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Tents are seen at a homeless encampment at Crab Park in Vancouver on Aug. 14.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The battle for control of Canada’s only elected city park board – which used to be preoccupied with issues like tree planting, swim times and soccer fields – is a tangle of debates over homeless encampments, bikes versus cars, crumbling community centres and the need for more Indigenous representation.

Some of the 32 candidates are focusing on the need to clear out camps of homeless people that have become entrenched in one park after another for at least seven years.

They say the current park board, dominated by commissioners from the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors and the Green Party, has not done enough to end the camps.

“The last park board, they just let those grow and grow,” said James Buckshon, director of a non-profit arts organization and one of many newcomers campaigning, in his case with TEAM for a Livable Vancouver. “The park board needs to follow its mission mandate, to look after the parks and make them usable, not veer off to political things and wish lists.”

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New candidates from the city’s four leftish parties say that, while it’s not ideal for homeless people to camp instead of having proper housing, they need to be taken care of in the parks if that’s their only option. At the moment, the big encampment is in Crab Park, on the city’s waterfront, which has 200 to 300 tents.

“The reality is there isn’t any housing for them. In the meantime, we need to make things as safe as possible for them,” said Serena Jackson, who works in a social-service agency with formerly homeless young people and is running with OneCity Vancouver.

That’s just one of the difficult issues that will face the winners of the seven park-board seats, a job that pays $18,743.38 a year and has become gruelling and fractious to the point that ABC Vancouver mayoral candidate Ken Sim said two years ago he would abolish the board if he won.

Mr. Sim’s party is running six candidates for the board and isn’t talking about abolishing it any more, but is trying to steer a careful line to appeal to the centrist voters needed for a civic-election victory.

“We are not advocating for an immediate decampment,” said ABC candidate Scott Jensen, a teacher. “But we are advocating for immediate housing and we expect that, in other parks, people leave in the morning as they’re supposed to.”

Similarly, the party is steering a middle line in the battle over reserving one of the two traffic lanes that circle Stanley Park for bikes. The bike lane was created two years ago, and has generated huge support from users. Others say it prevents people from coming into the park, to the detriment of businesses there and people with limited mobility.

Mr. Jensen said ABC would return the lane to car traffic, then come up with a comprehensive plan that would put permanent bike lanes in sections of the perimeter road where they’re needed, but with improved access for park businesses and parking lots.

Parties like TEAM and the Non-Partisan Association want the bikes out of the lane until more study is done. Parties like OneCity, Vision, COPE and Green favour the current arrangement with improvements.

They’re advocating better transit in the park to ensure that non-bike-riders can get there easily.

The split is similar on many other issues.

Parties like ABC, TEAM and the NPA are heavily focused on ways to get more investment in community centres and playing fields.

Mr. Jensen said ABC has promised to create an emergency restoration fund at council for what he called “collapsing fields and parks.”

The Green Party, more in the middle, also emphasizes new fields and a new swimming pool, along with a better dog strategy and a repurposing of a pier damaged in last winter’s storms.

On the other side, candidates like Ms. Jackson and Carla Frenkel, with Vision Vancouver, emphasize issues like how to use the parks better for climate-change mitigation and to give more control of some land to the three Indigenous groups that were the first residents of Vancouver. Those are priorities as well for COPE and VOTE Socialist.

They also acknowledge the board’s role in supplying basic services like playing fields and community centres.

Ms. Frenkel said she would support more of the work the park board has started, like letting fields revert to a natural state or be converted to meadows.

“That would lift the hand of colonization and let nature in a little bit.”

Allowing more wetlands in parks would also help with stormwater management.

The park board has already been exploring ways to create more room for Indigenous representatives.

Ms. Frenkel and her party support that, along with efforts to introduce more native plants and to allow former tidal flats to return to their precolonization states.

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