pools in Stanley Park would be a good thing.
If it were another tenant of the Park Board, say the owners of the Tea House Restaurant, who wanted to expand their footprint in Stanley Park to add a pond with dolphins and seating around it, would the commissioners allow the restaurant owners to get more than the usual 10 to 20 minutes to present the results of their preliminary private survey? Not likely. The Tea House or any other tenant would certainly never be granted a Special Board Meeting that superseded a regular board meeting.
Why should the Vancouver Aquarium be treated better than any other tenant? Is it because the Park Board Chair is an employee of the Aquarium, and although she excuses herself from formal votes can nevertheless influence the scheduling of meetings? Please be forewarned that fishy smells originating in the Aquarium can taint the Park Board offices.
The ostensible reason that will be given for the change is that this issue of Aquarium expansion is a hot topic that has aroused wide public concern, on both sides, and that it deserves to have a special board meeting devoted to it. That may be. But that excuse also points to the need for Vancouverites to be allowed to vote on this issue in a public referendum. However, it certainly does not deserve to have the special meeting occur on November 27 in lieu of the regular board meeting,. Let me remind you of the progress of the issue so far.
First, on May 29th of this year, the newly elected NPA commissioners of the Park Board voted to rescind all the motions previously adopted by the Park Board in the last decade that mandated sending the issues of whale captivity and dolphin pool expansions to a civic referendum vote. Then on July 10th, the NPA commissioners entertained a proposal to have a joint partnership with the Aquarium to "consult" the public on expansion under the operational control of a public relations firm hired by the Aquarium. At your September 11th board meeting, the majority of the commissioners demonstrated their integrity and honesty by voting against becoming joint partners with the Aquarium in such a tainted and corrupt process. Instead, you allowed the Aquarium to conduct its own surveys and to present its results and its proposal on the same basis as any other applicant for government favours.
However, now in November, somebody or something at the Park Board is again surprising the public with another apparently corrupt tactic, this time by handing the Aquarium on a platter a Special Board Meeting with no opposition on stage. Please avoid this appearance of favouritism and corruption, and please continue the course of political integrity that you began in September, by permitting the Aquarium to make its presentation to a regular board meeting like any other applicant.
Changing the meeting time from 7 pm to 5 pm would directly advantage the Aquarium's publicity plans, and would directly disadvantage all other segments of the public.
The 5 pm time would be highly convenient for the Aquarium's staff and volunteers, who no doubt would be bused over after work directly from the Aquarium to the Hastings Park Community Centre, where, having been as carefully trained as seals, they would give their rehearsed performances including giving a standing ovation for the Aquarium's public relations firm at the conclusion of their presentation.
The 5 pm time would also allow the Aquarium to ensure that Global TV can go live at 5, with no opposition heard until after the news is over that night. What a treat for Global TV, one of the big media sponsors of the Aquarium's interests.
On the other side, the 5 pm time would be incredibly misleading to the public and to some of the media. As the commissioners know, Park Board meetings always start at 7 pm. That gives people time to grab a bite to eat after work and then head to the park meeting. Starting the meeting earlier at 5 pm, when most people are just leaving work, will ensure, first of all, that people will not arrive in time to see the Vancouver Aquarium's planned slick commercial presentation to the board.
Producing this public relations campaign has cost the Aquarium over $300,000, which it paid to Kirk & Co. to convince Vancouverites that this proposed expansion is not about building bigger whale and dolphin pools to bring more captive cetaceans to Stanley Park, when you and I know that it is.
The public is already confused enough regarding the real reason for the planned expansion and more confusion will undoubtedly arise among regular delegations signed up to speak to the Board that night. People will likely show up at 7 pm, as usual, only to find out that they have missed the Aquarium's show and even worse, that they have lost their turn to speak because their names have already been called earlier in the evening since the meeting would have started two hours before the regular time.
It would not be surprising that even some regular reporters might show up too late, not realizing that -- for the first time that I can remember in the 18 years I have been attending Park Board meetings -- the starting time of a board meeting had been changed from 7 pm to 5 pm.
Therefore, and before the Park Board starts advertising a Special Board Meeting just for the Aquarium, I strongly urge the Park Board commissioners to abandon the idea of holding such a meeting.
Instead, the November 27 meeting should start at 7 pm, as always, not at 5 pm. It should be a regular board meeting, as it has been scheduled to be all year long. At the meeting, let the Aquarium's public relations firm present their report like the rest of us, in 20 minutes. That is the procedure that you contemplated at your September 11th meeting. Since no decision from the Board is needed that night, please receive the Aquarium's report and move on to the next item in your usually busy agenda.
In summary, we expect the commissioners to arrange that plans to hold a Special Board Meeting for the Aquarium’s benefit be cancelled and a regular board meeting be reinstated for 7 pm.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
Annelise Sorg, Director
Coalition For No Whales In Captivity