Translink – New taxation? More Taxpayers tax dollars to waste? A monolith of a Government Agency out of control and set to fail the way it is!

Posted: February 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Translink in its early incarnation, pre Transportation Minister Falcon and pre senior government (Federal and Provincial) interference had in my opinion a good chance of being successful. Senior government politicians then got involved and screwed it up royally!

I will give the B.C. Liberal Government credit for something, setting up a system of protective agencies that the province controls but others get blamed. The Liberals have insulated themselves, don’t be fooled!

The Liberals have made it an Art Form and not for the good of the province! One of the best examples of this is the Private Board of Directors who are really in charge of everything Translink, contrary to public opinion. The Mayor’s Translink Council of which I was once a part has very limited to no authority and responsibility. I heard an interview today with Gregor Robertson suggesting the Mayors were more an advisory body! What? In three years of endless meetings and discussions, there was nothing advisory about it! The government and the Private Board treated the Mayor’s Translink Council with complete contempt and yet the Mayor’s through their city/municipal councils are on the front lines. The Mayor’s know their community’s needs but are ignored!

Governance Model of Translink – Trust me you couldn’t write this stuff, but it is true.

The Translink Mayor’s Council is responsible for approving funding BUT (and it is a big but) the required funding packages are set by the senior executive of Translink through their Private Board. In other words the senior executive of Translink determine what funding they require to look after their specific needs/service improvements and then take it to the Private Board for adoption. They will then come to the Mayors Translink Council with, as an example, three packages i.e. A) for $300 million, B) $200 million or C) for $100 million. Now of particular interest; the Mayors are NEVER asked for input with respect to the content of those packages or lower mainland needs and service improvements and they cannot add or subtract items from each package. So in other words it is their way or the highway. Provincial Translink legislation permits the Mayor’s Council to raise additional funds in three ways 1) taxing authority for an additional Property Tax supplement (beyond an automatic maximum 2% Translink property tax increase without the Mayors Translink Council Authority annually) 2) Gas Tax or 3) User Fees (Fares). Now, under Provincial Legislation the Mayor’s Council could implement a 4th option – a vehicle levy, however they have no way at the present time to collect that fee under existing legislation to involve ICBC as an example.

Beyond this very fuzzy and questionable funding responsibility the Mayors get to approve appointees to the Private Board of Directors and to the search committee.

The search committee then advertises, receives applications and vets all the resumes and applications received for the Private Board. In the last year of my term I believe we received five recommendations from the search committee to choose from, when I asked how many applications they received, the answer was about 220. That is it, five to choose from a list of 220? It was and is all about manipulation and control by the province!

I served on the Mayors Translink Council from Dec. 1st 2008 through to the end of November 2011. I saw first-hand and heard directly about the history from long standing experienced members (Mayors) about provincial intrusion and interference in Board deliberations. The dysfunction goes back to on or about 2004 – 05 when the then Mayor’s Board of Directors were dealing with the infamous Canada Line, not liking the results of working with the Mayors they were fired by the then Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon, and the new governance model (Private Board) was implemented. No input from the Mayors and no meaningful input from the public.

The Evergreen Line was the next source of contention. The communities and committees from the Tri City area experienced considerable interference from the Provincial and the Federal Governments when dealing with the technology to be introduced. As funding is and has been very scarce ALL those municipalities, cities and committees from the Tri Cities area and the Translink Board of Directors of the day (Mayors) requested at grade Light Rail which is used successfully all over the world and at a fraction of the cost of Skytrain (approximate saving $400 million). They were told by the Province and the Feds that they would implement the transit system but it had to be Skytrain!

Now back to December 2008 after I was elected Mayor of the Township of Langley and appointed to the Translink Mayor’s Council. It was very early on in our mandate and we were faced with significant pressure to approve the $400 million Translink funding share for the Evergreen Line. Those funds would have had to come through a significant property tax increase given the limited sources of funding given to Translink under Provincial Legislation, something that we stated we would not do, property taxation was maxed out in our opinion)! This funding issue created a good deal of press and with that attention through meetings with the then Ministers of Transportation, first was Kevin Falcon and then Shirley Bond. Both arrived with their arrogance fully intact. There wasn’t the least bit of interest in consultation to discuss the issues of great concern to the Mayors, that of adequate sustainable funding to support the Metro Transportation network. It always came back to “you have enough options, increase the property tax”. The Mayor’s position against additional property tax, was for 2 ½ years of my mandate unanimously supported. We had repeatedly gone after the already implemented Carbon Tax which was always a non-starter for the province but in our collective opinion made absolute common-sense; but you know what they say about common sense “it isn’t too common”!

