The controversy over who will control the $1-million-a-year surplus that the city’s community centres generate has spilled over into a fight at city hall between one councillor and the city manager, a split among the volunteer groups that run associations, and fodder for a political battle among the city’s civic parties.
Opponents of the park-board initiative say the backlash will have repercussions for the party that rules city council, the school board and the park board: Vision Vancouver.
Vision commissioners have presented the proposed arrangement as a way to make sure there’s equality in the system, a way to guarantee that every resident gets equal access to all centres and that any surpluses get shared. But opponents, who call the move a “cash grab” and power play, said that’s not what the public will remember.
“There has to come a point where, politically, this is going to hurt you,” said Jesse Johl, a former candidate for the centre-right Non-Partisan Association who has helped lead the opposition charge.
On Monday, he presided over the third public meeting that centre associations have organized in two weeks to air their concerns about the changes.
“We’re going into the foot war now,” said Mr. Johl at the meeting that drew about 200, where he urged supporters to lobby the park board and city council to ensure that volunteer groups continue to control the millions in revenue from the centres.
A Green Party city councillor who has taken up the fight also believes that the issue is more than a small tempest that will be forgotten.
“When I’m stopped dozens of times as I’m going down the street by people thanking me for what I’m doing, this is trickling out to the wider public,” said Councillor Adriane Carr.
Ms. Carr is holding a news conference Tuesday morning to continue her battle with city manager Penny Ballem over the issue.
Ms. Carr said she tried to get a motion on Tuesday’s council agenda, asking for an estimate on what it will cost the park board if it is successful in negotiations to take over all staffing and revenue collection that the volunteer groups now handle.
Ms. Ballem advised her in an e-mail that that motion was out of order because it would jeopardize the contract negotiations between the two sides.
Ms. Carr is expected to produce a legal opinion Tuesday that will say the city manager did not have the authority, under the legislation that governs the city, to tell a councillor that the topic is out of order.
Councillors are required not to disclose confidential information about legal, labour or land issues. They are also not supposed to weigh in during negotiations with city unions.
“But this is not a union negotiation,” Ms. Carr said.
But while there’s a lot of attention being paid to the battle, others say the issue is not as clear-cut or as politically damaging as the vocal opponents say.
More than half of the community-centre associations are staying out of the public fighting.
“I’d like to put the brakes on everything because both sides have worked up to such a frenzy that it’s not constructive,” said Kate Perkins, chair of the group that represents all the association presidents.
According to her latest count, 13 of the city’s 20 volunteers associations are still willing to negotiate with the board on a new legal agreement, which the board commissioners voted last week to keep pursuing.
Ms. Perkins, who was challenged by Mr. Johl for the chair position last week and won, said none of the associations – neither the vocally opposed or the quiet negotiators – are in favour of a system where the park board collects all the revenues and relegates the volunteer associations to being advisory committees.
But she doesn’t believe the current political rhetoric is helping.
“We should be non-partisan.”
And a Vancouver pollster says the community-centre issue is no kingdom-toppling issue yet.
“It reinforces the negativity [toward Vision] that already exists for many people. But that’s not new,” said Barb Justason, who has tracked the fortunes of the city’s political parties for several years.