A plan to ban the breeding of captive cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium may soon be halted with the election of a Non-Partisan Association majority on the park board.
Five Vision Vancouver commissioners had in July voted against the contentious practice, directing staff to, among other things, create a bylaw that would prohibit the breeding of captive cetaceans unless they are of a threatened species. (The two NPA commissioners were absent: John Coupar recused himself due to a possible conflict of interest and Melissa De Genova was on a leave of absence.)
In the lead-up to this past weekend's civic election, the NPA promised to reverse the decision if elected; on Saturday, four NPA candidates – along with two Greens and one Vision – were elected to the park board.
That makes the NPA one commissioner short for the two-thirds majority vote needed to rescind a motion. They won't likely receive support from the Green or Vision commissioners as Vision is opposed to breeding captive cetaceans and the Green Party's position is to order a city-wide plebiscite. But Mr. Coupar noted the motion was to direct city staff to draft the bylaw, which would then still have to go back to the park board for approval before it is enacted.
"It wouldn't be our intention to approve that bylaw," Mr. Coupar said.
The issues of breeding and keeping captive cetaceans resurfaced in April when two park-board commissioners, and later the mayor, voiced their opposition to holding two belugas and two dolphins at the aquarium. Protests grew louder over the following months, with animal activists squaring off against the aquarium, and several park-board meetings on the matter culminated in a July vote to end breeding cetaceans in captivity.
A month later, the aquarium filed a legal challenge to the decision, arguing that it serves "no legitimate municipal purpose" and is beyond the park board's jurisdiction. That matter is ongoing.
Mr. Coupar said his potential conflict of interest from earlier this year arose from his work with an apparel company that sold some merchandise to the aquarium. That work was on a commission basis and the potential conflict no longer exists, he said. He also dismissed the idea that newly elected NPA commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung's earlier role as vice-president of marketing and communications for the aquarium's Marine Science Centre could put her in a position of conflict.
"That's a pretty big stretch," he said. "Wherever you worked in the past, I don't think you could ever say that is a conflict."
The Green Party's Stuart Mackinnon, who served as a park board commissioner from 2008 to 2011 and was re-elected this past weekend, said the aquarium file has been handled "incredibly poorly" so far, pointing to the legal action as proof.
"I still firmly believe that this is an issue that is bigger than seven people sitting around the park-board table," he said. "This is an issue that needs to go to the city of Vancouver, to the people, to make decisions on what happens in their parks and within their city limits."
Mayor Gregor Robertson, who was re-elected to a third term, said he would leave the matter to the park board.
"The park board is independent. My personal views are not germane to that decision," he said at an unrelated news conference on Monday. "I think they made a reasonable and balanced decision on the breeding ban, but it will be up to the new park board to sort that out going forward."
The Vancouver Aquarium did not make a spokesperson available on Monday.
The new park board commissioners will be sworn in Dec. 1.
With a report from Sunny Dhillon