So the Provincial Government is going to impose a referendum on the question of Translink Funding… What an unmitigated joke!!! Why? Think about it, read on….

Posted: February 4, 2014 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, and they continue doing it to this day! I will give the B.C. Liberal Government credit for something, they set up a layer of protective agencies that the province controls but where others get blamed aka Translink and B.C. Ferries.

“The Liberals have done their best to insulate themselves, don’t be fooled!”

It is interesting to read and hear columnists and editorial writers preach the virtues of a referendum within Metro Vancouver that is being touted as the way to keep Translink funding in-line and responsible. They have bought into this morally bankrupt provincial government’s initiative hook line and sinker. (This is coming from a staunch free enterpriser!) Now god forbid, let’s try to bring some common sense to this whole thing, IF that is possible!

I will preface my arguments and my position from a standpoint of someone who was there at the table during a very difficult time in its history. A Mayor and a member of this toothless and impotent Mayor’s Translink Council, which by the way is just the way this Provincial Government wants it! Having said that, I had three invaluable years of experience which I used to soak up a good deal of history from many around the table; at the same time I had the unique opportunity to draw my own conclusions about fellow Mayors and Councilors, not relying on past rumor, gossip and innuendo that was fostered by those in this Provincial Government.

To lay the groundwork for my position I want to draw a parallel (trust me it is not a conspiracy theory) on how this B.C. Government works in dealing with Municipalities / Metro and other Regional Governments and what is and has happened within the Langleys. As I have said many times, after being elected Mayor it was a real eye opener. To state the obvious, it is all about being self-serving!

To the City of Langley and its then Mayor Peter Fassbender. I knew Peter in another life; the company I worked for in the food industry was a client of Palmer Jarvis who Peter worked for at the time. Without reservation prior to getting elected I would have bet serious money on us getting along; how wrong I was. You see, what has been going on in the Langleys for years interestingly enough duplicates what has been rampant within this Provincial Government and that is – Bullying, Intimidation and Coercion!

What I was very surprised at while I was going through a number of issues that were linked to the Provincial Government was a critical void of objective and investigative journalism in major media, not just at the local level. There is so much more that needs to be challenged and reported on, not reworking Liberal Talking Points!

Some abbreviated history:

What became very obvious within the first two weeks of being sworn into office on December 1st 2008 was, you either agreed with the establishment or you suffered the consequences. This establishment I talk about includes the likes of Peter Fassbender and Rich Coleman. It was unfortunate for me and the majority of residents in the Township of Langley, who didn’t, and many still aren’t aware, of what is going on behind the scenes, believed, foolishly, that you could respect opposing views. In other words you could agree to disagree. Definitely not in the Langleys nor would I strongly suggest with the Provincial Government and that is a sad commentary!

From the start Peter and I faced off on the issue of Amalgamation of the Langleys, I in favor and Peter against. We then went onto the infamous Mufford Crescent Diversion, Peter in favor of the first proposal and I, after over 1,000 people voiced their concerns, against. We won on Mufford despite nasty open letters by Peter Fassbender and Kevin Falcon, the then Minister of Transportation against any other option. Translink was and is a funding- partner of the NEW Mufford Crescent diversion. Despite the bullying and threats to get into line or lose the funding we fought, won and retained the funding.

Then it was onto the Translink Mayors Council. Immediately after the Municipal Election Diane Watts was elected Chair and Peter Fassbender was elected Vice-Chair of the Mayors Translink Council. It was shortly after the election we were confronted by Kevin Falcon (who in the previous term fired all of the Mayors from Translink and appointed a Private Board of Directors), to approve an estimated $400 million in funding for the Evergreen Line by Translink on the backs of Lower Mainland residential property owners via property taxes. It was after our first year that Dianne Watts stepped down and Peter was elected Chair. We were able to draw a line in the sand for two and a half years and refuse to provide any additional funds from property taxes despite Peter Fassbender’s efforts to get us to capitulate. After the second year Peter was defeated in favor of Richard Walton, Mayor of North Vancouver District. Throughout this period Peter Fassbender was the lone hold-out. It was the opinion of many of us that Peter was an obvious SHILL for the Provincial Government. I believe history since that point in time has proven our point in spades!

