The conflict between the city’s community centre associations and the park board over a proposed joint operating agreement is catching the attention of politicians from other levels of government, including Wai Young, Conservative MP for Vancouver South.
The park board is attempting to centralize the operation of 23 community centres and introduce a new financial model in which community centre associations would be forced to pool revenues.
On Feb. 7, Young emailed an open letter to Vision Vancouver park board chair Sarah Blyth, with copies sent to Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson, city council, the park board commissioners, the community centre association presidents and media.
During a phone interview from Ottawa Wednesday afternoon, Young told the Courier she got involved for two reasons.
“First, I’ve been inundated by [calls and emails from] my constituents who are saying we, the community, are really unhappy about this,” said Young.
Young said the second reason she wrote the letter came from the 10 years she spent on the board of the Strathcona Community Centre Association, where she served as chair and vice chair. She also received the park board’s Volunteer of the Year Award.
In the email Young wrote, “I have been informed that the associations have agreed to provide leisure access and other concessions, which are a positive enhancement to the current agreement. However, the associations are correct to insist on retaining their fiscal independence and autonomy. As independent organizations, they are more able to fundraise, apply for and receive grants, as well as receive donations and contributions. It is therefore incomprehensible why the city would strip away the capacity of local associations to meet our community needs.”
Young added the current joint operating model is the envy of cities across Canada.
“It allows community centres to fill the unique needs of their communities,” Young told the Courier. “So why would the park board take away that autonomy?”
Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Niki Sharma welcomed Young’s interest.
“There’s misinformation out there we’re trying to address with continued discussions,” said Sharma. “We’d like to extend an invitation to Wai to meet with us so we can provide her with more information. She was also a board member for Strathcona and they’ve been very supportive.”
Sharma added it’s not unusual for elected officials from different levels of government to pay attention to issues affecting their communities. She pointed to the issue of the loss of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station as an example of the park board getting involved in a federal debate.
“We spoke out on that and let the federal MPs know how we felt,” said Sharma.
NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End Spencer Chandra Herbert, a former COPE park board commissioner, wants both sides of the debate to get back to the negotiating table.
“There have been conflicting reports, but it’s my understanding that most of the community centre associations are in negotiations with the park board,” Chandra Herbert said Wednesday.
He added in light of the contentious meetings held lately, those involved should take a breath and calm down.
“There are ongoing arguments about the [Leisure Access Card], but that negotiation has already happened,” said Chandra Herbert. “They need to cool their tempers down. It’s not helping when they erupt in anger.”