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Failed bid for bylaw to ban whale-breeding in Vancouver sends issue to next park board

Qila, a beluga at the Vancouver Aquarium, is prepared for an ultrasound on April 14, 2014.


The Vancouver Aquarium will proceed with its planned expansion amid news that the incoming, NPA-majority park board is in no rush to revisit the contentious issue of captive cetacean breeding.

In an interview on Tuesday, John Coupar, the new board's likely chair, said that while the Non-Partisan Association has been clear throughout the election campaign that it does not support a breeding ban, the issue is not a top priority for the party.

It will instead focus on issues such as the management agreement with Vancouver's community-centre associations, the long-delayed Killarney seniors centre and the maintenance and upkeep of city parks and gardens, he said.

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This would leave the proposed bylaw banning the breeding of captive whales, dolphins and porpoises to languish, unenacted.

"We'll have a very full agenda over the next four years," Mr. Coupar said. "It's going to take some time to deal with all the issues that we have to deal with. I don't think [the breeding-ban issue] is something that's going to be addressed early on."

Among the top of the heap will be rebuilding relationships damaged during negotiations with the community-centre associations, said Mr. Coupar, noting that they have resulted in a number of lawsuits.

"A number of associations are certainly not happy with the top-down kind of approach," he said.

Outgoing park board chair Aaron Jasper agreed that that matter – along with the related issues of access, affordability and equity – should be the top priority for the new board, noting that his administration made tremendous progress but simply ran out of time.

Mr. Coupar also said there is a "pressing need" to upgrade community-centre infrastructure.

His comments come one day after the outgoing park board's final meeting, during which an attempt by Vision Vancouver commissioner Sarah Blyth to immediately enact the proposed bylaw banning the breeding of captive cetaceans failed.

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It was a blow to animal activists who, for months, had fought to ban the keeping of such marine mammals in captivity. In July, the park board voted in favour of a breeding ban and directed city staff to amend a bylaw to prohibit the practice unless the cetacean is of a threatened species. For supporters of the ban, the park board's approval of the amended bylaw was expected to be merely procedural.

Jeff Matthews, co-ordinator of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Vancouver chapter, called the board's refusal to pass the bylaw at Monday night's meeting "cowardly."

"Our concern is that this was just pure theatre," he said.

Mr. Matthews said it was a "cop out" for Mr. Jasper to hand the matter over to a new board with an ex-vice-president of marketing and communications for the aquarium (Sarah Kirby-Yung) and a commissioner (Mr. Coupar) who recused himself from some of this year's aquarium debates due to a possible conflict of interest. Mr. Jasper said it would be undemocratic to force through a bylaw on the board's last day.

"It's clearly not going to be judged fairly by the incoming board," Mr. Matthews said. "It's impossible that they will."

Amid the uncertainty, the aquarium is moving forward with its planned expansion, which was greenlighted by the park board in 2008 and will include the installation of new, larger whale tanks. In a September interview with CBC Radio, aquarium president and CEO John Nightingale said the aquarium will house five or six belugas when the $100-million expansion is complete, up from two.

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The new park board – which will comprise four NPA commissioners, two Green and one Vision – will be sworn in on Dec. 1.

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