The Memorandum Of Understanding – It was Peter Fassbender who talked the Province and the majority of Mayors (and I was one who got sucked in) into signing the infamous Memorandum of Understanding which took place, with then Premier Gordon Campbell, in a Private Board Room at the Vancouver Golf Club on the same day and place, interestingly enough, to coincide with a public announcement at the Monthly Coquitlam Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. It was all intended for eye candy, because as it turned out it was all about perception, there was absolutely no reality. The Province has reneged on virtually all points in that Memorandum of Understanding.

The Role of the Mayor’s Translink Council – The Governance Model of Translink – The Liberals have made it an Art Form and not for the good of the province, of putting in place an agency that shields itself from direct criticism! 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, with the Provincial Government hiding in the shadows giving direction. The Mayor’s Translink Council has very limited to no authority and responsibility. I recently heard a radio interview with Gregor Robertson suggesting the Mayors were more of an advisory body! What? With the greatest of respect, 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.

The Translink Mayor’s Council is responsible for approving funding, sound good so far? 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 as THEY SEE IT, and then take it to the Private Board for adoption. They will then come to the Mayors Translink Council for approval with, as an example, three packages i.e. A) for $300 million, B) $200 million or C) for $100 million. Each one of these packages contains a different menu of transit improvements. Now of particular interest; the Mayors are NEVER asked for input or priority 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 Translink’s 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 the automatic maximum 3% annual Translink property tax increase without the Mayors Translink Council Authority) 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. The Province won’t touch that option as it is a political land mine and they know it, but it is in the legislation.

Beyond this very fuzzy and questionable funding responsibility the Mayors get to approve appointees to the Private Board of Directors search committee. The process? The search committee advertises, receives applications and vets all the resumes and applications received. In the last year of my term I believe we received five recommendations for three available positions from the search committee to choose from. When I asked how many applications they received, the answer was about 220. That is it; we got to select three from this five? 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 Mayor’s Translink Council was dealing with the infamous Evergreen Line and the Canada Line, the wishes of the communities and committees from the Tri City area and the interference from the Provincial and the Federal Government. As funding is and has been very scarce ALL of 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! Due to conflict with the Province over the Canada Line and the Evergreen Line the Mayors were fired by the then Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon and the new governance model (Private Board) was implemented. No input from Mayors and no input from the public.

Revolving Door of Ministers of Transportation – At the time I was elected in 2008 Kevin Falcon was the Minister responsible and it wasn’t that long after that Shirley Bond became Minister. I have to say that over my 35 years in politics and knowing many Ministers and Premiers personally the arrogance of these two towards the Mayors of the Lower mainland was over the top and something I have never seen the likes of.

After Premier Campbell’s resignation and Christy Clarks win, Blair Lekstrom was made Minister. We must have had about six meetings with him. I felt, despite Blair coming from the North, that here was a guy who, judging by his previous actions within caucus, would take a stand on principle. I believe most Mayors felt the same, he certainly had a more conciliatory tone that others. Well it didn’t take long before Minister Lekstrom’s efforts fell on deaf ears, as we made absolutely zero headway in resolving the two outstanding issues; 1) additional approved funding sources and 2) change in governance model. These two issues were addressed and promised in the memorandum of Understanding that, as it turns out, was a colossal failure. We then developed an agreement in principle with the Minister, but Christy Clark threw Minister Lekstrom under the BUS in the media on two occasions within two days. In a subsequent meeting I told Minister Lekstrom my feelings directly about how the Premier treated him. After Blair Lekstrom announced he would not run in the next election, Mary Polak became Minister.

Now what is happening? Unbelievable! You couldn’t make this stuff up! –

B.C General Election, May 2013 – For those that probably don’t recall, Peter Fassbender was the first that offered in a public statement, pre General Election Campaign, about the need for a Referendum on Transit in the Lower Mainland. It was some time after that Christy Clark came out strong and publicly during the writ period for the need of a Referendum. While I wish I could say I was surprised, nothing Fassbender does surprises me anymore.

