Royal Athletic Park 

Two key items at City Hall last Thursday night. I’ll start with the one that took us to 11pm then backtrack to talk about garbage collection.

At Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) on January 26th council passed a motion – in closed session – “That Council authorize the Director of Parks and Recreation to enter into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the summer use of the Royal Athletic Park in a form satisfactory to the City Solicitor.” I voted in favour of this motion. And, I made a motion to rise and report so we could bring this into the public realm.

But, when Council had this motion before it for ratification on Thursday night (in open session) there was something no longer sitting well with me. So I raised it. I don’t think it’s a good decision to hand over the keys to the Royal Athletic Park for 10 weeks in the summer to an outside entity. Even if the MOU that the Department of Parks head negotiated left room for other uses in addition to a semi-professional baseball team, the team owner not the city would likely determine the timing of other uses. And this would all revolve around the baseball schedule.

 Councillor Young said we need a baseball team because we are the capital city and it will help retain our function as such. The mayor said something similar and he also said that the baseball team is part of an economic development strategy. I said that I don’t think a team coming here and generating economic activity for 10 weeks out of the year is a sustainable mode of economic development. Especially if it means giving over the use of a public facility for a private interest.

When I spoke against the motion, I said for me this is not about whether I like baseball or not. I agreed with Councillor Thornton-Joe’s comments that it is good for young people to have role models and inspiration and that semi-professional baseball players can certainly be part of this. And it’s not about ideology. It’s about considering the best possible use for the city’s only stadium over the summer months. And that best possible use is, in my opinion, a diversity of festivals, sports activities and other innovative uses Victorians will come up with … if we hold onto the keys.

Although the initial vote at GPC had been 8-1 with only Councillor Isitt opposing, we ended up not voting on Thursday evening because councillors needed ‘more information’ to make a decision and referred the issue back to GPC.

Garbage collection also came to us for decision on Thursday evening. CUPE president John Burrows and other citizens made compelling presentations that called into question some of the surveys findings. Mr. Burrows claimed that although the City said 56% of people had responded that cost was the most important factor he had counted only 30.3%. We received a memo Friday morning noting that he likely only had a portion of the survey results. City staff are doing a recount.

Councillor Gudgeon asked Mr. Burrows if the union was willing to compromise – to come to a garbage collection agreement that would benefit Victorians who still want backyard pickup, those who want to save money, and the union, which wants to preserve jobs. I am hopeful that a compromise is possible. Council referred this decision back to GPC as well. The mayor said that we have surveyed people and asked a particular question and they had answered it. He also said that there is a difference between advocacy and governance and that we were elected to govern. I want to think more about this last statement.