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Showboating Vancouver council finally approves senior centre funding

Political posturing nearly unravels feel-good story

Despite numerous claims from both Vision Vancouver and NPA councillors and park board commissioners that politics had been set aside in the quest to find funding for a seniors centre for southeast Vancouver, what transpired at city council Wednesday morning painted a very different picture.

Dozens of seniors showed up to city hall for a finance committee meeting Wednesday morning to hear council vote on a prior motion recommending the city make an additional financial contribution of up to $1.2 million towards the project from surplus funds from the 2013 operating budget.  

The vote, which many assumed would be dealt with in short order out of respect to the many seniors gathered, took almost two hours, with Vision and NPA elected officials arguing over minor details and Vision councillors Geoff Meggs and Kerry Jang heckling NPA councillor George Affleck most times he spoke.

The bad behaviour of council was not lost on the seniors gathered, many of whom shifted uncomfortably in their seats as the bickering continued and as what should have unfolded as a good news story unravelled as the councillors continued to showboat.

Council finally agreed to work towards the common goal of seeing a 10,000-square foot seniors centre in Killarney.

The centre would also include  a commercial kitchen and elevator built on land adjacent to the Killarney Community Centre.

NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball attempted to postpone the vote so council could look for “alternate funding.”

Acting mayor Vision Coun. Raymond Louie told a packed chambers earlier in the meeting that the lack of a seniors centre in southeast Vancouver has been an issue since 2001 — and four separate mayors and council. Citing the length of time the project has been on the table, the Vision councillors voted unanimously against Ball’s motion.

The actual cost of the centre was also a matter of discussion. The project was initially estimated at $7.5 million, but with no review completed by staff in at least five years, the NPA speculate the cost could have risen to as high as $10 million. At the meeting Vision park board commissioner Aaron Jasper requested staff complete a review of the cost as soon as possible.

Vision park board chair Niki Sharma also spoke in support of the motion, as did NPA commissioner Melissa De Genova, who was the target of some aggressive questioning by Louie over what he called her “change of heart” regarding funding for the project.

The $1.2 million approved Wednesday follows an initial commitment from the city of $2.5 million in 2011. It was the park board that got the ball rolling when it dedicated the land adjacent to Killarney Community Centre in 2009. In January, the federal government got on board with a promise of $2.5 million so long as work gets underway in 2014.

In 2012, the province committed $1.3 million, short of the $2.5 million hoped for by the city and members of the Southeast Vancouver Seniors’ Arts and Cultural Society, including seniors activist Lorna Gibbs, who addressed council Wednesday. Mohinder Sidhu and Mabel Leung also spoke to council on behalf of seniors in southeast Vancouver.

While there are seven seniors centres located west of Cambie Street, there are none in southeast Vancouver, home to one-third, or 27,000, of the city’s seniors.

Also in attendance was Keith Jacobson, who along with Gibbs has been fighting to see a seniors centre built in Killarney for more than a decade.

When council finally voted in favour of the funding, the crowd of seniors watching the proceedings broke out into loud applause.

As a happy Gibbs left council chambers she was surrounded by well-wishers congratulating her on the vote.

“It’s not done yet,” was Gibbs cautious response. “There’s still work to be done.”

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