Just so you know: a battle has been raging for the past couple of weeks in the back rooms of Vancouver’s governing party. A number of old Vision Vancouver hands are livid over the damage being caused to the party’s reputation particularly among its own supporters by the park board’s assault on community centres and the blow back in the community.
There is no clear winner yet on that one although there has been movement.
This week, Vision board member Maria Dobrinskaya, appearing in her regular city hall panel slot on CBC Radio’s The Early Edition, conceded that the shenanigans of the past few months have been destructive to whatever good will existed between community centre volunteer boards and the Vision-dominated park board.
This week, too, a senior Vision insider at city hall made this observation: the attempt by the park board to control revenues raised by those volunteer boards and manage programs at their centres was never part of Vision’s election platform. This was: Over the next three years, the Vision Vancouver park board will “focus on making programs affordable for everyone by introducing a pilot program of specific free-of-charge family days at recreation facilities and ensuring that the universal Flexipass and Leisure Access Cards are honoured at all Park Board facilities.”
Most, if not all, of the community centre boards are already willing to negotiate these conditions; it wasn’t necessary to threaten to wipe them off the face of the earth. But that’s what happened when Vision threw the first punch. Here is how Trout Lake Community Centre board president Kate Perkins saw it unfold. She is one of the most onside with the park board’s desire to renegotiate the 40-year-old joint operating agreement (JOA).
But first a bit of background. Rewriting the JOA has been on the agenda of the past few park boards. Vision operatives have been dealing with the matter for the past five years, increasingly annoyed at the surpluses building up in the coffers of some community centres while others went wanting.
But the matter never got tackled. Until now.
Which brings us to this process and the first punch. Park board general manager Malcolm Bromley arranged to meet with the presidents of the community centres last February to see, as Perkins says, “if we could land on something” that would work.
But that cordial atmosphere abruptly ended when Bromley disappeared only to return with an ultimatum. “This is the deal” Perkins recalls him saying, and adding, “We hope you’ll be part of it. If not, we’ll find someone else” and replace your board. It was non-negotiable.
The “deal” meant the community centre boards would lose control over programming and revenues.
You can imagine how that went down. But the park board seemed unmoved by the building anger. And as Perkins says, when you “start getting (the more moderate) Dunbar, False Creek and Trout Lake boards angry, you’ve done something terribly wrong.”
In January, community centre boards asked for a facilitator. Bromley responded with a demand the negotiations be settled in three weeks. Perkins and the rest rejected that as unreasonable.
Then followed the ridiculous nine-hour park board meeting at the West End Community Centre that ran until 3:30 in the morning. It only served to inflame the public against the park board even more. In spite of that, the position of Bromley and the rest continued to shift as more community centres agreed to come to the table with the offer of a mediator or facilitator to help move things along.
Where we are at right now is a bit of a pause for most community boards while a mediator or facilitator is being sought and approved. The issue of controlling revenues and programming is still the most contentious. Meanwhile, the most determined community boards are boycotting the process and using some of their surplus funds to launch a campaign and build public support against the park board.
As for Vision Vancouver, the internal dispute continues. Even the most adamant Vision soldier will say they are doing the right thing, knowing full well the process has been deplorable and the whole exercise is costing them politically.