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March 11,2007

By Jeff Nagel
Black Press
Mar 11 2007

The new TransLink unveiled by transportation minister Kevin Falcon Thursday faced immediate accusations it’s confusing, politically motivated and certain to fuel more discord with Lower Mainland cities.

It wasn’t immediately clear what carrots or sticks might be used to persuade cities not now part of TransLink to sign on and subject their residents to stiff fuel and property tax hikes.

“It will be done with their approval,” Falcon promised. “It won’t be done by fiat.”

Marlene Grinnell, the review panel chair, wouldn’t say whether lower property tax rates or other sweeteners might be offered to places like Abbotsford or Chilliwack, but added she expects those cities will make significant transition requests as part of the pending negotiations.

The panel also recommended TransLink get the power to override local zoning so it can develop high-density residential and commercial areas near transit stations to provide new revenue.

That will be a flashpoint for civic leaders, predicted NDP transportation critic David Chudnovsky.

“It’s a wacky idea for TransLink to become a development company and siphon off development revenues from municipalities,” he said.

He said it means Falcon and his new TransLink will find themselves in “constant conflict” with municipalities.

He said the plan to extend TransLink boundaries appears aimed to water down influence of the directors in and around Vancouver Falcon considers troublesome.

Also up in the air is exactly who would appoint a board of professionals that will oversee most TransLink decisions.

Falcon stressed it won’t be the province, but the process to select those directors is undetermined.

Chudnovsky said the NDP wanted TransLink instead made a committee of the GVRD.

He said the transportation challenges facing Hope or Chilliwack or Whistler are very different than those facing Greater Vancouver.

Political analyst David Schreck said the new TransLink may end up far from democratic and accountable if the new Council of Mayors is “going to be so distant from the nitty gritty that in effect the board Falcon will appoint will run the show.”

He said the big questions are how decisions will be made regarding the order of major projects to proceed.

“Who make decisions around the Pattullo Bridge?” he asked, giving one example. “The professional panel or the mayors?”

Schreck said the funding formula is designed to make the region raise its own revenue, rather than the province putting an extra share of the fuel taxes it already gathers on the table – or some other pool of money.

“It’s not like saying we will share part of our natural gas revenue with you,” he said. “It means everyone in the region will pay.”

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