It was less than 24 hours after the NPA took a majority of seats on the park board that its incoming commissioners announced they would eliminate a forthcoming ban on cetacean breeding at the Vancouver Aquarium.
In a telephone interview, John Coupar told the Straight that it was only a matter of time before the four NPA candidates elected to the park board on November 15 act to repeal a motion that the outgoing Vision-dominated board passed in July.
However, Coupar continued, despite the NPA being about to hold a four-seat majority on the seven-member board, that might not be as easy as some aquarium supporters hope.
“The thing is, when we said that during the campaign, we were expecting a larger majority,” he said. “You need a two-thirds majority to rescind a motion. We have four [commissioners], so it means we will need to get one other to vote with us.”
Coupar added that things are moving quickly and said that the NPA is still working out the details.
"We’re not even sworn in yet," he noted. "So we’re going to have to look at what the options are available to us."
Contacted separately, the two incoming park commissioners elected from the Green party told the Straight that if the NPA does try to repeal the July motion, they’ll work with sole Vision park commissioner Catherine Evans and fight to see the ban on captive breeding stand.
“I’ll vote against it,” said Michael Wiebe. “The Green party, our whole thing before was to have a plebiscite on it. But obviously we’ve passed that.”
Stuart Mackinnon vowed he would do the same.
“I’m hoping that the NPA majority is going to show that they are a collaborative board and have a discussion on this issue,” added Mackinnon. “This could very well set the tone for the next four years of whether they are a collaborative group, or simply another bullying majority like we had under Vision.”
In addition to the NPA requiring a two-thirds majority to repeal a decision passed by the previous park board, Mackinnon questioned if the NPA even has a simple majority when it comes to the specific issue of the aquarium.
He noted that Coupar held a self-described conflict of interest that in July prompted him to absent himself from voting on the motion that asked staff to draft a bylaw banning captive cetacean breeding.
In his interview with the Straight, Coupar maintained that conflict is no longer an issue.
“I was involved in a company, as an agent, that sells some apparel to the aquarium,” he explained. “I never had a financial interest; I was an agent. I’m not involved there any more so I feel quite confident that I’m clear and there is no conflict.”
Allegations of a conflict of interest have also been put to Sarah Kirby-Yung, a second NPA candidate who was elected to the park board on November 15.
Kirby-Yung was an employee of the aquarium from 2008 to 2010, holding the position of vice-president of marketing and communications.
Addressing questions on Twitter, she called it a “fair question” but dismissed concerns. “I am an ex-employee of Aquarium,” Kirby-Yung wrote on November 6. “Now I work for Coast Hotels. So no conflict.”
For its part, the aquarium has remained defiant. In August, it announced that it was mounting a legal challenge against the park board, requesting that the B.C. Supreme Court conduct a judicial review of the motion passed in July.
According to a July 23 park board report, the Vancouver Aquarium owns nine beluga whales. Two are kept in Vancouver, five are housed at Sea World facilities in the United States, and two are on loan to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Also kept in tanks in Stanley Park are two Pacific white-sided dolphins, a pair of Pacific harbour porpoises, plus a number of sea otters, seals, and sea lions.