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Comment: Parks board should not have been removed

On June 14, the five municipalities of West Shore Parks and Recreation (Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Metchosin and Highlands) took the unprecedented step of removing the entire board of directors of West Shore Parks and Recreation.

On June 14, the five municipalities of West Shore Parks and Recreation (Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Metchosin and Highlands) took the unprecedented step of removing the entire board of directors of West Shore Parks and Recreation. There was no public input or explanation.

The following morning, a press release stated that replacing the board of elected officials and members of the public with a board made up of the municipal chief administrative officers would “maximize the incredible potential of the facilities and programs offered.”

I have participated on the WSPR board for the past seven years, serving four years as chairman, from 2012 to 2016. West Shore Parks and Recreation is a shining example of an important pillar of a healthy community.

We are fortunate that, in the past, we have had community leaders who understood the importance of community recreation in our neighbourhoods. Study after study recognizes that recreation is more than just exercise. An investment in recreation supports the social, mental and physical health of youth, families and seniors. It brings our community together.

When the five municipal-council “owners” made the decision to disband the board and replace it with bureaucrats, it was a decision to mask a deeper problem that exists with the owners, not the board. The move to eliminate the board is very much a “shoot the messenger” response to a deeper problem that the board has been pointing out to the owners for at least seven years.

The West Shore Parks and Recreation Society is well-managed, well-administered, and responsive to the community and the needs of recreation and sport in all West Shore communities. However, the agreements that govern the operation are fraught with difficulties resulting from differing opinions among the owners as to what level of recreation can and should be funded.

As the municipalities argued among themselves at the political level, West Shore Parks and Recreation became the flashpoint for their differences, and rather than recognizing that work needs to be done to get better agreements, somehow the board, which has no power to change these agreements, becomes the issue.

Board members with expertise in key initiatives for WSPR, who have invested countless hours in additional support, are now forced to leave the initiatives, such as establishing a new skate park, on the shoulders of staff, the new board of CAOs or simply in question. The new board has lost the skill sets of motivated community members whose ability to create buy-in from not only government organizations, but corporate leaders, will be sorely missed.

There has also been a suggestion by some of the owners that the organization isn’t as efficient as it could be. This is a big red flag for anyone who truly understands the economics of recreation.

Recreation is about community values. While WSPR has always been prudent in its use of taxpayers’ money, as evidenced by more than $7 million raised in grants and donations over the past 10 years by the society, it has also delivered high-quality programs for many underserviced groups such as seniors, youth and people with disabilities, who have more financial barriers. The less money municipalities wish to contribute to recreation means either a decrease in this type of programming or increased costs to the user (or a combination of both).

We are at a crossroads if our municipalities wish to make West Shore Parks and Recreation more “efficient.” West Shore residents should prepare for increased fees and decreased availability of youth, family and senior programs.

Making money from these public facilities was never the goal or intent of providing public recreation. Rather, good management and great service to the community in sports and recreation were always the intent, and the society has done that brilliantly over the years. To move to a bureaucratic-run organization with strategic planning done on an “efficiency” basis is a tragedy for this community.

The public should also question why their West Shore councils chose to abdicate their elected officials’ responsibilities to non-elected public employees. Exactly where does accountability lie if not with the politicians the public elected to make those decisions?

Blindness to the actual problems of the West Shore “owners” and the misplaced blame on the WSPR board will not address the systemic issues with this owners’ group. It only delays addressing the real problems. The ability of the five mayors who represent the “owners” to resolve their differences has been the failure.

Firing the board only reinforced the dysfunction of that relationship.

West Shore Parks and Recreation is a well-run, forward-thinking organization, well-respected across British Columbia. The public needs to engage their councils and let them know how important West Shore Parks and Recreation is in their lives. Otherwise, we could be looking at a very different organization in the years to come.

Rob Martin is a two-term Colwood city councillor. He chaired West Shore Parks and Recreation from 2012 to 2016 and currently chairs the board of the Greater Victoria Public Library. He has announced that he will run for mayor of Colwood in the next municipal election.

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