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June 17, 2007

By Jeff Nagel Black Press

Some Lower Mainland politicians are vowing to fight Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon’s radical remake of TransLink every step of the way.

Since the required legislation didn’t pass in the Legislature this spring, the municipal officials say they will start by refusing to join the transportation minister’s plan to get an early start on work to select a new, unelected professional board of directors.

But Falcon says the reforms will go ahead, with or without their participation.

TransLink vice-chair and Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said he’s “amazed” Falcon will try to establish the five-member screening panel this summer before getting legislative authority.

Regional mayors are to name one member to the panel, with the other four picked by the transportation ministry and various business groups. The panel is to draw up a list of 15 professionals qualified to serve as TransLink directors, from which a regional mayors’ council will select the nine-member board.

But Hunt said Falcon’s planned reforms are widely opposed by city councils and he doubts any mayor in the region will be part of even the first step of choosing their panel rep.

“I would really be surprised if Kevin got co-operation from the mayors’ council,” Hunt said. “I don’t know of any appetite on their part to step into doing this until Kevin forces them to do it through legislation.”

Many mayors still hope the province might change course. But even if Bill 36 passes in the fall unchanged, some say they will boycott the role set out for them.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he and several other mayors will refuse to serve – either in the initial selection of the new board or later on the mayors’ council that will have little power beyond a duty to collect property taxes and oversee high-level plans.

“I’m not participating in a process that’s entirely a fraud on the public,” he said. “I’m not going to sit there and be the tax collector for a bunch of private sector businessmen to operate the transit system.”

Corrigan said the mayors’ council is merely to give “a pretext that we are in control” while ensuring real power rests with the province and its allies.

Burnaby’s lawyers are already looking at possible legal action to challenge the TransLink amending legislation, if it passes this fall.

“I think other municipalities will be interested in joining us if we think we’ve got a case,” Corrigan said, adding the reforms breach the contract the province first struck with the GVRD to form TransLink.

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, however, said he likes most of the changes and will go along with the government.

“The legislation is going to pass,” he said. “I think we need to just bite the bullet and get on with it.”

Responding to the resistance, Falcon said if the mayors refuse to name a rep to the screening panel, he’s willing to let it proceed to nominate directors without civic input.

“I’m not going to twist their arm,” Falcon said. “We can let the rest of the panellists go forward and do that job.”

The other four parties that appoint reps are his ministry, the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Greater Vancouver Gateway Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C.

Bill 36 provides for automatic appointments of up to three directors from the screening panel’s list if the mayors refuse to appoint at least that many.

Falcon won’t speculate about what happens if the mayors refuse to take on their ongoing role in TransLink governance. But he said those who opt not to have a say on the next 10-year strategic plan will only hurt their cities and will have to answer to their voters.

He maintains he wants the five screening panel members named by late August and for the panel to be at work by early September.

And he said there’s no requirement for legislation to be passed to begin that work.

Falcon said civic leaders opposed to the reforms are out of step with the public, which has lost confidence in TransLink.

“They are the lone defenders of the current structure,” he said. “I think they might want to contemplate on that.”

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