Questions linger over fate of the YMCA in Abbotsford

Mayor Bruce Banman announces project's indefinite deferral, but opponents wonder what that means

Fred Thiessen

Fred Thiessen

The announcement of the indefinite deferral of the proposed YMCA project was greeted with cheers by opponents present at the Monday council meeting.

But despite Mayor Bruce Banman’s statement that the project will not proceed at this time, not all questions surrounding the fate of the YMCA in Abbotsford have been answered.

Fred Thiessen, a local businessman and outspoken opponent of the project, asked Banman whether the existing memorandum-of-understanding (MOU), between the city and the YMCA was still in place.

The MOU is an agreement between the YMCA and the city, which is in effect until it is replaced with binding legal contracts. Though the project has been postponed, Banman said the city needs time to discuss the future of the MOU with the Y.

The announcement came after Banman read an excerpt from a letter from Stephen Butz, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, dated March 28. The letter expressed the organization’s condolences for the loss of the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, Mark Taylor. Taylor had been a driving force behind the project, but was killed in a skiing accident last month.

The letter stated that “in the coming days, (the YMCA) will work with this office to develop a revised critical path, consistent with the mutual respect and understanding, which has underpinned our work together in the past few years.”

Thiessen, who was originally scheduled to speak against the project on Monday night, later told The News he was pleased to hear the project will not be pursued at this time, but the reason provided did little to quiet his concerns.

“My focus is the fiscal irresponsibility (of the city) as opposed to the Y… The Y is only a symptom of the greater ill.”

Thiessen said he hopes to see the dissolution of the MOU, though Banman responded that it wouldn’t be dissolved, but would likely be extremely altered.

Thiessen said that with all due respect, citing the loss of Taylor as a reason to end the project is disingenuous.

Thiessen said the city has shifted the focus of the controversial project before, following his first  presentation in opposition to the project at a council meeting in January. At that time, council suspended discussion on the YMCA to allow for new city manager George Murray to review the project.

It was a sentiment also expressed by Coun. Henry Braun, who said it put enormous pressure on Murray. Braun suggested a motion to terminate the MOU and reassess the deal with the YMCA, but that was defeated.

Braun told The News he would like to see the termination of the MOU and feels council will now be more receptive. If at the next council the issue is not addressed, Braun said he will continue to pursue it.

He is concerned with the language of the MOU, stating it will be in effect “until replaced with binding legal agreements.” Braun said that means it will technically go on forever until both parties end it in writing.

“Both parties have to agree in writing that the MOU is at an end. If the city and the YMCA want to revisit this is two or three years, that’s fine, but it would be a totally new agreement. That is what I will be pushing for.”

Braun said he will wait until the next meeting to see what new information comes before council.

“I will be looking for termination of that MOU.”