Chilliwack’s mayor and council will vote today on a recommendation to contract out the operations of the City’s community pools, including Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre, Cheam Leisure Centre, and the Rotary outdoor pool. The facilities have been operated by external contractor Rec Excellence, and the City was considering internal operations as the contract term was set to expire.

“So many people across our community were excited that the City was considering operating these facilities directly, so this is a big letdown,” said CUPE 458 President Darlene Worthylake, who represents City of Chilliwack workers. “We think continuing to contract out these facilities is the wrong direction for our community.” The City’s motivation for contracting out aquatic services is revealed in their analysis conducted earlier this year.  Among the “benefits” quoted were keeping costs to the City low, minimizing staffing responsibilities, limiting the City’s liability, and slowing growth of services and opportunities.

“These priorities have nothing to do with supporting citizens and the services they depend on,” said Worthylake, herself a resident of the community and user of recreation facilities. “The users of these services–our families, kids and seniors–will pay the price of having our pools continually contracted out,” she added.

The City’s own documents confirm the downsides of the proposed model. The Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan outlines that under a contracted-out model, the City has no direct control to match services to the needs in the community, and there is no accountability for issues such as availability of swimming lessons, booking of lanes, or even the timing of public swim sessions.

The City document also stated that contracting out means limited financial oversight, with taxpayer dollars handed over to external operators through service agreements. The City’s documents also identify that contracting out means that there is limited ability to regulate quality with few means to assess and correct ineffective operations models against the goals outlined for each facility and address negative experiences of community members seeking services.

“Community members deserve safe, clean, accessible, and well-run aquatic recreation services,” said Worthylake. For years we have had our pools contracted out to external operators whose primary focus on their bottom line at the expense and frustration of the community.”

The union has called on Chilliwack’s Council to defer voting on a new contract until all information is available and the community has a chance to provide input.