So, as a gift by Premier Clark we get the NEW, young, fresh out of the box, inexperienced Minister of Transportation Todd Stone from Kamloops. He arrived on the scene preaching the virtues of a Referendum backed up by all of the Liberal Talking Points. (Christy’s talking points)

Next we get Premier Clark reinforcing the need for a Referendum and that it WILL be held on the same date as the Municipal Election in November of 2014. I mean why try to work with the Mayors and Councilors in the lower mainland when you can just issue a decree. Don’t build a bridge just blow it up!

Next we get the NEW inexperienced Transportation Minister Todd Stone (from Kamloops), in answer to questions from the Mayors Council and the media, that they are working on the referendum question. They will make it public soon. This question and response was repeated a few times over the last number of months.

Next we get the NEW inexperienced Minister Todd Stone’s insistence that holding a referendum is firm and will be held on election-day in November.

Next we get Premier Clark Waffling on whether they can delay the vote into next year which now may be an option? Or maybe NOT!

Next, as unbelievable as this is, we have the NEW, inexperienced Minister Todd Stone coming out publicly saying it is now up to the Mayors to come up with the question for the referendum. Long past the time needed to do so, the Mayors now had to come up with an agreement on a vision and a set of priorities to pose in the Referendum. All of this, after months of sending a completely different message which was in keeping with Provincial legislation?

“WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE TELL THE MINISTER AND THE MAJOR MEDIA THAT THE PROVINCE TOOK THIS RESPONSIBILITY AWAY FROM THE MAYORS OVER 6 YEARS AGO AND IT IS AGAINST EXISTING PROVINCIAL LEGISLATION”

And finally we have this NEW, inexperienced Minister Todd Stone saying he will now announce, within the next two weeks, a change in the Translink Governance model. Just think of the challenge, all of this, less than 8 months before election-day?

Will someone tell me who is running this Province!

Why not a referendum? It is easily the single dumbest political move of all time. Now before some of you start throwing things at your computer, seriously consider the following –

  • Let’s be clear, I do not support Translink in its current form. It requires a full remake and governance change. Nothing good will happen without that change. It will be interesting in what the Province comes up with.
  • In any referendum Translink would be a lightning rod for all Translink haters and the NO voters (All of that is deserved and there are many but you don’t want Translink, because of past practice to be the issue).
  • Despite what question is asked, what if the answer is NO? I can tell you that it will put our transportation network and service into reverse and back about 10 years! Then what? Do you think any level of government, despite the need, will ignore a NO vote and increase taxes despite the vote? Not likely!
  • What options for additional funding will be suggested or offered in any referendum? Will anything address the Township of Langley’s complete transportation deficiency? The taxpayers of the Township are now spending approximately $15 + million per year in Translink Property and Gas Tax. They receive no value for their tax dollars. Would Langley Taxpayers support additional Property Tax – NOT!
  • Will the idea of a $1.00 per crossing (or less) toll on ALL bridges and crossings be an option? Do the numbers, it is a fair and equitable option!
  • If you are going to do a referendum for General Transportation improvement why not add the Massey Bridge crossing? Would Delta be in favor of that item being a referendum item? Not likely!

The solution?

  • A NEW Governance Model of Translink that includes membership by i.e. 4 – 5 Mayors on a new formulated Board of Directors including Metro Vancouver (elected) and Planning (advisory only) who has authority over priorities and technology to be used.
  • A complete remake of funding for Translink cutting the existing gas tax level and adding an equitable funding plus tolling policy on all crossings plus Sea to Sky of say $1.00 each way.
  • One Transportation provider in the lower mainland from Lions Bay to Hope. Let’s bring ourselves into the 21st century. We can no longer do justice through two transportation agencies.   

