British Columbia

Vancouver's mayor calls on park board to cede control of Oppenheimer Park

Declaring that efforts to remove dozens of homeless people from a Vancouver park had "stalled," Mayor Kennedy Stewart called on the city's independent park board to relinquish authority over Oppenheimer Park, so the city can quickly implement its own solution. 

Around 40 campers are still in the Downtown Eastside park, and Vancouver's mayor says they need a 'nudge'

Vancouver fire and park board officials take away mattresses while checking on vacant tents at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Declaring that efforts to remove dozens of homeless people from a Vancouver park had "stalled," Mayor Kennedy Stewart called on the city's independent park board to relinquish authority over Oppenheimer Park, so the city could quickly implement its own solution. 

"We have to look at how are we going to return the park to normal operations with a whole range of options," said Stewart on Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, eviction notices were sent to people living in the over 200 tents in the Downtown Eastside park. While most have been placed into housing through B.C. Housing and other non-profit groups, around 40 people remain, according to the city. 

"Some folks in the park may need a little nudge to move ahead, however right now this is park board jurisdiction," said Stewart, who declined to elaborate when asked whether a 'nudge' meant a formal injunction.  

"If if they don't come forward with a plan that's going to return to normal operations, then the power should be turned over to us."

Vancouver is the only municipality in Canada with a directly elected park board. It has jurisdiction over actions inside the park but relies on funding from the city for about half its budget.  

Stewart argued that oversight by the city could help when it comes to negotiations with higher levels of government.  

"I met with the prime minister on Friday. The chair of the park board did not meet the prime minister on Friday," he said. "And that is the disadvantage of when we have major social problems that erupt in parks."

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart answers questions on Sept. 4, 2019, about his proposal to take over jurisdiction of Oppenheimer Park from the park board . (CBC News)

Park board holds cards

However, under the provincial charter governing the City of Vancouver, the park board can only cede authority of a park if it is approved by two-thirds of both park board commissioners and city council.

Green Party park board chair Stuart MacKinnon declined comment on Tuesday, saying he was seeking input from staff and colleagues. But NPA commissioner John Coupar accused the mayor of grandstanding. 

"We've worked very well, extremely well, with our city partners. I don't think the mayor has any tool in the toolbox that has any more power than the park board does," he said. 

"I think he's probably feeling some heat. But I would suggest that before he starts talking about taking over parks, perhaps he should look at the situation on Hastings Street, which he does have complete authority over, and that situation appears to be getting worse by the day."

Stewart hinted that he would remove his request if the park board acted quickly. 

"What we need to have is Oppenheimer Park returned to normal operations," he said. "And what we need from the park board is a plan for how they will accomplish this."

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