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Vancouver Aquarium veterinary technician Kate Cooper conducts an ultrasound on Qila April 14, 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Vancouver Aquarium veterinary technician Kate Cooper conducts an ultrasound on Qila April 14, 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Kirk LaPointe blasts Vancouver Mayor’s stance on aquarium issue Add to ...

Mayor Gregor Robertson’s musings that the Vancouver Aquarium should not keep whales and dolphins have fuelled expensive and pointless hearings that are damaging to a key B.C. institution, mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe says.

The Non-Partisan Association candidate for mayor – Mr. Robertson’s key rival in his bid for a third term – said on Wednesday he was “really upset” about what the Vision Vancouver mayor had wrought.

“The mayor mused about this and triggered what amounted to a really costly process,” Mr. LaPointe told reporters after presenting NPA candidates for the school board, and the park board, which is now grappling with the aquarium issue.”

“The process he has created has disrupted what is one of the most central cultural and scientific organizations that we have, not only in this city, but in the country.”

Mr. LaPointe’s comments are his latest bid to draw policy distinctions between himself and Mr. Robertson. Mr. LaPointe, a 56-year-old journalist and publisher who was formerly managing editor of The Vancouver Sun, announced his first bid for elected public office in mid-July.

As mayor, Mr. LaPointe said he would leave the aquarium alone, noting the institution does not capture whales for exhibition.

“That, to me, is an important principle. I can’t understand how the people on the other side of the issue are missing that point,” he said. “I believe the policies the aquarium have around conservation, around research, deserve to continue.”

Mr. LaPointe said he has seen the documentary Blackfish, which has spurred much concern over orcas and dolphins in U.S aquariums. He noted the Vancouver aquarium was not engaging in the practices seen in the documentary.

Four former Vancouver mayors on Wednesday also supported the aquarium, in a letter from former mayor and B.C. premier Mike Harcourt and a letter signed by ex-mayors Philip Owen, Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan.

“We are concerned by recent comments indicating that the City of Vancouver, through the Board of Parks and Recreation, is seriously considering changing municipal policy to negatively affect the Aquarium’s ability to continue operating as a world class cultural and educational institution,” the joint letter said.

“We urge that this issue be considered very carefully and that decisions be made based on facts. The Aquarium is a world leader and has our unequivocal support.”

In his letter, Mr. Harcourt denounced an “ill-conceived proposal” to alter municipal policy on cetaceans in a way that would harm the “marvelous aquarium.” He added that putting off the matter beyond the November municipal election would cause uncertainty for the aquarium.

The park board was planing to review the issue in 2015, but in April, comments by a pair of Vision park board commissioners led Mr. Robertson to declare his view that the aquarium should phase out its whales and dolphins in captivity.

Mr. Robertson said he hoped the aquarium and park board could “collaboratively” work out an agreement, leading to recent hearings over two days in which 130 people registered to speak. Those hearings will continue on Thursday.

In April, Mr. Robertson saluted the aquarium’s work on conservation and research, dubbing the recently expanded operation as “one of the highlights of Stanley Park.”

About two decades ago, the aquarium made a commitment not to capture wild cetaceans.

When Mr. Robertson made his comments, the aquarium replied in a statement that it was “unfortunate” their representatives had not had a chance to talk to the mayor first.

City council has since rejected a suggestion from Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr to put the issue to a referendum during the November election.

Mr. LaPointe said the issue is likely to get punted “down the field” for future deliberation. “Well, the ball got brought on the field by Vision Vancouver. It got brought on the field by Mayor Gregor Robertson musing aloud that he thinks this should end and what has happened in the course of this is that his own personal views have been largely discredited scientifically.”

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