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, but they need to have authority to do so. The dictatorial approach by the Provincial Government has got to stop. As you see by the above, the similarities between the long standing-way of the Province doing business with the Township is eerily similar to how the Province sees itself with our Metro Government.

Where is the Township of Langley Mayor and Council on the issue of a Referendum? Where is the Township of Langley Mayor and Council on Transportation improvements for the Township of Langley? The silence is deafening!!!!!

PS – And then there is Councilor Ferguson who stated in open Council a few weeks ago when discussing the parking problem in Willoughby “Township citizens need to give up their love of ownership of a vehicle” –Anyone living in the Township for 5 minutes knows that you cannot survive without a car as there is absolutely NO transportation option. I rest my case – Once again you can’t make this stuff up!!!!

RG

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Comments
  1. Mike MacDonald says:

    David Berner has refered to all this liberal hocus pokas as “arms reach politics” for years – hydro, ferries, Translink and even school boards – the public needs to wake up and realize it all starts and stops at the provincial level while these other entities are just smoke and mirrors.

    • Mike: It is interesting. Keith Baldrey wrote a column about a survey was done that states a very very small percentage of the population are interested in anything political, and he is concerned? I am not the slightest bit surprised and I am sorry to have to say that, but given the performance and excruciatingly poor reporting by our major and local media it is inevitable. We can only hope by pounding away things just might change! RG

  2. Harold Steves says:

    I agree with your analysis. I was there as acting mayor for Richmond when the memorandum was signed. With 8 out of 9 councillors opposed to the elevated Canada Line, Richmond was bullied into accepting it. The province told Richmond Council they would not get public transit at all if they did not accept an elevated system. Then the Canada line budget was cut. The final section of the line to Richmond Civic Centre was eliminated along with a couple of stations that Richmond had to find funding for. It actually takes longer to get to Vancover from other parts of Richmong than it did before the Canada Line was built. The Canada Line is too costly to expand so Richmond is stuck without proper public transit for decades to come. Why would anyone in their right mind vote in favour of a Translink referendum in Richmond? Other communities have similar problems with Translink. The mayors are wise to oppose a referendum. It wouid face certain defeat and set transit back for decades to come just as you suggest. However, we would be delighted to have chance to vote against spending billions on a new bridge to replace the tunnel. The last thing we want is Delta and Surrey traffic making it more difficult for Richmond residents by clogging the Richmond bridges to Vancouver as the tunnel bottleneck is simply moved to Richmond.

    • Harold, you are so correct. I sincerely hope the Mayors publicly oppose the the referendum, but in doing so campaign publicly for a Governance Model that makes sense and is not more of the same – “Smoke and Mirrors”. I hate to pre-judge what is coming down from the Province in terms of governance but I think I would bet my farm (just kidding) it will be more of the same! The arrogant control that this government embraces is beyond the pale!!!! RG

  3. gadfty says:

    1. By its very name, when formed, TransLink was the “transportation division” of the Greater Vancouver Regional District. I believe this was changed in the early 2000’s, so that their current mandate (“area of jurisdiction”) now includes the area of the Fraser Valley Regional District – which used to be two separate ones, one on each side of the Fraser River. It is like an oil spill…….

    2. Taking responsibility for more than one transportation modes, (public transportation (buses and Skytrain) and public infrastructure (highways and bridges) creates an internal (and infernal) contradiction in terms of how to manipulate the public.

    • Gadfly – I will correct you. Translink was formed as the Transportation provider for the Metro Vancouver Regional District. It is not a division of metro Vancouver. (It has nothing to do with the FVRD) I would strongly suggest, by being involved in roads and overpasses (just a shot) it is not cost or planning effective.

      We are making a massive mistake in my opinion having two Transportation providers in the lower mainland (Translink for Metro and B.C. Transit for the FVRD). We have transporatation providers and planning operating independent of each other. I know they like to suggest they work together but that is a joke. In my experience there are two distinctly different forces at work with Metro (Planning) and Transink (Transportation.) How you can truly build transportation infrastructure without being thoroughly involved in planning is absolutely ridiculous.

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