British Columbia

Critics fund attack on community centre funding overhaul

Six of Vancouver's community centre associations have pooled $200,000 to fund a campaign against a park board proposal to centralize community centre funding, CBC News has learned.
Those opposed to the Vancouver Park Board's plans have launched a radio ad campaign 2:18

Six of Vancouver’s community centre associations have pooled $200,000 to fund a campaign against a park board proposal to centralize community centre funding, CBC News has learned.

Hastings Community Centre president Eric Harms confirms his association along with five others has pooled surplus resources to hire a PR firm to publicly attack the park board over proposed changes to future revenue collection.

He insists it's money well spent.

"We didn't start this fight," he said. "Right now there are ... six associations that are fighting this tooth and nail, but we hope others will join us."

Park board officials insist the proposed changes would help correct what the board feels are widespread inequities across the city's community centers.

Harms disagrees.

"I don't know of a president at any community center that opposes universal access," he said. "It's not about poor people."

Park board commissioner Niki Sharma says the proposed changes are aimed at addressing equal access for all, and the PR campaign is inappropriate.

"The revenue that the community centers obtain is largely from programming, so that revenue is public money," she told CBC News.

"I guess the concern that we would have is that that's money that could be better spent on programming that's needed at centers across the city."

'A right to every community centre'

The controversial plan led members of the Killarney Community Centre Association to hold a meeting Tuesday night to voice their concerns.

"We do programming here for our neighbors," said organizer Ainslie Kwan. "We see them every day. They're here on a daily basis. We know what's best — not the people at city hall."

From cheap fitness classes to affordable daycare, Killarney supporters say the stakes couldn't be higher.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," one speaker said of the park board’s plan to centralize operations.

But park board commissioner Trevor Loke says the board just wants universal access to community centres.

"You have a right to every community centre. That's what the park board is fighting for. That's why we were elected."

Loke says the holdouts don't want to share with less fortunate members of the community, adding other community centres are on board with the centralized system.

"But if there's a community centre that says that they do not want to work with the citizens in their own community who are low-income then we are not going to be in partnership with them," he said.

"We believe that every citizen in the city should access their community centre."

But tempers flared as the next speaker in line took to the microphone.

"And I have something to tell him [Loke] too: Who the hell do you think you are?"

Under the proposed plan, the park board would pool the funds collected from community centres before redistributing the money.

Last year, the park board announced it faced a $2.4-million shortfall for its $104-million operating budget.

With files from the CBC's Jason Proctor