Now, after the Liberal Leadership contest and the election of Christy Clark, there was initial hope for a new era of consultation. As you will recall, Blair Lekstrom, who had left caucus under Gordon Campbell, was invited back by Clark. He accepted that invitation and became our next Transportation Minister. Given his history and the respect many had for him for standing up to the then Premier, many of us thought we had a chance to change things for the better. We must have held six meetings with the Minister and he was saying all the right things which gave us hope. It was at this point, through discussions around the table a tentative agreement was drafted which called for a gas tax increase of 2 cents a litre as well as an additional increase in the Translink Property Tax levy. A key component of that tentative agreement, which required Cabinet approval, was a willingness to discuss and look at changes to the Governance Model of Translink. As I said above, the current iteration of Translink is dysfunctional. Without a legislated change in the governance model at Translink, nothing will change!

So where did it go from there? Following what we considered was a move in good faith, major news reports the next day from the Premier, she wasn’t interested in the proposed gas tax increase of 2 cents, followed up by her statement to the major news media that she wasn’t interested in changing the Governance Model, killed any trust that was potentially built up with many on the Mayor’s Council. As I told Minister Lekstrom in the next meeting, the Premier just showed her stripes and threw you under the bus. I advised the Minister he just lost my support and I believe there were a number of other Mayors feeling the same way. The Tentative agreement, now a proposed agreement was voted on. I plus another five members opposed the agreement but obviously it passed. The Mayors caved in and accepted the increase in property tax and the Provincial Government denied any changes in governance. So much for trying to develop a good working relationship. Since this point in time the Mayors backed out of the property tax increase but the gas tax increase was implemented.

Now what is happening? The Mayors, members of the Translink Mayor’s Council have now come up with a list of five new funding sources to pay for transit expansion, ranging from a resurrected vehicle registration fee to a regional sales tax for transit!

Have the Mayors lost their minds?

The only ones on the list worthy of discussion are funding from the already established Carbon Tax and Land Value Capture (around Sky Train Stations). Mayor Jack Froese suggests “they are all worthy of discussion”. We already know Langley City Mayor Fassbender has had an insatiable appetite to support everything B.C. Liberal regardless of what it costs or how the taxpayer feels! I would like to think this was not a unanimous vote? Who knows?

So let’s look at funding and put it into perspective for the Township of Langley. I was very hard on accepting no more tax increases. You just have to look at the fact we submit (ballpark numbers) $12 million+ in property tax plus probably $10 million in gas tax for what? A park-n-ride in Walnut Grove? Sorry about being parochial but there comes a time when the Township of Langley has to step up and say no-more! We need someone at the table to take a stand for a fair share of Transit Services.

Let’s compare North and South of the Fraser River!

North of the Fraser (Maple Ridge West) they have a $300 million Pitt River Bridge (no tolls), the Hwy. 1 interchanges and highway widening plus the West Coast Express into downtown Vancouver through all connecting suburbs.

South of the Fraser (Township of Langley, City of Langley and large part of Surrey) we have a toll over the Golden Ears, a toll on the Port Mann and NO rapid or Community Transit.

We had talked for a few years when I was on the Mayor’s Council that all major bridges and tunnels in the region should face a small i.e. $1.00 toll which would create equity throughout the region. We had discussions about a graduated vehicle levy that would be based on the level of service you had in your community. In the Township it would be zero at first and come into effect when there was an adequate transit option!

The long and the short of it is this. It is long past time that Municipal Politicians start treating taxpayer’s money like their own. To even suggest a sales tax of any size be imposed is ludicrous at best. I will say, that there are a number of Mayors around the region that have shown responsibility with taxpayers money, the Township of Langley is not one of them, just check this council’s record, it was and continues to be abysmal!

RG

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The first of next week I will have an interesting view, musings and opinion of this weeks Throne Speech – Just who is running things for a party on it’s way to ruin!

Protect your Democratic Rights – Protect your NEIGHBORS Democratic Rights – stay informed, stay involved and VOTE!!!

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