In the latest skirmish in the strange war between Vancouver's park board and some of its community-centre volunteers – a war likely to be a prominent feature of next year's civic-election campaign – the first round appears to have gone to the board.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that the board's efforts to create, promote and sell a single card to use services at all 22 of the city's community centres, called OneCard, is not having any negative impact on the six community-centre associations that disagree with the new system.
The associations "failed to establish … that irreparable harm will follow" if the park board continues telling people about the OneCard, Justice Bruce Cohen wrote.
The OneCard allows people to buy a weekly, monthly, yearly or 10-visit pass to use at all centres without having to pay additional membership fees at each one.
The six centres started a lawsuit in August and asked for an injunction to stop the board from advertising OneCard on their premises or asking community-centre staff to sell residents the cards.
Kerrisdale Community Centre's association president, Robert Lockhart, had argued that people who get OneCard would stop buying memberships, which would essentially starve the volunteer groups that co-manage the centres with the park board of revenue and volunteers.
In fact, Justice Cohen said the centres were clearly still collecting money for memberships as they always had, producing a wide variety of revenue per centre. In 2012, Kerrisdale collected $115,000 in membership fees; Kensington Community Centre got only $7,000.
The tussle between the two groups has turned into a political battleground, with those from the six associations claiming that the board wants essentially to take over all the centres and their revenues. The board, in turn, has claimed the six associations are resisting a new system that provides equal access and more equal sharing of resources.
Park-board commissioner Niki Sharma, whose Vision Vancouver party has led the way on the changes, is calling the ruling a victory.
"This definitely validates our stance on the OneCard," she said.
A spokeswoman for the six centres, Ainslie Kwan from Killarney Community Centre, however, brushed off the ruling as a minor issue. She said the real decision is coming in November, when the meatier part of the lawsuit is coming forward.
That is when a judge will be asked to rule on whether the park board can terminate its joint operating agreement with the centres, as it has given notice it will do by Dec. 31.
"What we're focused on now is being able to remain in our centres," Ms. Kwan said.
The dispute between the park board and the six centres has become a political flashpoint for particular groups, but is mystifying to the general public.
For years, park boards of different political stripes have made efforts to create a more coherent community-centre system.
Until this year, each of the city's 22 community centres operated slightly differently.
Some charged a membership fee; others didn't. But within each centre, some activities – yoga classes or a fitness centre drop-in – required a membership, while others – swimming or skating – did not. The volunteer associations collected the revenue from all the member programs.
The Vision Vancouver-led park board went on an aggressive mission last year to create the new universal-access card. It also asked, in the negotiations to change all previous operating agreements, that the revenue be spread out more evenly.
Twelve of the centres with associations are in negotiations with the board about how all of that will work.