Vancouver Trolley Company owner Jim Storey called it “a sad day for the city”.
Storey was referring to the 4-3 vote by the Vancouver park board on November 25 to close down the Bloedel Floral Conservatory and the Stanley Park petting zoo to help deal with a $2.8-million anticipated budget shortfall.
“We don’t have enough attractions in the city now and to lose a few is very sad,” Storey said by phone. “I wish there could have been alternatives found.”
Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Aaron Jasper, a former long-time Gray Line tour bus driver and guide, said the closures were unavoidable in light of Vision’s decision not to bring in more than a two-percent tax increase in the next city budget.
Jasper, along with fellow Vision commissioners Constance Barnes, Sarah Blyth, and board chair Raj Hundal, voted in favour of the shutdowns.
COPE commissioner Loretta Woodcock, NPA commissioner Ian Robertson, and Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon were opposed.
“COPE’s position, obviously, is that we should increase the taxes, right?” Jasper fired back to the Straight regarding the cuts. “Fine, I respect that she [Woodcock] has taken that position, that is different to Vision Vancouver’s. Stuart just thinks we should just say no, and doesn’t propose any solutions.”
Jasper claimed that, when comparing park board cuts to those facing other city departments, the park board has “the lowest percentages”.
“The kind of choices that we were facing: close down a community centre or close down the Bloedel Conservatory,” Jasper said. “Well, the choice is pretty clear.”
Mackinnon told the Straight he has “already written to city council to ask them to reconsider their [planned] two-percent tax increase”.
“The city has what they consider a global inflationary increase of four percent,” Mackinnon said by phone. “That includes regular inflation and increased costs and everything, plus wages. Two percent is what they are proposing as a tax hike, even though there’s a four-percent inflationary rise. So there is a two-percent gap there.”
Mackinnon said a four-percent tax hike would still result in a shortfall, but he said he has calculated that it would be half what it is under Vision’s scenario.
“Aaron and I had some sharp words last night, and I don’t suppose I am his best friend at the moment,” Mackinnon added.
According to Mackinnon, the park board is also the cart being placed before city council’s horse, in that council has based estimated cuts on a two-percent increase, but does not know what the final numbers will be.
For that reason, Mackinnon has not given up hope on the conservatory and the petting zoo yet.
“I’m advising everyone who calls me and e-mails me to get on to mayor and council and phone,” he said. “Do whatever you can to let council know—especially if you’re willing to pay a higher tax bill. If you’re not willing to pay a higher tax bill, then you have to live with these cuts. But if you’re willing to pay a little bit more in order to have libraries, parks, and community centres, then get on to city council and let them know.”
Tourism Vancouver spokesperson Walt Judas told the Straight his group is understanding “when tough budget decisions are made”.
“But obviously when it affects an attraction like the conservatory or the petting zoo, that’s unfortunate, because it impacts both residents and visitors alike.”
The park-board budget will go to city council for approval December 3.