29 January 2013

The Community Strikes Back!

Tonight I witnessed a remarkable event. About 350 citizens from their neighbourhood filled the gymnasium at the Killarney Community Centre to voice their opposition to the Park Board take over of their facility. I understand an even larger crowd filled Kerrisdale Community Centre to speak out for their neighbourhood--the second such meeting they hosted today. Speaker after speaker spoke of their passion for their community and community centre; how they had spent countless hours using the facilities and volunteering for the association. Some seniors spoke of how they had work to built the community centre.

With only the exception of Vision Park Commissioner Trevor Loke, the speakers were unanimous in their condemnation of the Park Board/City proposal and process.

Commissioner Loke started out well and spoke passionately about his vision for a city wide equitable community centre policy, but unfortunately he had not read his briefing notes and didn't understand that the Community Centre Associations had already accepted equity and universality. He then harangued the audience about monetary and fiscal fairness. Unfortunately he undid whatever goodwill he had built up by attending the meeting.

Ainslie Kwan, President of the Killarney CCA spoke eloquently  to introduce the issues. She was followed by sports and senior association representatives. I was then asked to speak before opening the floor to questions and comments.

I have included here my remarks to the meeting:

My name is Stuart Mackinnon. I both work and live in this community, being a teacher at Killarney Secondary and a resident of the East Fraserlands neighbourhood. I’m also formerly a Park Board Commissioner, having served from 2008 to 2011.

I didn’t want to come here tonight. I can think of an awful lot of other things I would rather be doing. But then I remembered that quote from Edmund Burke that says “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”. Now you might think that is a bit over the top…that we are only talking about community centres and that in the grand scheme of things this is pretty minor---but you would be wrong. What we are talking about are the fundamentals of democracy. The way participatory democracy is supposed to work is that the people have a say in the issues that affect them.

I have always maintained that community centres work precisely because they are run by the community. It is the local folks who know what’s best for their neighbourhood. Every day people are becoming more and more dis-empowered; disenfranchised; disillusioned. And it is precisely the kind of power grab that we are talking about tonight that makes people turn away; lose faith and ultimately resign themselves to disengage from the process.

Tonight we are discussing, in my opinion, the most cynical, desperate, and dishonest power grab by a city management who are more concerned with their own megalomania and control than with what is best for the people. I was part of the early discussions about this renewing of the Joint Operating Agreements, and while most of those discussions were in-camera and so I am not permitted to talk about them, I can tell everyone here tonight that this is not what was discussed. We talked about equity and fairness. We did not talk about control or a cash grab—which is, whether they want to admit it or not, what is at the heart of this matter.

I am told that the Community Centre Associations have agreed in principal through a negotiated JOA to accept the use of leisure access, universal memberships and the flexi pass cards in all centres. This meets all of the requirements of equity and fairness. So why are we still here? Could it be that the heart of this matter is a cash grab by not only the Park Board but the City Manager’s office? Is this a way of cutting Park Board funding even further? Is taking away the monies generated within a community, that at the moment are re-invested in the community, to put into general revenues so that the cuts to the Park Board budget are less noticeable? Through the careful use of revenues generated within this community, the Killarney association contributed $450,000 towards the new pool and $350,000 towards the ice rink used during the 2012 Olympic Games. Where would this money have come from without this community centre association’s fiduciary responsibility to the neighbourhood and the Vancouver community as a whole?

No, there is more to this issue than meets the eye. This goes beyond local management. This whole process has been flawed from the start. Too many discussions have been behind closed door, in-camera, or otherwise out of the public view. I look around here tonight and I see only one Commissioner in attendance—why? Because Senior Management have told the Commissioners they are not to attend—when did management start directing the elected members? I thought it was the other way around?

My experience tells me that both the elected officials and the community centre representatives have been misled and that these negotiations have not been in good faith. That the City through its senior management has had no intention of finding an agreeable solution, but instead have been trying to marginalize and alienate the communities so that the City can walk in and take over. This is not good management. This is not democracy. This is not what we pay our taxes for.

The people of Vancouver deserve better from its managers, better from its government. Community Centres in Vancouver have been successful because of, not in spite of, the community involvement and the local management of resources. The equity and fairness that I and others as Commissioners demanded have now been agreed to. What more do they want?


  1. A very thoughtful comment.

    Yes indeed, we have a democratic deficit at the Parks Board. A central tenet in any policy development in BC is a "duty to consult", not a duty to insult.


  2. Terrific insights, from one who has been there! Well said, Stuart. Hope you run again.

    Fight the Good Fight, Community Centre Associations!