Candidates heed call at Renfrew Community Centre debate

About 100 people gathered at the Renfrew Community Centre last Thursday to hear 18 candidates for Vancouver Park Board say how, if elected on Nov. 15, they would improve the board’s relationship with community centre associations.

Six associations are suing city hall, alleging that the park board’s decision to unilaterally impose a One-Card system for accessing the centres may violate their joint operating agreements (JOAs), in an effort to steer more revenue and control to the board.

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Incumbent commissioner Trevor Loke of Vision Vancouver — the party holding the majority on the park board — is proud of the One-Card, saying it has helped many thousands of residents with low incomes. He wants ongoing efforts to forge a new agreement to continue. “We’ve had 14 months of tough negotiations. If we stop now, we put all that good work at risk. Let’s get a new JOA,” he said.

Green Party candidate Stuart Mackinnon urged that the board first stop the court cases and eviction notices to the dissident associations. “Reboot, and start over again, with a table of new commissioners, and with dignity, generosity and honesty,” he said. “You can’t negotiate in good faith by making threats.”
IDEA Party candidate Jamie Lee Hamilton added: “The only way we can move forward is by getting rid of that OneCard.”

Erin Shum, Non-Partisan Association candidate, said: “Our number one priority is to rebuild relations with community centres. The second is to hold our meetings out of the board office, in local areas.”  

On another matter, last July the park board voted to ban the Vancouver Aquarium from breeding captive whales and dolphins, yet stopping short of demanding they all be freed. The aquarium is now suing the board over the controversial policy, and the panel was asked what should be done about the whale issue.

“The way it was handled was extremely flawed and biased,” the NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung, a former aquarium official.
Imtiaz Popat of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) recalled that he had been trying to have all the whales freed from captivity since running for election in 1996. “We support the ban on breeding but it does not go far enough,” he said.

Mackinnon recalled that Green Coun. Adriane Carr asked council this year to put the whales’ future as a referendum question on the election ballot, but both Vision and NPA voted it down. Coree Tull of Vision, a biologist, fully agreed with the board’s cetacean policy. “It was a very thoughtful and reasonable decision,” she said. “The mayor decided not to hold a referendum because he respected the decision the independent park board made.”

Loke and NPA commissioner John Coupar disputed how much money has been earmarked for new off-leash dog parks in the board’s capital plan, with Loke saying $20 million and Coupar estimating about $1 million. Coupar complained of a lack of parks’ budget transparency and line items. Loke told the Courier: “There are some items we don’t know what the costs will be for yet, and dog parks are one of those. After we do public consultations on dog park locations, then we can make a budget based on those plans.”

Other subjects of the debate were the need for more outdoor pools, a new seniors’ centre in Killarney, a covered tennis court, a public campfire pit, better grounds and washroom maintenance, access to playing fields for girls, and asbestos removal from buildings.    

The main concern is the negotiations with the centre associations, said debate moderator Rania Hatzioannou. “The candidates are all passionate about parks, and I think we got fair and educated answers. I think the number one thing we heard tonight is that the public wants politics taken out of the parks and the real issues dealt with.”

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